Meet ‘Sarah’, She Uses Ketamine Infusion Therapy for Depression
In our ongoing series, ‘Profiles in Courage’, we spoke with ‘Sarah’ (not her real identity) who regularly uses ketamine infusion therapy for depression, in order to better understand her experiences. A recent member of FrshMinds.com, Sarah is a 48 year old Female in Texas who is suffering from depression.
Sarah, thank you for agreeing to provide us with your thoughts today, I know this can be a very personal subject and I want you to know that our readers are privileged to have you talk about your experience with us today. Thank you for being with us today.
A: My pleasure
Question: You have become a strong advocate for ketamine treatments for depression. Please, tell us how it all started.
A: I kind of loosely understood what ketamine was since I was a teenager and knew it as a kind of obscure party drug (that I never took, or frankly ever even saw). But my views about it changed three years ago when I tried it for the first time and discovered just how powerful it can be, especially for mental health treatment. Ever since then, I have been trying to create awareness about the drug.
Question: You said you first used ketamine infusion therapy for depression was three years ago. Can you tell us what made you try ketamine despite your long-held prejudice about it?
A: I lost my husband 10 years ago. His death made me feel like I was drowning in a pool of water, and my world was crashing. A few months after his death, I fell into depression and started working with a psychotherapist, taking different kinds of antidepressants and other therapies. Unfortunately, none of those treatments and medications seemed to help, and I just couldn’t shake these feelings of sadness and being overwhelmed. In fact, it seemed like the more treatments I signed up for, the more depressed I became – my doctor told me this was treatment-resistant depression. And just as I was pretty much giving up on ever getting well, a close friend told me about a physician who treats depression with ketamine. I was skeptical and knew very little, but when you’re in that headspace, you’ll consider just about anything. Looking back now, I’m so pleased I mustered up the courage to do it.
Question: What was your first meeting with the doctor like?
A: My first meeting with the doctor was for a consultation where we discussed my medical history, the past treatments I took, and then drew a treatment course for my ketamine infusion. I was told that there were no guarantees, but saw their situation improve, or something like that. That made me very hopeful and I decided to give it a try.
Question: What was your first ketamine infusion experience like?
A: Before the treatment, I was a little nervous wondering how it would make me feel; I mean, I’m not too high on hospitals, IV drips and stuff like that. And of course, I was paying out of pocket quite a bit, so I really didn’t want that money to go to waste. But the doctor reminded me that my therapist would be by my side throughout and would make sure that I had a pleasant experience. As anxious as I was feeling, I kind of prepared my mind for the infusion treatment – I mean, if I’m going to freak out about it, it probably won’t work that well! So I just calmed my mind and decided that, whatever happens, it was worth a try, and as it’s not, like, life-threatening, I’ll get over it!
The infusion lasted for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, and it was a comfortable and memorable experience for me because, for the first time in years, I felt very relaxed. It was as if a load was being lifted off my shoulder. From that moment on, I knew ketamine was going to work for me.
Question: You have had several other ketamine infusions since your first time. Are the experiences the same in all sessions?
A: It tends to be a bit different every time, for me at least. In general, I always feel relaxed and warm inside once the IV needle is inserted. I get what they call dissociative effects, a feeling of being outside my body somehow, and a knowledge that I wasn’t in control of it. I also had very vivid ‘dreams’ – well not dreams I guess, as I’m awake, but similar. I can look at the objects around me with more clarity and have this feeling that they are alive and about to start moving around! I remember a few emotional experiences that got me teary, not always about something particular, sometimes just feelings. But the most interesting thing is that despite all this I was still very calm. I was assured by the doctor that all those feelings, including crying, are part of a normal ketamine experience. It’s like your mind is shedding itself of emotions that you’ve been suppressing.
Question: How many infusions did you have at the beginning?
A: At the beginning, I was getting an infusion every other day for a few weeks; 6 in total I think. One thing about ketamine is that you need multiple doses to get an optimal result from it. While a single dose may give you a bit of relief, apparently it won’t last very long without being reinforced.
Question: Can you describe your overall quality of life before and after you started using ketamine infusion therapy for depression?
A: If I were to rate my depression rate on a scale of 1 to 10, I would say I was at a 9 before my ketamine journey, and I had been around that, on and off, for like 10 years. I was anxious, I was desperate, I was never in a place of calm, and I had pretty much given up on living a normal life like I had before my husband passed away. But since I started getting ketamine, I have rarely felt like that, if at all. I’ll still have some depression but I find I can overcome and feel in control again. I’m back to enjoying hanging out with family and friends.
Question: It’s been 3 years since your first series of ketamine infusions. Do you still receive ketamine?
A: Yes, I have been receiving ketamine infusions every two weeks for about 3 years now. Though it isn’t as frequent as the first series, I’m told that it’s needed to maintain all of the progress I have made. They’re still a bit odd but I must admit, I kind of look forward to them!
Question: How does ketamine therapy compare to your past treatments for depression?
A: It’s just a lot more effective, at least for me. I recall that, within an hour of my first infusion, I knew right away that it was going to work, as I felt noticeably more relieved. I don’t believe it has any serious side effects, I get a bit dizzy from time-to-time, but otherwise, no issues. And to be honest, so many of the antidepressants I had been taking were causing unpleasant side effects that I would not want to go back to them.
Question: So, on the question of adverse effects, you haven’t noticed anything meaningful?
A: No. Aside from the experience during the infusion itself, I have never had any long-term adverse effects. I have heard about some alternative medicines that cause lingering effects like liver problems, weight gain, mood swings, but I haven’t personally experienced any of this from ketamine. And of course, I have a medical team around me that ensures I get the right dosage given my weight, medical history, and things like that, so they are probably minimizing the side effects carefully. They also give me anti-nausea medication to make sure I don’t feel awful during or after the treatment. And of course I’m hooked up to all sorts of monitors to make sure I don’t have any serious complications during the session as well.
Question: Ketamine treatments are expensive. Do you think it was worth the cost?
A: Absolutely! It’s not like the treatments I had before were free (though insurance did help), but they were also a lot less helpful, so I wasn’t getting any benefit from spending the money. During my years of dealing with severe treatment resistant depression, I took treatments ranging from psychiatric medication, antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and talk therapy. If I were to sum up the total expenses for all of this activity, I’m sure it would exceed all the money I’ve spent on ketamine.
Question: Would you recommend ketamine infusion therapy for depression to other people?
A: I am not just recommending it for others, I am on a serious awareness campaign. I want people to understand that, while it seems a little scary at first, it can be so, so helpful to those that need it. I have been sharing my ketamine success story on any available platforms I could find and will continue to do so.
Question: The FDA recently approved ketamine treatment for depression. Are you excited about the news?
A: Yes, I am super excited by the approval, it just proves to me that the science is overcoming the misconceptions. As a passionate advocate for ketamine, I had looked forward to this news for years, it’s a big step in the right direction. I feel emboldened to keep going out and sharing my experiences – I feel like a pioneer!
Question: With this approval, do you see ketamine breaking into mainstream medicine someday?
A: It will take some time, but I definitely see that happening. The skepticism that comes from insurance providers and medical boards to partner with and regulate the industry has slowed down its adoption, and of course, most people are probably still just like I was at the start – a bit freaked out! But there are a growing number of doctors willing to offer ketamine therapy, and more studies and global awareness about the drug. So I think it’s a question of when, not if.
Question: You just talked about the insurance providers’ reticence to recognize ketamine as a mainstream treatment. Why do you think they don’t cover ketamine treatment?
A: I think part of the reason is lack of awareness. Despite my campaigning for the drug, many people still don’t know much about it or at best think it is just a recreational drug or for animals! I’ll be most insurance agents haven’t even heard of it before. This is one of the reasons why people like me have been trying to create awareness – I’d love to wake up and find out my treatments are now covered by my private health insurance! And to be honest, ketamine is still viewed as an experimental-stage treatment. Much of the research is still quite new, so insurance companies are arguing that there isn’t enough evidence for them to feel comfortable getting behind the drug. But I do think that with all of the ongoing research and FDA approval, that’s about to change.
Question: What would you say has been the biggest benefit to your life from taking ketamine?
A: At the darkest periods of my battle with TRD, I was basically just existing, it was as if life had lost all meaning and purpose for me. I sat in bed as much as possible and struggled to even take a shower. I felt disconnected from my kids, family, friends. But today I live a pretty normal and healthy existence. I get outside and enjoy the sunshine, I see my friends – and they want to see me, because I’m not all ‘doom and gloom’ like before, I enjoy spending time with my kids, and maybe most importantly, when life throws me a curveball, I feel like I’m able to deal with it. The burden of depression that I carried for so many years has been lifted. I would never have thought a drug I once considered ‘hippie smack’ could be capable of giving me my life back.