Living with treatment-resistant depression, I am always looking for different options. This alternative therapy surprised me in many ways.
I’ve coped with treatment-resistant depression for years, and I finally took a massive step toward my recovery when I began a series of ketamine infusions for my depression.
Ketamine is most popularly known as a horse tranquilizer, but doctors have used this dissociative drug on human patients since the Vietnam War. It’s used as an anesthetic, pain reliever, and more recently, to treat long-term depression (although the infusions aren’t yet FDA-approved for this).
I want to tell you about my experience with ketamine because I could hardly find any personal accounts of patients’ experiences with ketamine infusions for depression before I began treatment, and I want to change that.
Here is my honest account of the whole process — from choosing to pursue ketamine infusions to the details of what the infusions feel like to how the treatment personally impacted me and my recovery.
I hit a low point in January 2023 and decided I needed more help for my depression than I was getting. I researched different options for medications and discovered that only 40% to 60% of patients with depression notice an improvement when treated with SSRIs or SNRIs.
I’ve tried different traditional antidepressants to help me feel better, and none of them have worked for me.
I considered switching to a new medication but realized it would take 4 to 6 weeks to begin seeing any improvements. I needed something more immediate to help me get out of bed and be motivated to live my life.
I began researching alternatives that worked for my lifestyle and landed on ketamine infusions.
In a small 2012 study, they report that ketamine infusions had around a 70% success rate. This means it could provide quicker relief than traditional antidepressants.
It can be a more affordable option for treatment-resistant depression, too, whereas transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can cost anywhere between $6,000 and $12,000 without insurance.
On top of all of that, ketamine is known for causing limited side effects.
While ketamine can be more affordable than other intensive treatments for depression, it isn’t cheap. My psychiatrist set me up with a series of six infusions which cost $3,000 in total.
Ketamine infusions are not covered by insurance in the United States because the treatment has yet to be approved by the FDA. You can opt for the nasal spray version, Spravato, which is FDA-approved. However, I went with the infusions because I couldn’t find nearby psychiatrists who offered Spravato treatments.
Another factor to consider about accessing ketamine infusions is that you cannot drive for the rest of the day after your infusion. That means you must find a ride to and from the clinic and plan the rest of your day accordingly.
Before I began my series of six infusions, I had to meet with a psychiatrist at the clinic for a consultation. Once the psychiatrist approved me for treatments, we scheduled all six infusions within 3 weeks.
The most important thing I learned during the consultation was something that eased my mind about the infusion process. My psychiatrist told me that no matter what I do, think, or feel during the infusions, the drugs work on a chemical level in my brain to manage my depression.
Knowing that took a lot of pressure off my shoulders during the infusions, and I never had to question whether or not I was doing it right.
I could surrender to the ketamine and trust that it would do its thing without asking anything of me besides sitting there with the IV in my arm.
At the beginning of each infusion session, a nurse would lead me into a dimly lit room where I sat down in a comfortable, reclining chair. She gave me nausea medication beforehand because that’s one of the possible side effects of the treatment (I never had a problem with nausea during or after my infusions).
Next, the nurse would hook me up to an IV for 40 minutes while the ketamine slowly dripped down the tube and into my arm.
I won’t lie: I had a blast during the infusion process. The dissociative state the ketamine put me in was extremely calming and enjoyable. After just a few moments of being hooked up to the IV, I’d begin to feel loopy. I’d close my eyes and see flowing lights and images in my mind. The time always passed faster than I thought it would.
I enjoyed listening to music during the infusions, particularly calming instrumental music with a lot of piano.
Once the infusion ended, I would rest for a few minutes until I felt like I could stand up again. When I got home, I often felt exhausted and napped, but sometimes I felt energized after the infusions.
I do want to note that while I had a pleasant experience, not all patients do. The most important thing is to be under professional supervision so they can guide you through the process.
The biggest challenge for me during the 3 weeks of receiving ketamine infusions was wondering whether or not the treatment was helping me recover.
It was tough for me to determine the difference between the hope that the ketamine would help and the actual improvements the ketamine made in my mind.
I decided to wait until I completed all six infusions to try and notice how my symptoms were changing. This was helpful for me.
You also might be wondering how ketamine helps with depression. Essentially, researchers believe it helps create new pathways in the brain, which aids in the ability to form new, and potentially more positive, thought processes.
However, it’s important to know that casual use of ketamine is not a treatment for depression and can have serious risks. Ketamine is a powerful drug so it should be administered under the guidance of a medical professional to be sure you get the right care.
My last infusion was on February 10, 2023, which means, as I’m writing this, it’s been about a month since the treatment ended. Since then, I’ve noticed many significant changes in my mood and ability to handle my daily life.
My thoughts are a little more clear and easier to decipher. Before ketamine, I constantly felt confused because my thoughts went in so many different directions that I had trouble knowing what I believed.
Today, I feel more capable of identifying thoughts that cause me to spiral into a depressed pit.
I’m more capable of using coping skills I’ve learned over many years in therapy than ever before. My therapist and I started dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) about a year ago, and my biggest challenge was using the skills during tough moments to help myself calm down or return to a healthier headspace.
After ketamine, something clicked in my mind. Now during those challenging moments, I feel compelled to reach for my DBT workbook to help me out.
I feel much more motivated to go to work and spend time with friends than before the ketamine infusions. I’m a freelance writer, and February 2023 was one of my most profitable months because my motivation went way up and allowed me to get work done instead of feeling exhausted and drained and stuck in bed all day.
It’s important to note that ketamine is not magic. I’m still struggling with social anxiety, emotional overwhelm, and finding purpose in my life. I’m also currently participating in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for my depression.
But I do believe that without ketamine, this PHP program wouldn’t help me as much as it is.
Ketamine treatment gave me a baseline to work off of that I haven’t felt in years.
If you’re living with treatment-resistant depression, ketamine infusions might be a good option for you. While there are some barriers to access, like cost and transportation, this treatment helped me overcome obstacles I’ve spent years fighting to eliminate.
To learn about the risks and benefits of ketamine for treating depression, read more here.
Medically reviewed on April 04, 2023
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