Reality … Check
I’ve shared a great many personal stories here at RKP. From anecdotes of suffering to testimonials to the power of flow states, to crashes, to the birth of my second son, who nearly exited this world as hastily as he entered it, I’ve gone deep on the personal. It should not surprise me that the most personal material of it all, the Enter the Deuce series about the birth of my son Matthew, would turn out to be some of the most enduringly popular of all the work I’ve published here. And yet, that was the scariest to write. But write it I did. I didn’t really know what else to do with myself at the time.
It was in writing the feature “88 Temples” for Bicycling that I first ran up against material that I didn’t entirely want to write about. I admit this as someone whose graduate work looked hard at the Confessional Poets. Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton were stars I navigated by. They wrote of seemingly mundane topics: family, marriage, picking fruit, feeding babies, raising babies and infused them with the anxiety that is inevitably found in the heads of writers. So for all the experience I had at confronting challenging emotions and then banging on a keyboard until they were translated into characters, writing “88 Temples” was different. I’ve thought long and hard about why and have come up with a couple of conclusions.
The first is that when I’d written previously about difficult moments in my life, I was either, A) well past that period and was writing about it with the benefit of a rear-view mirror or B) unable to make any significant contribution (like the care for my newborn son) and so had a certain remove from responsibility because no humongous decision was resting on me. I was a passenger, so to speak.
With “88 Temples,” I was wrestling with whether or not my marriage would survive. I was also wrestling with depression, and while it’s going to sound insane when I write this, I must tell you that I didn’t understand I was depressed at the time. Yes, I’d been to see a psychiatrist and he had prescribed me the antidepressant Wellbutrin, but the terminology I used was that I was struggling in my intimate relationships. I never used the word depressed. I didn’t see it. I didn’t attach that term—depressed—to my condition until my editor used it in her revision of the first draft of my story.
Oh. Depressed. Yeah, I guess I am.
So, while I’ve discussed some of this on the Paceline, writing about it is different than talking about it in a conversation with another person and simply allowing a microphone to pick it up. I swear.
For the last two years my wife and I have lived as roommates. I’ll say that we came to the decision to divorce, though the reality is that one of us said they wanted it and the other party simply didn’t argue. We’ve continued to live together for the last two years for two reasons: 1) staying together for the kids a while longer was useful to them and, 2) two weeks after we made the decision, our town caught on fire and within 90 days rents rose so quickly and stratospherically that it became impossible to move.
As suboptimal as that situation sounds, once we had agreed to divorce, even without the existence of an actual game plan (no matter how tenuous), my depression improved rather dramatically. And then last October, in an exchange with my father concerning an RKP post I’d written, our relationship collapsed and the depression returned with a vengeance.
If you notice, I’ve written about two substantive events in my life as if they were so many bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation. The pain that these two incidents has caused me is something that I’ve shared with only three people on this planet. I simply don’t know how to write about either of these things without resorting to blaming, finger-pointing and recrimination. Not to mention self-flagellation. And if there is one thing everyone who loves me agrees on, none of that will solve any of my problems.
What I can share in detail with you is this: I’ve learned that depression has been a feature of most of my life. It has played a role of some sort in the dissolution of every significant romantic relationship of my life. I’d compare that realization to spending a year receiving radiation treatments and chemotherapy for cancer only to find out that the tumor is just as big as it ever was.
Then came Michael Pollan’s book, “How to Change Your Mind.” I’d already read “The Botany of Desire,” and had loved how he had skewered one myth after another in its pages. In “How to Change Your Mind,” for the unfamiliar, he explores how psilocybin mushrooms, also known as “magic mushrooms” are being used in psychotherapy to help alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, people with PTSD and those with treatment-resistant depression. It’s that last group to which I belong.
I began searching for a way that I might explore psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It’s a good deal harder to find people to work with when the drug is illegal than why it’s being pushed on doctors by a big pharma sales rep with a low-cut blouse. So it goes.
But about six weeks ago I found a practice in Marin County that was doing this very type of treatment with Ketamine. The way it acts on the body is different than psilocybin or LSD, but it has been used, and favorably. What Pollan described as the state-of-the-art in this sort of treatment is having the drug administered in the presence of a licensed psychiatrist and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapy counselor, one male, the other female. That setting is very important as is the mindset of the patient; it’s important to have an intention for the experience as well.
We began with a one-hour phone interview in which the MFT counselor, with whom I spoke, concluded that I merited the next step, which was filling out a sheaf of documents. I sent those back and then heard from them a short time later that I merited an in-person intake interview. This would be the step that would determine whether or not I became a patient of theirs. I drove down one afternoon and we spoke for an hour, with me running through significant traumas and stressors from my life. At the end, they informed me that they thought they could help. I was now their patient, which meant that I needed to make clear my intention for the treatment. For me, it will be neutralizing (to whatever degree is possible) that critical editor inside.
I drove home giddy that I’d have access to a revolutionary kind of therapy, but also dismayed that even though I felt like I was in a pretty good place that day, the reality is that I’d scored in the low end of the moderate to severe scale for depression on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A), meaning that what felt pretty good to me was still depressed by any objective measure. It was enough to make me wonder just how strong my grasp of reality is.
I share all this for a couple of reasons. This site has been at its best when the veil is as thin as possible, when our heart rate is as close to boiling as possible. RKP has always been about the transformative value of the bicycle. I may not have been able to articulate that when I started this site, but that’s what the aggregation of these posts illustrates. I’m at a place in my life where I must admit that the bike has taken me as far as it may, that it’s time to unclip and walk this next distance.
I don’t want that to sound like the bike isn’t capable of giving to me what I need anymore. It has delivered me to this point. I don’t think I’d understand depression in this way without the bike. And I would never have been open to Pollan’s work had I not done a deep dive on neuroscience because of my interst in flow states. The notion that we are evolutionarily wired for altered consciousness is a relatively new truth for me, one that I’m ready to embrace in a new setting.
The next 60 days may be bumpy ones for me. I say that less as a warning than an acknowledgement. We will file for divorce soon, and I am likely to be moving as well. And then there will be the ongoing treatments with Ketamine; I honestly don’t know just how many there will be.
There will be no episode of The Pull tomorrow. Selene and I will record The Paceline on Thursday … I think.
Also, following a facilities challenge, I looked at moving the date for the Red Kite Ronde et Vous, but when this course of treatment came together, I realized that I wanted less on my plate, not more. I’m considering the possibility of a one-day ride (the Grasshopper’s Old Caz route like last year) and hangout in November. If folks are interested, give me a +1 in comments and I’ll look at what we can do.
If honesty is a measure of value, I’d like to think I and our other contributors have created something that will last in people’s hearts, but that’s only because we’ve been gifted with an audience that wanted something more than a list of product features or the top 10 from that day’s race. We’ve surprised you before, and now it is time for the world to surprise me. Thanks.