Navigating a Challenging Psychedelic Experience
This candid account of a psychedelic journey shared with a longtime friend involves two individuals well-versed in nursing. The essential lesson to take from this narrative is that one’s expectations may not unfold as predicted. Just as the realization enters one’s mind that the journey could be emotionally taxing, specific proactive measures can avert the encroaching feeling of impending doom.
There is an abundance of references to “bad trips” during psychedelic encounters. Amidst these, my intention was to delve into the situation involving two adept healthcare experts with a deep understanding of psychiatric nursing. I sought to examine our potential course of action in the event of an adverse outcome arising during the anticipation of a psychedelic experience.
I do not endorse recreational or illegal usage. This narrative is intended for those intrigued by the aftermath of a demanding psychological encounter. It serves to illustrate the actions taken by two individuals well-versed in handling a “crisis” situation. That is, particularly considering it was my friend’s inaugural psychedelic experience. During a vacation overseas last year, we made the choice to embark on a transformative journey.
Dr. Erica Zelfand’s Framework for Navigating Psychedelic Challenges
I chose to structure this narrative utilizing the guidance provided by Dr. Erica Zelfand’s recommendations for navigating a challenging psychedelic experience. Intention refers to the purpose behind taking psychedelics. Set pertains to an individual’s emotional and mental state. Setting encompasses the physical and environmental factors present. Company involves having a reliable and trustworthy guide. Substance involves the medicinal or botanical component. Orientation means skillfully preparing and clearing mental pathways. Dose entails the potential that any amount is most efficient when “letting go” of control while encountering novel sensations.
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Intention, Set, and Setting
Initially, my enthusiasm was aimed to curate an evening tailored precisely to the aspirations of my friend, Cassie. Our intentions were rooted in the curiosity to perceive what she might encounter visually. She was seeking inspiration and a fresh surge of creative energy for future artistic projects. Cassie diligently undertook a day of cleaning our space and fasting in preparation for her journey. I assured her that the environment, or “setting,” within the confines of the house, would be nothing short of enchanting.
The foundation of our “set” was built on aspirations to guide Cassie towards experiencing colorful visuals and unearthing untapped insights. In retrospect, I recognize that my ego largely dominated the trajectory of the evening as I earnestly focused on Cassie’s “intention” to unlock latent wisdom within her.
Taking into account the research detailed in this article, which links a challenging psychedelic experience with psilocybin mushrooms, it likely explains why I had a panic attack while Cassie did not. I was with a boss nurse who has worked on various floors of NYC hospitals, even dealing with gunshot victims and similar cases. If things got strange, she would be the one who knew what to do.
As I sat outside beneath a sprawling oak tree, I began to feel the effects taking hold. I called out for her to join me and observe the swaying grass. I immediately thought I should find her and encourage her to come outside; she was probably experiencing something quite unusual.
Upon entering the living room, I discovered her on the floor rolling her back on a long foam roller for back pain. I exclaimed, “Oh, that’s funny! What are you up to?” She replied, “Just stretching out my back.”
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that she didn’t share the same urge to perceive this moment as I did. I didn’t want her to miss out on this unique experience or the potential benefits of the medicine.
Substance and Dose
How odd, I thought. She had ingested 3.5 grams of a specific psilocybin-containing mushroom. I found it hard to believe that I was experiencing such a surge of emotions, while she seemed to be relatively unaffected, with barely any change in her mood.
How was this possible? She appeared entirely normal, and I couldn’t comprehend it. At that moment, I suggested we play some music on the massive television. I danced energetically in front of the screen, my moves flailing limbs and locks of hair that she couldn’t even catch the actual video playing. However, as I stepped back and saw her starting the laundry, a wave of sadness washed over me.
I couldn’t hold back and blurted out, “What are you doing? Aren’t you feeling any of this?” She responded with, “I do feel amazing. It’s just that I feel like I can be productive right now.”
I carried on speaking, letting my thoughts flow without restraint, throwing rhetorical questions into the air. I touched on life and childhood and eventually delved into ideas of my Mother. I began to pace. Cassie offered a smile and handed me water as it helped me relax, regain focus, and continue addressing the concerns I had about my Mother, uninterrupted.
Without delving into excessively embarrassing details that could easily become material for a Pedro Almodóvar movie, let me share this. From the moment I uttered a single sentence, I embarked on a journey of releasing and exorcising emotional pains that I had kept silent about my entire life.
This perplexed me, considering I regarded myself as a seasoned psychedelic traveler, having undergone numerous breakthroughs spanning over 3 years. I assumed I had already dealt with childhood issues.
Ultimately, what unfolded matched the textbook symptoms of a panic attack. Tears and words flowed ceaselessly, to the point where I lost track of my surroundings, identity, and what came next. I cried and wailed, my breathing grew rapid, and dizziness set in.
Then, I heard the words, “Take a seat. Place this on your chest.” Cassie calmly guided me down onto the couch, pressing an ice pack to my chest. Gradually, I reconnected with reality, fixating on her blue eyes that prevented me from spiraling further into physiological chaos. I had actually first complimented her on those very eyes when we initially met over a decade ago during nursing school, saying, “Wow, your eyes are so beautiful!”
As I gradually regained my senses, all I could perceive were her reassuring blue eyes, now assuming the role of a nurturing figure. She brought me room-temperature water and dimmed the lights, eliminating the sensory stimuli of music. She encouraged me to focus on the pets, though the cats appeared to already sense the turbulent energy in the air.
Surrendering The Dose
How did the evening take such a turn? I was supposed to be the MC for the night, aiming to give her a tour and introduce her to some fascinating entities. However, none of that unfolded as planned. My desire to please fell short, and my internal struggles needed attention. It wasn’t until I surrendered control of the evening that the healing process commenced.
For some unknown reason, this encounter wasn’t destined to be the one that would dispel Cassie’s skeptical view of psychedelics. Perhaps the medicine understood what I required better than I did myself. With that notion in mind, I let go, and thankfully, I had faith in Cassie – a maternal figure who had once cared for my own ailing family members and hundreds of patients throughout the eastern United States.
The disappointment stemmed from her not experiencing what I had initially intended. However, the remarkable aspect of it all lies in the unforeseen healing outcome that emerged. I found myself in what I perceived as a depression attack, times ten, accompanied by someone I genuinely believed cared for me. This element played a significant role in returning to the ground.
Nurturing Recovery and Reflection
I did sense a distinct neurological shift. I found myself in an elegant guest room, grappling with the same emotional confusion that had accompanied me. It felt peculiar to occupy this unfamiliar space, contemplating the newfound insights that Cassie and I had shared in the early hours of the morning, as I transitioned back to reality. Engaging in a conversation over water and fruit straight after the experience concluded was a remarkable way to process everything. I was able to fall asleep just fine.
Upon waking and entering the kitchen, Cassie’s warm smile greeted me, and she inquired if I wanted some food. Her motherly demeanor truly shined through, even though neither of us has children. Recognizing that I had engaged in quite a bit of physical movement and conversation the previous night, she understood that muscle fatigue would likely be present and that ensuring proper hydration was of utmost importance.
Noon arrived, and nourishment played a pivotal role in restoring my strength and grounding me back in reality. Yet, as nurses, we are well-versed in pain prevention for the sake of efficiency, it helps for integration day too. My body’s physical needs—rest, rehydration, and replenishment with nutritious calories—were met. Now, I realized it was time to continue on to the next part of the journey, open my journal, and write it all out.
Unveiling Emotions and Perceptions
While reflecting on the build-up of angst that had been purged from within me, an overwhelming sense of comprehension regarding fragmented emotions about my Mother was sorted out and defragmented. I didn’t feel like a victim anymore. I could adopt an all-knowing perspective on the matter, akin to observing from a bird’s-eye view. This significantly diminished the weight of the pain that used to grip me prior to this experience.
This realization appears more accessible thanks to the potential for neurogenesis or my receptor synapses being prompted to form connections in different ways than before. I’m confident that we’ll ultimately uncover concrete answers to how these experiences can lead to utter control over your mental health. But until then, just as the ceremonial Indigenous communities have done throughout history, we are ready to share stories of struggle and survival to help others shape a more positive outcome.
Continued Evolving Bonds and Egos
A purposeful psychedelic experience holds the potential to facilitate greater health recoveries for mental health than previously analyzed. Nurturing gratitude for the experience further amplifies this process. My bond with Cassie has undergone a transformation. It rests on a fresh foundation that allows me to perceive her as a maternal force that has already bestowed significant healing upon the world.
While my initial intention did not come to fruition in this experience, it’s crucial that I recognize the subtlety and subterfuge of my ego infiltrating situations of confidence. Was I unknowingly crossing the line from high-minded to hubris? I was reminded that there’s always room for new learning in any scenario, regardless of my perception of expertise.
This would be considered an ego death – a small facet of my ego has experienced a rebirth. It’s imperative to listen closely to the guidance of your inner self, acknowledge your needs, and orchestrate an experience infused with self-love to achieve optimal outcomes. All the while, maintaining a willingness to embrace internal surprises, just as I did.