Sunday, 7 August 2016

Psilocybin Trial Diary - One year on

A break in the clouds
It’s one year today since I slid into the whirring scanner for the second time and my post-dose brain activity was recorded. I felt a bit dazed but I also felt so much lighter, like the crushing grip of anxiety and depression had finally been loosened. I felt like I was OK, like I had more of a right to exist, like it was alright to be me.

My social anxiety was reduced to almost zero – no more analysing every conversation I had and beating myself up for every perceived mistake I’d made. I found pleasure in life again, whether that was through music, nature, sex, friendships or just being on my own and being happy within myself. I felt switched on, connected to the world and to myself, but calm and relaxed within myself. Rather than every task feeling like a mountain that I couldn’t climb, I would just get things done. I woke up feeling rested every morning for the first time in years. I started thinking about the future, about returning to work, about what I really wanted out of life.

I discovered a few months ago that I was one of a few people on the trial whose condition had worsened again within the first three months to the extent that I was considered to no longer be in remission. That said, my mental state was still in far better shape than it was pre-trial.

The sheen and shine that life and existence had regained immediately after the trial and for several weeks after gradually faded. My old engrained thought patterns re-established themselves. I slid slowly towards my previous anxious and depressed state (well-worn paths in the neural grass), all the while trying to stay within that new headspace I had developed, trying to remind myself and reconnect myself (by re-reading this blog, reading Aldous Huxley, meditating, going to see non-duality teachers etc).

I don’t want to be so negative as to say that none of this effort worked, every now and then I would re-enter that present state where anxiety just fell away. But, as I can trace through the various emails I’ve sent to the psilocybin study team since the trial, my mood and mental state have gradually slipped increasingly lower and I’ve become more desperate to have another break from the constant onslaught of catastrophising, self-doubt, dark thoughts and despair.

The insights I gained during the trial have never left and never will leave me. But they now feel more like ideas, possibilities, rather than being the inherent knowledge that I carry within me.

Since the trial, I have returned to work, albeit four days a week, so that is an outward sign that I am doing far better than I was just over a year ago. That said, I have regularly found myself in tears and feeling like I just can’t cope with work and life in general. I feel desperate, like there’s nothing at all that I can do to alleviate the hopelessness. Certain activities help: spending time with friends and family, yoga, walking in the countryside. But I always feel I’m just fending off the black cloud briefly before it swallows me up again.

So where to from here? I’m trying my best to be present, engage with the moment and to be mindful. I’m trying to take every day at work as it comes and trying not to kick myself too hard if I make mistakes or I don’t feel mentally well. I’m trying to keep up my yoga classes and trying to make time to share with my wife, see friends and go for walks in the countryside.

I have the option of going back on antidepressants – something that I am reluctant to do because, while they may alleviate the symptoms, they do little to tackle the root cause. They are a last resort that I will turn to if I have to.

There is the possibility that I will be able to take part in the full psilocybin trial at the end of this year/beginning of next year. Although there are so many potential variables with that: will the trial get the finding it needs, will I be accepted onto the trial, will I be unlucky and end up being given the placebo if I am accepted, will I be able to take time off work, will it provide the same boost it did last time etc – but is this all just my anxiety and catastrophising taking over again? I really hope I am accepted onto the trial but can’t attach too much hope to that possibility.

Yes, I could self-dose instead. But there are not only legal issues with doing that, there wouldn’t be the support structure that existed during the trial where highly trained mental health experts were there to carry me through any overwhelming moments of terror, anxiety or whatever else arose.

All I want in the end is to live a life where I can self-regulate. Where I don’t need constant external help to get through life and to cope. No man is an island but if you constantly need people to help build and rebuild your flood defences so you don’t drown, that’s not sustainable. And even if it is sustainable, it’s not enjoyable. It’s no way to truly live life.

If it takes me several years of hard work on myself to increase my self-compassion and reduce my anxiety, so be it. If it takes several years of quarterly psilocybin doses in tandem with counselling, so be it.

Because while I feel I’ve lost the feeling that I had in the months after the trial, I do believe that psilocybin offers the one thing that antidepressants do not. It offers you the chance to actually confront your fears, to look your darkest demons in the eye, and then to develop an understanding of them, find a way through them and find a better, more positive way to live with them. Because I don’t believe you can ever really kill your demons, or ‘cure’ depression.

This may sound overly negative but it’s not meant in that way. The more you try to rid yourself of something – whether it’s anxiety, negative thoughts or bad feelings – the more amplified it becomes. So if pushing parts of yourself away doesn’t work, you can instead approach them with compassion and find a way to live more harmoniously with them.

You can renegotiate your relationship with yourself and the more insight you have into your demons and your struggles, the more able you’ll be able to do this. Psilocybin (in the correct setting, with the right support), can offer you this insight. This is why I hope for both myself and for thousands of other people that may benefit, that this vital study is expanded and extended.

In the meantime, I’ll try to take every moment as it comes and hope that the clouds at least break momentarily now and again for me to feel the sun on my face and to catch my breath.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day six: Final follow-up

Me and the Psilodep team (L-R Mark Bolstridge, Robin Carhart-Harris,
Me, Mendel Kaelen, James Rucker)
I arrive 10 minutes late largely due to my shoddy timekeeping. Robin meets me in reception and we walk to one of the wards.

I do a few more questionnaires on Robin’s laptop (having sent 10 over the night before) – these are in relation to the past seven days – and also do the face-morphing test again. It’s still a bit too fast and I also get the keys mixed up (A – angry, N – neutral, S - sad, H – Happy, F – Fear, D – Disgust – “Is S for scared?” goes my brain). It’s better than the first time around though so not too painful.

We also do the word association/memory trigger test again, which Robin records on his phone. This involves associating specific, time-based memories (i.e. events) to key words that Robin gives me. I wish I could remember some of them now but all I can remember is the tester word, which was ‘milk’ and I associated goat farming in Italy with!

Robin then asks me a few questions about the music. The music has been so key to the whole dosing experience and the playlist has also played a huge role in my day to day life since – I created a playlist featuring all but three of the tracks (couldn’t find the others on YouTube) and I’ve listened to parts of it every day since the second dose. I’m really happy to give feedback, which will help Robin’s assistant and playlist compiler Mendel Kaelen with his studies.

We then walk back to the chill out/dosing room – it feels nice to return – where James and Mark are waiting for us. I present them with their kazoos (that I bought for them – proper tin ones off Amazon!) and also open mine and we have a quick go on them. Robin asks me what Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ sounds like when I mention a YouTube kazoo version I saw so I end up playing it – self consciously but not cripplingly (progress!). I think they appreciated them but if not it was all a bit of fun anyway. No firm plans on starting up the kazoo band were formed though sadly! Robin gives me a gift too – the Dalai Lama’s Little Book Of Wisdom – which is really kind of him. I’ll cherish it and dip into it when I need inspiration, or even when I don’t!

We chat through my experiences and feelings during the past week. I speak about the ‘flashpoints’ I noted down in my previous entry. I also make sure I speak about how I have been feeling overall. I’m currently wracking my brains here to remember what James and Mark said to me and all I can remember is what I said to them – that’s really not very helpful is it?! My brain criticises me for being self-absorbed. That’ll help me remember eh?!

I do remember James saying that when someone comes to the door and says, “We’re all frightened about the future” (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses had), they’re really saying “I’M frightened of the future”. I really wish I could remember more of what they said to me. They did say that me sending a link to one of the playlist tracks to my Mum was an act of kindness. I do feel I have to remember absolutely everything though (see all of the previous entries!) but in reality, I should just trust that I will remember what I need when I need it.

Mendel then comes into the room – it’s great to meet him as he has also played such a fundamental part in the whole process. Mark then takes me to a different ward room and asks me several questions about the past week – my sleep patterns, my health, my appetite, my sex drive, my thoughts and feelings.

He asks me at one point, “Do you feel depressed at the moment?” and it’s really weird. Almost like I could ruin everything with my answer. But I check in with myself to see how I feel and then, in all honesty, reply “No”.

I hope that remains the case for many more days, weeks, months and years, but I also realise that the key to maintaining a calm and content disposition is how I relate to negative emotions, thoughts and feelings. I may not be ‘fixed’ – expecting anything to fix me was in fact part of the problem – but I do feel like I have the tools to get on, get through and, most importantly, enjoy and live my life properly.

I cannot express my gratitude enough to Robin, Mark, James and Mendel for their role in this, their help, guidance, understanding and friendship. I have been truly blessed.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Afterthoughts, aftershocks, thoughts and feelings

I keep catching myself wishing I felt the way I did during the psilocybin experience at times. I hope that I retain what I’ve learned and the shifts in feeling. What if I lose it all? What do I do then? It’s important to remind myself that this is my old trait of ‘mightness’ displaying itself. This might happen, that might go wrong, a disaster is just around the corner. But there are parts of me that I accessed during the dosing that are always there, have always been there. I’m renegotiating my relationship with feelings regarding the past and with the knot in my solar plexus. It takes a huge conscious effort at times.

I had a panic attack on Monday night. A weird mix of ‘I can’t trust myself, I’m going to die or hurt someone’ and a deep knowing that all would be well. I flit between the two for a while and just ride through the intense anxiety. It feels like a lesson.

I got angry the other day. It’s easy to think I’ll never get angry again or feel down again – but that was part of the problem before: the non-acceptance of certain feelings and emotions. Everything is closer to the surface now, I feel far more alive in many ways but negative emotions, thoughts and feelings also need to be approached with love and compassion.

Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the door (on August 13th). I was kind enough, said I hope it brought them happiness but it really wasn’t for me. I mentioned friends being rejected by their own families for not believing in the JW religion. I told them just how intolerant that was and had nothing to do with the universal love and acceptance they were supposedly in favour of. When they told me that these people were just ‘bad apples’ I felt so upset and angry – these are human beings that deserve love and understanding. I said ‘You’ve really upset me and I feel really angry’ and then walked away and shut the door.

How does this all fit? I don’t like someone inflicting their worldview on me and have decided not to inflict mine on other people any more – I don’t need to to strengthen or validate myself – but how can I react less emotionally? I wish I was untouched by other people’s intolerance but I can’t be. Shouting at them won’t help and I didn’t shout thankfully. I just said what I felt about things and disengaged when I realised I was getting upset. Perhaps this is why people just say ‘No thanks’ and then shut the door.

I want to be the watcher more often and could have done with being more the watcher in this situation. I felt too involved and too emotional. Oh well, better than feeling dead inside.

I realise I’ve just focussed on flashpoints and negativity here. Overall, I have felt more connected, more at ease, more peaceful and calm, more in touch with myself. It has been easier to get things done – I don’t feel as stressed about them or that they’re weighing on my shoulders so much. I created a YouTube playlist from the dosing playlist and listening to this has really helped me to reconnect with myself and with that peaceful, loving place within me.

I’m still more talkative and less scared of chatting to random people I meet during the day.

I have been impulsively buying a lot more books, CDs, random things on Amazon, tickets to events. Is this because I’m being kinder and more loving towards myself that I’m treating myself? I’m not sure. I’ve decided to buy things that have been on my ‘wish list’ for ages. Everything feels more instant, an attitude of ‘Why delay what you can do today?’

I’ve cried a couple of times, properly, and haven’t judged myself for it. Music has been the trigger. I’ve probably laughed more fully as well.

I feel slightly more accident-prone and less risk averse – before the dosing I would constantly be weighing up risks and catastrophising potential disasters. This hasn’t gone completely but it has subsided.

I am consciously trying to focus more on the isness than the ‘mightness’. It’s hard but I manage it from time to time.

Sleepwise I’ve been more inclined to stay up late (2am, even 4am one night) and get up late. On the other hand, I’ve been getting up early enough to make my wife’s breakfast every morning before she goes to work. If both of these patterns kick in (late finish, early start) then I end up with very little sleep. I feel more of a sense of ‘seize the day’ than I used to and less of the usual ‘when will I be able to rest and take a break?’ My sleep has been more relaxing though and I’ve often been waking feeling rested – a rare occurrence for me. I’ve also been napping here and there and feeling really relaxed when I wake up.

As for my diet, I’m really enjoying fruit and vegetables more than I did before – the same as during the dosing days. The taste seems that much nicer and the sensations I get are really intense (in a good way).

Friday, 7 August 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day five: Second scan and follow-up

Flowers from the Psilodep team
I wake up with a headache – is it a hangover? If it is a hangover then it’s far better than an alcohol hangover. I have a shower, which feels amazing and enlivening, and, after another veggie samosa and apple juice breakfast, make my way to the unit.

Robin comes to meet me in reception and we go to the patient lounge where I answer some questionnaires about the past 24 hours and provide the usual urine sample.

We move on to another ward where I put on scrubs once again and the nurse weighs me (I’ve lost a few pounds apparently). We then head to the scanner and once again I’m slid into place like a pizza going into an oven. Or is it more like being placed in a washing machine? Either way, I have to surrender once again, but this feels very different to the first scan. My levels of anxiety are much lower, my depression is much less heavy and overbearing and I don’t have the urge to escape my whirring, buzzing tube.

When the scan with the piano music begins, I feel myself willing the feelings on that I had when listening to music during my doses – just as I had willed those feelings on last night when trying to sleep. When I simply let go of these urges and demands though, the music takes on a new dimension and every key of the piano rains down on me like a waterfall. Again – expectation results in disappointment, openness and isness results in genuine experiencing.

I fill in a couple more questionnaires on Robin’s laptop and then we go back to the ‘chill out’ dosing room where Mark and James are waiting. I feel a bit disappointed that the room has been returned to a more sterile and less welcoming state with much of the colourful material removed. The people within the room are still warm and welcoming though.

We have a chat about the previous day, the breakthroughs and themes that arose and how I’m feeling about everything now. I mention the knot in my solar plexus and how I realised that that’s where I chased all of my unwanted feelings, thoughts, fears and emotions. I say in fact it could be called a ‘not’ without the ‘k’ as it’s where I keep all of the things I’m not prepared to feel, not allowing myself to experience etc. But in reality all that does is increase the size and weight of the knot, increases my anxiety and actually amplifies all of those negative feelings. They’re then placed under immense, resistant pressure and then explode out of me every now and then in an uncontrolled and damaging way.

I eat lunch in the patient lounge with the two chronic fatigue syndrome study participants I met yesterday afternoon (really nice people) and then go back to the dosing room where Mark asks me a series of questions about how I’ve felt during the past week (after dose one and before dose two).
We chat for a while longer and then I’m set free into the world once again, travelling to Liverpool Street on the tube and then getting the train home from there, all the time with the bottle of flowers poking out of the side pocket of my bag. I hope it brought some happiness to people that saw it, it certainly brought happiness to me.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day four: Dosing day two (25mg)

Post-dose on Wormwood Scrubs
I’m trying to write this nearly a week later, on Wednesday, 12th August, and am having to overcome my usual procrastination and the feeling that there’s no way I can describe everything I went through last Thursday. What I need to realise is that I don’t need to describe everything. I also need to trust in myself that whatever comes up as I write will be what’s meant to come up. Forensic detail isn’t required, the essence of the experience is what’s important. Anyway, here goes…

I wake up, shower and then have a veggie samosa and apple juice breakfast – mindful of Robin’s story about how a burger breakfast had had a major impact on someone else’s dosing day. I somehow contrive to be five minutes late to the centre even though I’m staying a one-minute walk away. I wear comfortable linen trousers – which prove far more comfortable and relaxed than the jeans I wore last week. Robin comes to collect me and we go to the participant lounge where I am breathalysed, give a urine sample and answer some questionnaires.

I’m really glad I’d taken the time to write down the first dose experience as it helped me to work out the issues I had, what my fears and concerns were and what I may be able to do to have a better experience. Voicing these fears to Robin and then to James and Mark really helps as they are able to address them and help me and also look out for what may arise during the day. The saying/mantra they mention to me, “in and through” proves to be massively important to the whole experience.

At around 10.30am, I take five psilocybin tablets, amounting to 25mg. The feeling gradually rises up within me. It becomes more and more intense and more and more unbearable in many ways. Darkness descends on me. I feel panicky. I focus on my breath. I feel like I want to run away at one point but that isn’t possible – like a panic attack, this is an internal experience from which there is no escape.

As the emotions and imagery intensify, I feel more resistant, more scared, more like I just want this to stop. This time the visuals are fully-realised images, scenes and experiences most of the time and less like the kaleidoscopic patterns I saw last week.

I have given myself permission this time, that everything is OK. If I want to roll over, if I want to express any emotion at all, if I want to get under the covers, adjust the bed using the control pad that is to my right, say whatever I want, share my fears with my three ‘carers’ rather than feeling I have to suffer in silence – everything is OK. I even give myself permission to wet myself if I really can’t control my bladder because I can’t feel properly whether I needed the toilet or not (thankfully I don’t wet myself).

At one point, I allow myself to crawl up in a ball, foetal. Then I say out loud, “I hate my Dad.” James replies that this is OK. I then ask aloud, “What do I do with the anger though?” But that’s just it, it’s not about fixing it to remove it, this is impossible, it’s about changing my relationship to it.

During this phase, I see a personified horse on its hind legs wearing military clothing and holding a gun by its side. The image is very scary, threatening and dark. It peers out from beneath its military helmet with an intense frown and staring eyes. Like a dream, you can explain it to someone else but it’s only if you experience it yourself and feel the atmosphere and emotions as well that you fully understand how scary it is. The horse is looking to my left and it is my instinct to pass it to the right, push it away and escape it. But rather than do what I’ve habitually trained myself to do for what feels like my whole life, I decide to move to the left and look the horse directly in the eyes. Then I start to laugh and laugh and laugh; a military horse standing on its hind legs with a gun?! It suddenly seems so comical and ridiculous that I can’t stop laughing. This seems to form a turning point for me.

Around the same time, during the same dark phase, I also see Skeletor from He-Man in my mind and comment to the others, “He’s just an insecure little man really.” James later says Skeletor may be a symbol for my Dad. I then chat with the others about He-Man, Mum-ra (truly evil?) and the Thundercats.

I also see my Dad abusing me again – something that has flashed into my head now and again ever since it happened – but, once again, rather than pushing the image to one side and avoiding the situation, I look him in the eyes and move through the discomfort and fear (in and through, in and through).

Initially, I’m still constantly worried about needing the toilet. But after the shift beyond the darkness occurs and I am in a very different state of mind, the fear of wetting myself disappears. I can now gauge how full my bladder is. It’s strange but it’s almost as if I purposefully used the issue last week as a way of not letting go completely. Having worked through the darkness though, having been overcome and forced to face or let go of everything, I am fine.

Going to the toilet during the dark phase, I think ‘I don’t want to feel like this, I want it to stop, what if I never feel normal again, what if I’m changed forever?’ But later on, once I get through that, I think to myself ‘I don’t want this to end, I love this feeling’. (Even during the darker phase though, I catch sight of Animal on the Muppet t-shirt I’m wearing when I’m washing my hands in the toilet sink and laugh a lot about it to myself.)

With my demons fully revealed and presented to me, having looked my deepest fears directly in the eye, I enter a state where I feel completely elated, at peace, absolutely euphoric, the most relaxed and content I have ever been. At times I am flying through space, I am at the edge of the universe. The relationship between space and the stars strikes me: the intense light and the intense darkness. But the stars’ light dissipates gradually, there are many shades of grey between the extremes of light and dark.

I feel absolutely, completely present. It’s like zooming in on the present moment to a cellular, atomic level; the 'isness' of all things is overwhelmingly apparent, I can see and feel it. Every living thing, every object is shining with its own presence and life. At one point I hold a rose in my hands (after James has de-thorned it (health and safety!)) and examine it, its beauty radiating from within it. I am in awe of it and its beauty and I am one with it.

Back in my room post-dose
I realise that rather than focusing on the isness of the moment, I've always concerned myself with the 'mightness' - this might happen, that might happen, if I do x then what might happen. Anxiety can't really survive in the overwhelming presence of the isness. Negative thoughts and feelings still arise but they rise and then fade again in complete awareness. They just are. Being fully accepted just means they are a ripple that subsides quickly, painlessly and without a struggle - without either resistance or clinging on.

I ask James if he has ever read Aldous Huxley’s Doors Of Perception and he replies that he has it in his bag as he is currently re-reading it. This is bizarre. Is it a coincidence? Synchronicity? A sign, a signal or a chance occurrence? Who knows. Going with the ‘just do what you need to’ mentality I ask James if I can read some of it. It takes me a long time to actually read the words – the words move around the page and it is hard to focus, but mainly it takes me a while because the soft, paperback book feels absolutely amazing in my hands. So smooth and soft. Feeling the edges of the pages with my fingertips gives me as much pleasure as reading does.

Every sense is completely, fully immersive and alive. At times I feel the music flowing out of my palms like energy. Touching the blanket, squeezing the pillow, playing with my own hair, squeezing the foam on the eyemask, eating fruit – the texture and taste, the squish of raspberries and blueberries in my mouth – everything feels like a joyful experience.

“I wonder if this is what the Pope feels like?” I ask half-joking at one point, as I feel completely heavenly, in its most literal sense. I feel at one with myself – there is no distinction between I and myself, or any distinction between myself and other people or any other living thing. I wonder momentarily if I will end up becoming religious after this but realise the feeling, the insight is bigger than a single religious path. This covers all religious paths, all life paths, the essence of the soul, the essence of being.

I understand, or actually just know inherently, the oneness of all people and all living things. Everyone’s essence is interconnected. We are all one.

This leads me to think about the migrants who are currently effectively imprisoned in camps in Calais, desperate to come to the UK having fled thousands of miles, often risking their lives in the process. At this point I cry my heart out. Floods of tears that I don’t want to try and stop. It is an expression, like laughing (which I am also doing a lot of) and there is no question of trying to stop myself. They’re just people. They are human. They just need love and compassion. James later says that he saw the migrants and my feelings towards them as a symbol of myself.

I carry on talking about how ridiculous it is not to allow people the freedom to travel wherever they want to in the world, how manmade borders do not exist in reality and should be done away with, how people are simply trying to tell migrants that they don’t want to share what they have, don’t want to share their relatively privileged, comfortable circumstances with others. This is MINE and you cannot have it because if you have it too you will take it away from me. Crazy.

At one point, the dogs me and my wife share with a friend, Bagel and Biscuit, come into my head. I think about when I have shouted at them and how they just want love, and will respond better to love and compassion than anger and recrimination – just like any other living thing does.

Everybody needs love. Everyone IS love. I feel a knowing that approaching everyone with love is the way to live life. It troubles me applying that to my Dad and, to a lesser extent, to my Mum but I think that while I will live my life through love, it’s still my decision who I spend my time with, and there are others in my life that I want to spend time with more. That is the greatest gift I can give to anyone – time.

I think at one moment that logically I should stop eating meat, but then think about how much I like the taste – later I resolve to at least change my relationship with meat, if not entirely give it up.

Later on, I have a great understanding that my reality is mine only. I don’t need to change it, I don’t need others to validate it, I don’t need to impose it on other people and argue with them to convince them. They have their worldview, I have mine; everybody’s worldview is completely individual. Yes, of course there is more crossover between some people than others and friendships may be formed from this commonality but even then, every single worldview, every understanding of the world, every reality is unique.

I feel so much love within me and want to share it with the others so I say, “I really hope you’re as lucky as I am and have people in your life that love you” – or words to that effect. Later on, I do the ‘non-romantic handhold’ (hands holding forearms), not out of fear but because I want to share my experience with the others. I want to take them with me to the edge of the universe and show them just how beautiful it is. I also hold my own hand at times and it feels warm and comforting, the ultimate expression of self-love.

I still have negative thoughts coming into my head periodically but I now know how to approach them – in and through, in and through – approaching even negative thoughts and feelings with love, compassion and understanding.

I realise something very important about my ‘knot’ – the tight knot of tension that I often feel in my solar plexus. I realise that it is where all of my ‘disallowed’ feelings are pushed to, crammed into to become discomfort, to be expressed as anger or depression and then stuffed away again. I realise now that this merely solidifies and amplifies the feelings rather than gets rid of them. The more you resist, the more you push, the more you struggle to eradicate the feelings you don’t want, the stronger and more intense they become, the more they take over. I can visualise my knot as being a tight black mass that then develops tendrils and opens up. I feel compassion for it. James asks me while I’m in my blissful state where my knot is now. All I can do is shrug and make a ‘Merrrr?’ ‘I dunno’ type of sound.

I seem to be able to see everything so clearly, both in my internal world and in the external world. At one point I ask, “Why are people scared to be themselves? What else CAN you be other than yourself?” and I have a huge sense that only I can be me, that I don’t need to strive to be something or someone other, that I am good enough as I am.

It also strikes me that I don’t need to filter myself for other people, be palatable to everyone, be all things to all people. “If you try to be all things to all people then you just end up becoming bland and beige – and it’s exhausting too”, I say at one point. I have wasted many years of my life trying to do everything, be everything, please everyone, but, as I have been doing recently, I am going to focus mostly on the things that I genuinely connect with now.

It also strikes me how strange and pointless a fear of death – the one certainty in life – is.

I feel as if I am floating. Suspended in air. Good and bad emotions and thoughts are one in many ways, as they all need to be approached with love and compassion, whatever they are, whether they are difficult or easy to deal with.

Externally, the lights on the ceiling look like a new galaxy forming, with deep blues and purples that you can sink into infinitely. Meanwhile, the plant leaves at the end of the bed almost look like they’re spinning.

The music throughout the experience couldn’t be better suited – emotional, meditative, contemplative, at times airy, at times foreboding. It really helps to both drag the darkness out of my subconscious but also helps to soothe and ease the pain and discomfort that brings. I make a remark about how I would like a copy of the playlist and how in the pre-download age, I used to know all of the track titles and information about each track, even (I joke) down to the barely audible kazoo player in the background of a song. I couldn’t believe that James and Robin didn’t know what a kazoo was. I envisaged the four of us starting a kazoo band and laughed – it’s what the world needs! I comment on how the kazoo is often looked down upon but is also infinitely versatile and creative as anyone can play any tune on it.

After a chatty period, I quieten down and immerse myself in the music again, wanting to make the most of the rest of my journey. Gradually the waves of absolute euphoria dissipate and decrease in frequency. I don’t want it to end but, as all things must, it does. As I gradually sober up, the room and music slip back to a more normal, familiar feel and look.

We have a chat once I’ve almost ‘landed’, I fill in a questionnaire about my experience and then Robin takes me to the participant lounge where I eat my chicken dinner. Robin then very kindly presents me with a bunch of flowers (roses and lilies) which I’m really touched by and we all say goodbye for the day. I take the flowers to my room (using a water bottle as a makeshift vase) and then walk across the Imperial College and neighbouring hospital grounds to go for a wander on Wormwood Scrubs, feeling the need to connect with nature.

I stroll slowly, feeling the grass, springy and cushiony under my feet, almost as if I am barefoot. I take photos, sit on a bench and absorb the world around me. The sun warms me and I shine back at it. I think about the anger I have towards my Dad. I think to myself that while he may have hurt me when I was a child, he isn’t directly hurting me now. Or, more to the point, the only person that’s perpetuating that pain and is able to bring it to an end is myself. Being loving towards myself involves having the compassion to alter my relationships with my past pain. I can liberate myself from the negative effects of the past and want to.

After I’m attacked by a swarm of what I think were horseflies – and checking in with myself, “Is this really happening or am I still tripping?” – and being bitten (it feels good to feel all the same), I decide it’s time to head back to my room.

I watch nature programmes on TV, which just seems right, speak to my wife on the phone (I’m massively enthusiastic about going to the Extreme Chill festival in Iceland next year) and later on try to fall asleep with my iPod on. I have too many expectations of the music though (“I want it to be like earlier on! I want images, I want the music to open up.”) and find it hard to nod off.

Once I drop my expectations and just let the music envelope me, I once again feel that connection and then drift off to a sleep that’s only briefly interrupted by a particularly noisy Aphex Twin track.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - The night before the second dose

Wednesday, 5th August 2015

The studio flat at Imperial College
I am currently lying on a bed in a room that's been arranged by Mark and Robin about a minute's walk from the test facility. A tube strike started at 6.30pm today so I wouldn't have been able to make it to White City in the morning. I'm staying here for two nights. The room is comfortable and functional enough and I feel secure enough here. I don't know what to expect tomorrow but I am tangibly excited about it. I do need the reassurance that I won't completely lose it though.

The past week has been interesting. I still feel like myself, I am Ian Roullier, my interests and passions are the same. But something is definitely different. Aside from the dizziness that comes with sertraline withdrawal, I have felt much lighter mentally in many ways. Less serious. More detached in some ways but far more connected in others.

Emotionally it feels like someone has taken the cork out of a bottle. I feel alive, excited, energised and eager but I also feel like I'm slightly out of control, like my energy is bounding out of me. I have lost a lot of my fear and inhibitions with other people, I keep making conversation with everyone I come across. While I'm slightly worried I may be too intense for some people, I'm no longer crippled by second guessing how people are reacting to me. I feel far more connected to other people, to myself as well maybe.

Emotionally things are more intense and I feel completely connected to music and at times overwhelmed by it - I cried listening to Corona's Rhythm Of The Night yesterday! I feel strangely efficient at the moment, like I am just doing things rather than worrying incessantly about them. I am still moody, irritable and sometimes angry but I feel far lighter. Like life is more manageable.

I have felt quite manic at times though, completely over excited, almost breathlessly excited. And I've worried whether it's ok to feel the way I do or not. The overriding feeling is of endless possibilities and a large amount of optimism. My dreams have also changed and are consistently inspiring at the moment. I also wake up feeling rested which is massively rare for me.

How to judge this past week is made harder by the shift in my geographical as well as emotional/mental status. Flying to Berlin for my friend’s stag do the day after dosing, I felt completely exhausted and very weird. I was sleep deprived as well as on a come down mind you.

I wonder if my caring less will put me at greater physical risk. I fell off my bike really hard in the road in Berlin and was very lucky not to break any bones (at least I don't think anything is broken). Was this caused by the after effects of the drug or was it due to the fact that the bike I was on was very unstable and, well, accidents happen don't they? I do feel less risk averse but think I just screwed up on a fairly unstable bike.

It's now 2.30am. I really needed to write all of this down before my 2nd dose but also really need some sleep now. Goodnight. I may write or may make a video for tomorrow after I'm back in this room. What to expect? I already feel like someone has swept a broom through me mentally and emotionally so I can only imagine what may happen.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day three: Dosing day one (10mg)

Arriving in White City
I wake up at 6.30am, reluctant as ever to get up. I feel nervous and anxious about what the day holds but I also feel excited. In contrast to the last rainsoaked assessment day, the sun is out, the sky is blue and the trees are a lush inviting green. On my way to the unit, I realise why I was able to withstand being trapped in the scanner - years of practice on rush hour London tubes! I find my two inches of standing space and stare at the floor (so as not to have any forced romantic liaisons with my fellow commuters). The train empties out at Oxford Circus and I get a seat. I spend the rest of the journey to White City writing parts of this blog.


I wait in the reception area having been signed in and then Robin comes and takes me to a patient/participant lounge. He breathalyses me (I'm not allowed to have had alcohol within the previous 24 hours), I provide the required urine sample and then fill in a couple of questionnaires, as is now customary. We then walk to the 'chill out room' - the ward room decked out with colourful sheets, plants and flowers, a scent vaporiser, as well as Mark and James.

We talk through things, my feelings and fears, and then at around 10.30am, I take two psilocybin capsules (equivalent to 10mg). We carry on chatting, over time my perception of colours alters slightly, things feel lighter, time ceases to exist but I still feel fairly similar to normal - it's just there's a slight glow to everything and the music sounds deeper and more open. Within around 45 minutes I can feel the affects more strongly. I carry on chatting to James and Mark - I feel quite analytical - before James suggests I put the headphones and eyemask on and immerse myself within the experience.

The fantastically well-selected ambient playlist fuels my visions, visions that I can see with my eyes closed or with my eyes open behind the foam-edged blindfold I'm wearing. I see kaleidoscopic patterns emerging from the darkness. Just outlines initially but becoming fuller and more colourful as the drug takes more of an effect. Images appear, then streak their patterns around me, infinitely repeated patterns that remind me of the fractal images that first fascinated me as a teenager. Every now and then a bright light surges above me - through me - and takes my breath away. Amongst the patterns are images of a million smirking Stan Laurels, the face of a toy Fisher Price phone on wheels - both of which make me smile.

There are also more-distinct scenes - me flying over various scenes, watching the aurora borealis flicker over mountain ranges. Then there are the images of, or representations of people. I see my love for my wife, visualising us as two curved lasers that fuse together and travel as one. I see my sister and feel love, empathy and sadness for her and what she's experienced in life. I see Mum briefly and try to understand her and her actions but still can’t so consciously move my thoughts on.

I see my friends as well and think, or know rather, that I must be a good person to have such good friends. It isn't arrogance or egoism but just a deep knowing. And I feel blessed to have such dear, close and genuine friends.

During all of this, the music really opens up, I can hear every note suspended in space as if it is a solid, tangible object. Every element of the music has its very own distinct space around me. The detail is astounding - as if I've zoomed in on it aurally by a million times - and I can hear every key of the piano pressed before it sounds and keys lifted as the note ends, I can hear the breath of the musicians playing wind instruments, I can hear people moving around the room during another track and mumbling just out of earshot. In hindsight I'm not sure if this was within the music or within the room around me, there was no distinction. I go on my first trip to the toilet and comment to Mark just how perfect the playlist is.

It certainly isn't all plain sailing though. My anxiety manifests itself as the experience intensifies. I find myself paranoid that I am going to lose control of my bladder and wet myself in front of the others. I also worry that I can’t roll over on the bed, in case I’m not allowed to, in case I turn my back on someone and they think I am being rude. I don’t mention these things until later on when the effects are wearing off.

The experience is like a very intense version of my normal thought processes - what if I do the wrong thing? What if I upset someone? What if I look stupid and humiliate myself? Can I trust everyone? That's when I feel 'locked in' and alone. I have support all around me but cannot, I believe, ask for it. They are going to judge me so all I can do is lie still on the bed, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and flex my pissing muscle constantly to check I’m not going to wet myself by accident.

Do I ride through the negativity? Do I take evasive action by trying to calm myself? Don't Fight It, Feel It as Primal Scream once said. I’m not quite sure what the 'right' way to go is. During this darker period the music also takes on more dark and sinister qualities. The visuals become less colourful and more threatening. Can I see the devil? Is it my inner demons? I wonder to myself if they have put some dark elements into the music on purpose to draw dark feelings and thoughts out of me. Certain notes and instruments or melodies seem scary and dark.

I don’t request a comforting hand in the form of the non-romantic handhold we'd discussed previously. I am on my own and have to get through this on my own as thoughts of 'will I ever be normal again' come into my head to haunt me. Again, this is an intensified version of my normal thought processes - I have to be strong, I have to get through this on my own, I can't ask for help, I can't burden others with my fears, insecurities or problems.

Thankfully, this passes. I do roll over slightly, even though my bladder paranoia continues.

I'm not sure when I had lunch, perhaps after the dark period, and ate some blueberries. They were genuinely amazing. The texture in my mouth, the taste, the way they gently squished and released their juice. It was like being hyper-present. I also ate a banana and an apple, very slowly. All I wanted to eat was fruit, it felt pure and refreshing. During lunch I also saw a face in one of the throws on the table. It was just there, not threatening or welcoming.

Romantic meal for two
Gradually I begin to come down. Having reached a 3.5 self-rating of intensity earlier on, this gradually subsides to a 2 and then a 1. These ratings (on a scale of one to four) and a blood pressure test are taken around once every 30 minutes by Mark. As I start to return to normality and people's faces start to normalise too I chat to James more about my sister and the rest of my family. I go back under the eyemask for a while afterwards and cry as I feel compassion and love for my sister and all that she's been through.

Once I am rating a 1, Robin gives me a couple more questionnaires to do - this time about the experience. Some of my answers seem contradictory - the experience is both stunningly beautiful and anxiety-inducingly scary. I then go and sit in the participant lounge feeling pleasantly blank as I wait for my wife to turn up to the weirdest date night ever - I eat roast chicken and she eats fish and chips.

We then go outside to wait for the taxi that Mark has booked. I feel strange with an underlying fear of whether I appear normal to others but this doesn’t cripple me or modify my behaviour. It takes a long time to get home, due to the traffic, but I am happy to sit and be once we get there (although I do tidy up some garden stuff without really worrying about it).

Friday, 24 July 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day two: First scan and prep.

Me in scrubs
The torrential rain starts just before I arrive. I’m given a green wristband by the receptionist and Robin then comes to meet me and takes me to the patient lounge. After a quick urine test, I put on scrubs, my identity disappearing with my clothes, and we then head to the scanner unit.

Robin guides me through everything. He says it'll be loud and may be claustrophobic. I have ear protectors on and a mirror above my eyes shows me the screen behind my head.

The first scans involve me having to keep my eyes closed for the whole time. Am I lying still? I'm trying to. I must relax my shoulders. Does that make my head move? I don't know. I've been told to focus on my depressed state so I’m thinking about my abusive dad, my childhood, how bleak and horrible it all was. God this is depressing.

After each scan I have to rate how I felt using buttons on a pad that's strapped to my arm and wrist. Left and right on the scale with the first two fingers, then select with my thumb. Each time I have to say how depressed/happy/anxious/motivated I was on a sliding scale.

I feel massively anxious during the first two or three scans. I feel like jumping out of the machine as it grinds and whirrs and groans and beeps around me. I imagine this is what it would be like if I was miniaturised and placed on my flatbed scanner at home - with another one on my left, my right and above me, all about an inch away from my skin. I reassure myself that I have the round squeezy panic button in the pocket of my scrubs and that just about keeps me going.

After every scan (lasting around 8 minutes each) I hear the voice of (her name escapes me, Adele?) who is in the scanner control room, asking me if I'm ok and telling me how long the next scan is and what I need to do. The final three scans involve clicking a button when a face appears on the screen, listening to a piano piece (my happiness rating went up but so did my anxiety - it was quite an emotionally varied piece) and the last one is just a physical scan of my brain rather the activity inside it.

This is where my 4am start kicks in (I had to take my Norwegian nephew to the train station) and I fall asleep. Apparently this is the perfect time to snooze if I need to as it would have messed up all of the scans aside from this one. (Can you be depressed in your sleep? Good question).

The dosing room
After I've filled in a couple of questionnaires on Robin's laptop, we then leave the scanning unit and head to what I can only describe as the chill out room. It's another private ward but has multicoloured fabrics hanging over the curtain rail that encircles the bed. There are fake candles that throw out a soft, welcoming light, pot plants and a nice snug blanket on the bed. This is where I will be given my doses. Robin tells me there will also be an aroma diffuser, fresh flowers and music when it comes to the dosing days.

This feeling of comfort increases as I get to know the two psychiatrists who'll be looking after/over me better. Mark and James are both warm, welcoming and disarming and we talk more about my family background and my struggles to make sense of it all and how I've desperately tried to 'fix' things (normally by trying to get unreasonable people to see reason - futile).

Empowerment and disempowerment seem to be themes. I often feel powerless. I can't change arseholes into better people, even though I try my hardest. Robin brings me a massive lunch and I'm left in the chill out/dosing room to eat and further acclimatise myself.

Post-lunch we have more time to chat and we do a dummy run of the dosing day. I lie down on the bed and listen to a (brilliant) selection of ambient music (is that Eno?) that will be played throughout my dosing. I then put earbuds in, which brings the music even closer, put a facemask on to block out the light and we practise a special handhold (which involves holding each others forearms). That's pretty much it for what was an interesting and at times testing (no pun intended) day.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Psilocybin Trial Diary - Day one: Assessment

I arrive in White City and arrive about 10 minutes late for my 1pm appointment at the Imperial College clinical research centre (or the Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine to give it its full name). There I meet psychiatrist Mark Bolstridge and am led to what looks like a hospital ward.

We chat for a while and then move on to another room for a blood test, blood pressure measurement and urine test, taken by the nurse. I’m also weighed and have my height measured. I sit on the bed in the room with my shoes off, with my novelty socks on full display (today it’s Chief Wiggum from the Simpsons). No matter.

Later, I meet neuroscientist/psychologist Robin Carhart-Harris, who is managing the study (Professor David Nutt is in overall control). He asks me more questions, and asks me to fill in some questionnaires (I also filled in around 10 questionnaires over the weekend at home) and to take some tests. This includes a morphing face test where a neutral face morphs into an angry, happy, fearful, shocked or sad face, or remains neutral. It’s way too quick for me at times but I do my best.

Mark also runs a coordination test. Mark says, “Touch your nose then my finger.” Simple instructions that I misunderstand and end up sitting there repeatedly jabbing my finger on his finger until Mark steers me back to my nose! We then chat for a while and I talk through my background, my childhood, key issues that I have and my most recent depressed phase.

I’m writing this on August 13th so details are sketchy and I’m not 100% sure if I met the other psychiatrist, James Rucker, at this stage or the next one – I’ve been through a lot since the initial assessment! Anyway, I receive confirmation the day after from Mark that I have met the criteria to take part in the study.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Introduction - About This Blog

The Lagoon Nebula in the constellation of Sagittarius
(source NASA, ESA, J. Trauger)
My name is Ian and I’m writing this introduction on April 8th 2016 – around eight months after taking part in a study at Imperial College looking at using psilocybin to treat resistant depression (ignore the date above that I had to choose to make this blog entry appear first!). For those of you who may not know, psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, possession of which has been illegal in the UK since 2005 (in their fresh form – possession of dried or ‘prepared’ mushrooms was already illegal before this).

This has created numerous legal hurdles for former government drug advisor Professor David Nutt to overcome when it came to running the trial. Leading Professor Nutt’s team is Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who I contacted in September 2014 after watching this video of a lecture he gave on the way psilocybin works in the brain.

To cut a long (life) story short, me and my sister were abused by our father when we were children which has affected both our lives in a multitude of ways from our self esteem and self image to trust issues and our choice of relationships. While I’m proud of my sister and myself, especially for facing our father in court in 2012 and ensuring he was sent to prison, we still struggle to deal with what happened and have both suffered debilitating depression throughout our lives.

I hit a particularly bad patch of depression towards the end of 2013 and life became completely overwhelming. I tried to carry on, plough through everything and keep working as hard as I could, even though the longer I ignored it the more depressed, angry and full of despair I became. I’d been on various antidepressants, had regular counselling, had started meditating every day and trying to force myself out of the house to go for walks in the park but nothing seemed to lift the cloud. Month by month I felt myself getting dragged lower and lower. I was desperate and spent much of my life in complete despair.

It was when I was looking at other treatments for depression that I came across Robin’s lecture. In February 2015 I received an email from clinical psychiatrist Mark Bolstridge asking if I was still interested in taking part in the trial and by the summer everything was in place for the study to begin.

What follows is a diary of my experiences, written during the trial itself. I’ve spent the time since wondering whether or not to share my experiences publicly, feeling fearful of how people I know may react due to the stigma that surrounds certain drugs. This has been outweighed by my belief in the study and the potential benefits psilocybin may have for many people suffering from severe depression – plus I’ve been nudged into action by my fellow study participant, Kirk, whose own experiences you can read about on his blog here

This blog will form a permanent record of my experiences and also form a space to express ideas, theories and thoughts relating to the insights and realisations I had during the trial. I hope sharing my experiences helps in some small way to make psilocybin a widely accepted medical treatment for depression.

Why the blog is called ‘In and through’ will become clear as you read through, as will the reason I chose the background image of a nebula from the far reaches of outer space (image credit- NASA, ESA, J. Trauger (Jet Propulson Laboratory)).