26 Nov 2018

Psilocybin Therapy in the Wild: One Man's Story of Anxiety, Trauma and Mushrooms

by Roderick


This is an ongoing series about the therapeutic and medicinal applications of psilocybin, from the recent and true experiences of helpful collaborators. Names have been changed to protect their anonymity. This is only Part 1 of Namé’s story, his first-hand experience with psilocybin therapy will be explored in the next part of the series.

Namé (pronounced NAH-may) is a forty-something tech professional living in San Francisco with his two young children. A recent string of events and a lifetime of anxiety has left him in a desperate situation, having trouble coping with his successful career and domestic turbulence. His anxiety attacks are becoming more frequent and lasting longer. The revelation of his wife’s affair and pending divorce was nearly too much to handle. Namé was looking for a reset button, to end this chapter and start the next. After weeks of intense research, psilocybin became the obvious answer.

A Lifetime of Anxiety

As far back as he remembers growing up on the East Coast, starting in preschool, anxiety was an aspect of daily life for Namé. Most mornings would begin with stomach aches, leading to crying and vomiting. The sheer notion of school was a glimpse into hell. When Mom dropped little Namé in the schoolyard at the start of a day, he'd scream with terror as if he would never see her again. Like a phase that never ended, it got worse all the way up to 8th grade. These morning episodes only seemed to cease, or be suppressed, by the time Namé hit high school.

Like a spectre, Namé's anxiety would raise its head when emotions or stressors were high. Going to college, break ups, even getting a new puppy at 34 years old, would be enough to induce an anxiety attack lasting days. Namé convinced himself that age and experience would eventually end these attacks. But adulthood presents a whole new set of challenges and emotions like fatherhood and stressful careers. The week-long attacks still happened at least once a year, and the shroud of anxiety started creating a rift between him and his wife.

It reached the point where she felt it was enough. She began an affair that would end their marriage. Divorce papers arrived only a few shorts months ago. Severe abandonment issues from a lack of parental love, comfort and confidence were piqued anew by the departure of his wife. With ideas of suicide swimming in his head, Namé knew he had to address the root causes of his anxiety, purge all negativity and come to terms with his recent trauma.

Highs and Lows with Tradition Therapies

Namé has a decade of history with psychology and psychiatry. The worst anxiety of his life, triggered by a visit between his wife and her ex-boyfriend, left him on the couch for a month. He knew something was very wrong and met with a psychiatrist, desperately seeking help. The doctor prescribed both Ativan and Celexa.

Ativan (Lorazepam): A benzodiazepine medication. Larger doses are required for the same effect over long-term use. Sudden cessation can cause benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.

Celexa (Citalopram): An antidepressant, SSRI. A lesser-known drug with a litany of known and frequent side-effects.

Ativan especially made Namé instantly feel better. It was the first time he had tried any medication to treat his anxiety. “It felt like a miracle.” He couldn’t believe such a significant change could be had after being so deeply depressed and anxious for so long. A wash of regret for not seeking treatment earlier was lessened by the new hope and optimism he felt. Namé felt the Celexa was unnecessary. He had pinpointed anxiety as his issue. Depression wasn’t the problem, so SSRIs wouldn’t be the solution.

He filled his prescription for Ativan a dozen times over the years, a back-pocket assurance for an oncoming attack. The affair and the divorce was an entirely different beast, something Ativan and support couldn’t conquer. A handful of psychiatrists and prescriptions later, Namé is only now crawling from the pit of despair he found himself in. To wean him off of Ativan, he was given Gabapentin. Zoloft and Lexapro were either ineffective or left untried.

Gabapentin: A treatment for partial seizures and neuropathic pain, off-label use for anxiety, insomnia and bipolar disorder. Tolerance and withdrawal are common, abuse is frequent among those with a history of addiction.

Zoloft (Sertraline): An antidepressant, SSRI. Used to treat a plethora of disorders. Diarrhea, sexual dysfunction and sleep disruption are common side effects.

Lexapro (Escitalopram): An antidepressant, SSRI. Used to treat major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Common side effects include sleep disruption, nausea, sexual dysfunction, and “feeling weird”.

Since the recent events, Namé has been seeing the same therapist he met with a year ago. That initial encounter had been prompted by “the precursor to the affair that had come up in my marriage”. Experiences with previous therapists over the years had gone nowhere. He had realized the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist: a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who could prescribe the medications he needed to overcome the most intense anxiety attacks.

A Discovery of Psilocybin Therapy

The only experience Namé has had with “illicit drugs” is recreational marijuana. Given his residence in California, that title is debatable. An evasion of hallucinogens and alternative therapies had left him with an absence of experience with truly mind-altering substances.

“Deep down I’ve known that SSRIs weren’t going to be the right path for me. They may still be, but I believe that the treatment you think is going to work for you is ultimately the one that will work. I had heard about studies regarding psychedelic therapy and the wonderful results they were producing and it sounded interesting.”

Namé started reading on the subject intensely. Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind was “a revelation”. Namé knew from page one that this therapy might be the one to shed his mind of his lifelong anxiety. Along with the optimistic early results and outcomes of psilocybin therapy, he felt a connection to the process. He felt his ego had grown over the years to protect himself from “real and imagined threats”.

This ego had been fed a lifetime of anxiety, trauma and bad influence. It dictated emotions and decisions to the point where Name felt it must be purged. He was intrigued by the work done among terminal cancer patients, and the resolve and understanding that psilocybin provided. In a small way, learning to be comfortable with himself, alone in the face of adversity, was a thought he could relate to.

The book was just the beginning. Never one to walk into something ill informed, Namé consumed every article, study, lecture, video, and podcast to learn everything about the process. “It sounded too good to be true… but it was too good for me not to try.”

He encountered some hurdles in his quest for knowledge. Most articles were authored by, or attributed to, the relatively small group of individuals referenced in Pollan’s book. “There appears to be a relatively limited amount of resources out there right now and everyone pretty much has all the same information.” Along with them, Paul Stamets and his work furthered Namé’s confidence in the medicinal and therapeutic application of fungi.

Concerns about the current legal status of mushrooms had crossed his mind, but at this point they were largely irrelevant. The main confusion arose from the simple yet absurd idea that a mushroom could be illegal. Risk of repercussion, as well as the thought that such therapy would be administred by a stranger, was quickly outweighed by the potential positive outcomes.

Expert Guidance is Hard to Find

Magic mushrooms, illicit drugs, and alternative therapies were foreign domains to Namé. Finding a professional “spirit guide” is not easy for your average tech professional and father. But he was driven, and through the friend of a friend of a friend’s friend, he found someone he could trust with the task. At their first meeting, Namé was overcome with relief, the first ray of hope he felt since the beginning of his divorce.

But the anxiety quickly crept back in, and Name dreaded the thought of having to leave his current therapist over fears that his choices would not be accepted or supported. Like a path being revealed by a divine hand,

“it turned out, coincidentally, my therapist spent 6 years studying psychedelic therapy during his doctorate. I completely broke down in his office when he told me that. It was such a relief and really made me feel like this was all meant to be.”

The planets had aligned and Namé had found what he was looking for. Research and reading had prepared him for what to expect. His therapist helped him to focus on the specific goals and intentions he wanted to encounter during the experience.

“So, I went in with ambitious goals of curing myself of my lifelong anxiety, coming to terms with the end of my marriage, and processing my mother’s death from 14 years ago.”

This is an ongoing series about the therapeutic and medicinal applications of psilocybin, from the recent and true experiences of helpful collaborators. Names have been changed to protect their anonymity. This is only Part 1 of Name’s story, his first-hand experience with psilocybin therapy will be explored in the next part of the series.

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