Well, that’s a frightening sounding title. We talk so much at Behave Wellness about developing resilience to thrive in the rat race of corporate America. Even surviving work culture is all about Ego: self-promotion, achievement, resisting bullies, and self-care intense enough that the stress of work can’t follow you home. In cases of serious mental illness, the brain perpetually exists in survival mode, vigilant against any perceived threats (think PTSD) while trying to withstand the 9 to 5 one day at a time.
As most of you know, we’ve been instrumental in launching a clinic with counseling, psychiatry, and chronic pain services, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (see our last post on anxiety), and ketamine in Akron, Ohio. We’ve become a resource for the opioid crisis in our city with our novel techniques, and continue to refine our protocols for the challenging patients we’re receiving from all over the state. That’s where ego dissolution comes in. Because mental illness requires so much…brain power, really, where can the mind go to find rest and solace? Many psychiatric medications take weeks to work, and by then many employees find themselves out of a job.
Increasingly, one answer seems to be disassociation. That’s how we, three nurse anesthetists, all started on this journey; besides decreasing inflammation and regulating glutamate so it nourishes the brain, ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. Instead of slowing down breathing and brain activity like narcotics, ketamine simply uncouples the emotional centers of the brain from the here and now. Time slows or stops, vision and hearing become distorted, pain disappears, and synaptogenesis and neuroplasticity form new connections in the nervous system to replace cyclical pathways of pain, OCD, and depression.
Most of the literature reports these side effects as necessary to quickly and permanently change the brain’s neurochemistry, but the newest data takes it one step farther. Higher intensity and longer duration of ego dissolution relates to better outcomes in the toughest cases, meaning that a select group of patients should experience a complete out of body experience. This post shouldn’t be considered medical advice, by the way, because it’s a blog, and despite compelling, carefully conducted research, more studies are needed.
Psychedelics and Faith
Because of the years she spent in the Mexican desert becoming a yogi, our founder Shannon would consider oneness with the universe the key to transformation. The most fascinating concept in ego dissolution is of instantaneous healing via mystical and insightful quantum changes. From Nick’s background as a Pentecostal Christian, it’s not dissimilar from the intense, life-changing moment of salvation and other spiritual experiences. Faith is grounding, in a necessary way that orders our lives and provides meaning, but an authentic and solid belief system should withstand the notion that we are nothing but electrical signals trying to increase output of brain derived neurotrophic factor. Outside of a purely spiritual phenomenon, intravenous ketamine supervised by anesthesia professionals, with support from mental health experts, is the safest way to shift the mind this way.
But, just because something is safe doesn’t mean it should be done. In the Western world, we increasingly take it for granted that feeling bad should be avoided at all costs, even if the alternative is bankruptcy, medications with side effects, social stigma, or feeling even worse down the road. What quick fix will last me until tomorrow? This goes back to our point about resilience: through counseling, can we teach patients to sit with their pain, to acknowledge the darkness, to take the longer path towards more complete wellness? If not, they’re not excellent candidates for ketamine, because to them it’s just the Next Big Thing, like TikTok for some Silicon Valley entrepreneur desperately trying to grow a scraggly beard into something long enough to accidentally dip into a soy mocha.
What do you think? Does this conversation remind you of hippies (or at least Phil Jackson) trying too hard to find meaning in life? Could the psychiatric effects of drugs like ketamine just be the result of lifting the veil between what is seen and the deeper realities of existence? Cave paintings of herb and mushroom influenced “spirit walks” from prehistoric times show these aren’t new ideas. The challenge now is to use the latest research responsibly, keeping Ego in dissolution.