The panic attacks began within days.
In hindsight, it seems utterly absurd that I was back at work the day after my diagnosis, or more broadly, that I attempted to continue carrying on with my life in any way at all that resembled normal. (see Denial above)
But, I was told, at 54 years of age, that I had 2-5 years to live, that there was no cure, that the focus of care would be to maintain as much quality of life as possible for as long as possible, I was told that I would fatigue easily and increasingly, and so my motto should be Conserve To Preserve: i.e. conserve my energy and mobility for the things that were most important to me, for as long as I could still enjoy those activities.
That right there is bleak. That right there is not something easily tucked away in some corner of one’s consciousness so as to be able to function and go about life’s daily routines. That right there contains thoughts and feelings that require only a small opening in the door to terror and despair to then blossom completely into panic, shortness of breath, cold sweat, a feeling of being trapped and unable to escape the corner you’ve been forced into.
It’s fear that starts a panic attack, and the attacks are so scary that a vicious negative feedback loop is formed, and at first, upon reporting this to the doctor, the only thing that stopped the attacks was pharmaceutical drugs.
I don’t like taking pills. Hell, I’ve never been capable of sustaining a daily vitamin regimen for very long, but there I was, on a low dose of a blood pressure drug for the past several years, then on two new daily drugs for ALS symptoms, a daily dose of an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug, and finally, a stronger, as-needed anti-anxiety drug for panic attacks.
Seemingly out of nowhere, there was talk everywhere – public radio and television, podcasts, magazine articles off and online, new books on the shelves. Talk of psychedelics.
So powerful and effective was the right-wing freakout over the 1960s-1970s hippie movement, so fearful were the conservative status quo sycophants, psychedelic drugs were not only made illegal and the laws strictly enforced, but despite the evidence that LSD, psilocybin, peyote, and other substances offered positive, transformative experiences, most research on their potential benefits was shuttered for 50 years.
By 2018, however, humans seemed to have reached a critical mass of concern over skyrocketing numbers of people diagnosed with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, skyrocketing suicide rates, and the failure of traditional psychiatric drugs to stem the tide.
Suddenly, research emerged, much of it conducted underground or outside of the U.S., showing that psychedelic compounds were proving highly effective in helping people for whom all other treatment options proved ineffective.
More importantly, whereas pharmaceutical drugs were almost always prescribed on an ongoing daily basis, people with severe mental health symptoms undergoing psychedelic treatments were getting better after, at most, a handful of guided experiences, and then merely required things like talk therapy and meditation practice in order to be done with psychiatric drugs of any kind.
Suddenly, for the first time in 20 years, I was seriously considering taking LSD or eating psilocybin mushrooms, this time not for kicks, but rather, as the Jefferson Airplane once instructed, to feed my head; to, as the new research was explaining, help areas of my brain that normally don’t communicate with each other create new neural pathways in order to communicate, thereby enabling the brain and the body’s nervous system to adapt and overcome pharmaceutical treatment-resistant conditions; to make it easier for the patient to take peaceful refuge in the present moment, rather than suffer the slings and arrows of ghosts from the past and fears of the future.