In the last few newsletters I’ve shared some of what I know about treating PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)… but today I want to share a more personal story with you.
As you probably already know, in August 2019 my lymphoma relapsed, and a few months later I had what has been a successful (so far!) Stem Cell Transplant.
What you may not know is in the months after my transplant, once the “dust had settled” and I was at home recovering with nothing but time on my hands and my thoughts to tortune me, I became consumed with the fear I would relapse.
Every sensation in my chest — pressure, a cough, a minor pain — would incite terror, which only ceased after my next PET scan showed I was still in remission. I knew I couldn’t keep living like this; I had to figure out a way to come to peace with my potential death so I could continue to live. This is when I had an idea.
***Please note the story in this email is NOT medical advice, but a personal experience I would like to share with you. And for the sake of covering all bases, let’s just say this is a “fictional story” that “never happened” 😉 wink wink.
I was already familiar with the use of psychedelics (like psilocybin and LSD) for PTSD and even terminal cancer patients when I happened into a conversation with another physician who had helped his patients through “spiritual journeys” for similar issues. He shared his protocol with me, and I decided to create an experience for myself that ended up being one of the most transformative of my life.
In research settings such as the Veterans Administration or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS (which are currently the only settings with these substances can now be used in a legal, therapeutic way… although there is hope that will change soon), psychedelics can be used to assist psychotherapy by taking a person to a mental state where they can face their trauma from a more open and less fearful, mindset, therefore processing it faster and more effectively than can be achieved in traditional exposure therapy.
In many studies, a single 8-hour psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy session can lead to as much improvement as months of traditional therapy.
The idea isn’t that psychedelics will turn you into a psychic god (although that would be nice) — but they can help you (temporarily) transform into the wisest version of yourself, and from that perspective you can ask yourself the questions you most need to be answered.
So before my journey, I wrote down a list of the questions I wanted to ask the wisest part of myself when she was available to me. They were:
How will I come to peace with the fact I will die, without knowing when or how it will happen, and when it could happen soon?
What is the meaning of my life? How should I approach the time I have with purpose?
What happens after we die?
Believe it or not — the wisest part of myself had the answers I needed.
During the experience I felt very acutely that the worst thing about my early death would not be how it affected me, but how it affected those closest to me, like my husband and parents and brother. It became so obvious that, if it were to happen, my only role would be to help them process it. And just this realization gave me peace.
Then another insight hit — the purpose of my life is also the solution to my suffering. My purpose is to be a translator.
Not a translator of languages, but of lessons. The meaning of my life is to take everything I know — whether something I learn via my professional work, or from my personal experience — and communicate the story in such a way as to elevate another person, to bring them peace in their pain, and to show them they’re not alone.
If suffering is the hand I’m dealt, at least I can do something with it, even if it’s not the path I would choose for myself. That insight, too, gave me peace.
Oh, and what happens after we die? The answer is… it doesn’t matter. Nothing about knowing would change how I live my life now, because now is all we have. So I can continue to live as I am, and suspend my curiosity about anything else until my death, when I will find out.
If you’d like to hear more about psychedelics and my personal experience with them, you can watch the recent Livestream video I did on this subject on my Instagram page. This topic always spurs lots of questions (which I love!), so feel free to email me back or leave a comment on my post.
**Oh, and before I sign off for the weekend, one more VERY IMPORTANT thing!**
I just wrote a blog post about my physician-scientist mom’s contribution to a revolutionary discovery in cancer diagnostics behind the founding of the now $8 billion company, GRAIL, and I would very much appreciate it if you read it.
It’s in part a shout out to her, but also speaks to a larger issue of sexism in medicine (she wasn’t, until I brought this issue to attention via social media, given public credit for her work). It would mean a lot to me if you took the time to read my article and comment with your thoughts. Here is the link: