what I learned going through my acid-fueled psychosis

A careless overuse of LSD drove me into psychosis and depression that turned out to be a great learning experience. 

Blotter of LSD

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) was considered as a tool to simulate mental illnesses like schizophrenia and psychosis in its early years of use.

I can get behind that hypothesis since drastic overconsumption of the substance drove me into a psychosis followed by half a year of the worst depression I’ve ever experienced.

Still, I am 100 percent certain about the possible value of psychedelic compounds for the psychiatric system. I also know for a fact that a more responsible consumption would have saved me my two-month-long stay in a psychiatric clinic.

It also would have saved my family and friends a lot of worrying and sleepless nights. Still, roughly a year after the bad trip I would not change a thing about my past because I generally believe the experience turned me into a better person.

I started consuming LSD when I was roughly twenty years old. I always made sure to ace the set (mental state) and setting (safe trip environment) and was careful about the substance. I tripped 2–3 times a year, took months off, and made sure to reflect on and integrate the experiences.

After a month-long Vietnam vacation, which should have lasted about half a year but was cut short because of COVID, I landed back in Germany. At that point, I figured I’d order a bit of Lucy and have a good time.

The basis of the disaster that followed were two things: an excess of both time and LSD.

After a few successful trips, I got more confident in my ability to handle higher doses and experimented with LSD on long runs. I had many great experiences.

I remember one experience that was deeply interesting and is still hard for me to explain. While tripping on about 300 ugs of acid I was practicing my keyboard skills on Travis Scott’s “Highest in the Room” (fittingly). While playing I noticed patterns moving on my hands as I was hitting the keys. My left hand was covered in purple shapes, while my right hand was covered in green ones. After a while, I noticed that those patterns would only show up when I was playing the melody of the songs properly. As soon as I missed a key or screwed up in any other way, those shapes disappeared. I played that same song for about ten hours that day.

I got hooked on experiences like this and started to question rule #1 of tripping: take time off between trips, don’t overdo it. Why would I wait for months, when I could just have those amazing experiences whenever I chose to do so? I mean isn´t acid good for you? Isn´t that what all the people more intelligent than I preach on the internet?

Slowly a trip a month turned into multiple trips a month. Those turned into a trip a week which turned into a trip multiple times a week. Eventually, I got to the point at which I was consuming almost daily, with a few days off while waiting for new supplies. A sacred and dangerous (if used carelessly) substance became an agent I depended on in my day-to-day life, just like others depend on caffeine.

I even tripped at work, without anyone of my coworkers noticing. I enjoyed interacting with people under the influence. I noticed that while I was tripping I was way less prone to putting people into categories or judge them by only their looks or outer appearance.

While the sober me was struggling to keep up a conversation, the acid me had no problems whatsoever talking about god and the world to whoever needed someone to talk to (or didn´t).

At this point, the only alarm signal people close to me picked up was my emerging mania. I did not get enough sleep, woke up early, and took LSD. I also worked out every day, enabled by the LSD-induced serotonin rush.

During that time, I don´t really remember dreaming at all. That is except for one dream that I believe warned me of my upcoming psychosis that I was walking into pretty much willingly, by continuing my consumption.

the dream

In my dream, I was standing in front of a beautiful stream that was surrounded by an area that looked like what Id imagine the garden Eden would look like. I saw something shiny and bright on the other side of the stream (maybe the sun) and went after that. I followed my urge of simple gratification of desire without second thought or care (just like I was doing with my LSD consumption). I stepped into the flat stream that was in front of me. Halfway through the stream, I heard a voice calling: “look down”. As I looked down, the water had turned into a stream of hundreds of black snakes, sizzling around my ankles. Hastily, I made my way to the other side. After I reached it I remember thinking “why did none of those snakes bite me?”

My analysis of the dream ex-post goes somewhat like this: My dream warned me about the dangers of wandering out into unknown territory carelessly. A thing that could work, since I reached my destination and wasn’t bitten. Taking a risk like this might also backfire heavily and cause huge damage for yourself and others. Looking back at it with a sober mind I see the parallels between my LSD consumption and the dream. I wandered into the unknown, got demolished by doing so but managed to dig me out of the hole I found myself in.

I was drawn to abusing substances like LSD for one reason: my social anxiety. I never was comfortable enough to open up. I usually was not able to follow conversations without a huge effort, since all my senses seemed to be preoccupied with scanning my surroundings for potential dangers.

Getting into Brazilian jiu-jitsu about a year ago turned out to be more effective in reducing that anxiety than years of therapy beforehand. There is another benefit to BJJ: the confidence boost you experience is backed by hours of getting destroyed by sweaty dudes on gym mats. So the progress you make is earned.

Taking LSD granted me a temporary lift off my anxiety, which, unfortunately, was chemically induced. I hoped that I would somehow be able to take those benefits into sober life by being in that anxiety-less state as often as I could manage to do so. I also noticed a great increase in my openness and creativity. I was enjoying music like I never had before and drew for hours on end. But it didn’t take long for the negative side effects of my consumption to manifest themselves.

I became more and more paranoid and started fearing manipulation by my mother and my friends. I interpreted signs of general care and love by others as interferences with my privacy and attempts to hurt me. That change occurred from one day to the next, or more accurately one trip to the next. The trip that made me spiral out of control finally, actually was no bad trip. It was one of the best trips I ever had, that turned the sober next months into a bad trip. I suspect that the combination of LSD, Cannabis, and alcohol also had something to do with that.

After that trip, I was convinced that my mother was out there to get me and suspected her of being responsible for my dad’s suicide many years ago. I was suspicious of my sister, who I deeply trust and who never gave me any reason to distrust her. My sister and also my friends became more and more worried. I told some of them I would put the LSD to the side but still continued using it. I needed the substance to quieten down my racing mind and be somewhat functional.

After I confronted my sister and mother with my twisted accusations they talked me into checking myself into a clinic. I already had my suitcases packed, since I was about to get into my car and crash some friend’s couch. Luckily, I decided against it last minute. My initial skepticism against the clinic was grounded in the fact my father also was treated at that place, which obviously did not work for him. When agreeing to the clinic I generally feared that I´d pay with my life for doing so.

the clinic

The process of getting into the clinic took hours and was hard on my sister, mother, and me. We were being held in the waiting room for many hours and witnessed a lot of emergency cases around us.

People were screaming, fighting until they got restrained and or sedated by some sort of tranquilizer. Since I seemed normal in comparison to my future co-inmates we were left waiting for what felt like an eternity.

I was led into a doctor’s office. I told them what had happened and was taken aback by a statement from the doctor. She told me that they would not keep me there if I wasn’t experiencing thoughts of suicide. I told her in a friendly manner that I was gonna try to kill myself if they’ll let me out. I expected that lie that was forced on me to put me into that isolation cell you know from the movies. After that conversation, the doctor left again and kept us waiting for another hour.

Fearing that I wasn’t allowed to stay at the clinic I tried to appear as insane as possible to force them to keep me. The best approach seemed to be to start drawing and scribbling on my arms. Not very creative, but at least somewhat abnormal. After that did not seem to speed up my admission into the clinic, I thought about a more drastic approach. What if id lit up a cigarette in the doctor’s office, setting up the fire alarm, and causing a little bit of a commotion myself? What were they gonna do, lock me in? Fine, that’s exactly what I wanted. Luckily, I didn’t have to go that far, since my sister convinced my doctor to keep me there.

After my sister witnessed me writing down a quote on a website I hastily bought in my mania, she suspected that I was writing a suicide note and apparently that convinced the doctors of the fact that I was in danger. Was it a suicide note? No. It was a Huxley quote I found cool and I wanted to put on my website to seem intellectual and bright. In case you are wondering, here it is:

“That is the secret of happiness and virtue — liking what you’ve got to do.” (Aldous Huxley)

After I finally got admitted into the clinic I was greeted by a buff-looking nurse, who admitted some hostile energy as we first met. He mustered the scribblings on my arms somewhat skeptically and seemed to be unsure whether I was gonna turn out to be dangerous. Beforehand I told my mother and my sister I was gonna use my BJJ skills to strangle anyone trying to give me some sort of medication I did not want to, and I don’t know if that statement made its way all the way through the clinic stuff, but that could be the reason for his skepticism.

Actually, I did not do anything of that kind and gladly took the tranquilizers in hopes of finally being able to sleep — and dream again.

The time in the clinic turned out to be a pretty valuable experience. I met a lot of interesting people, who often went through horrible experiences like rape, drug abuse, or a specifically horrible breakup. I heard a lot of stories that made mine seem like paradise in comparison. But underneath all those grim stories there was a pretty valuable rapport going on. Me and the friends I made at the clinic joked about our prior drug abuse, depression and even suicide attemps in some cases. From the outside looking in that might sound somewhat grim but to us it was everything. Finally, we were able to talk to people who were like us and did not judge us for our flaws and shortcomings.

The first few weeks of my roughly two months long stay I spent in the semi-closed psychiatry. That meant I wasn’t allowed to leave the institution except for a few daily activities. After a few days, I was granted a 30-minute window of outside time, and eventually with my transition to a different station I was able to spend as long outside as I wanted. “Outside” meaning on the clinic area, since corona regulations made trips to the nearby town inaccessible. After that point, I spent most of my time outsides, chainsmoking cigarettes.

What took me aback quite a bit was that my initial expectations of clinic life turned out to be untrue. I expected there to be a definite and visible divide between the sane and the insane. That wasn’t the case. I was confused with clinic staff multiple times during my stay and myself confused an intern at the clinic with a patient. With my anxiety still absent because of my heavy LSD use I was able to approach many of my co-inmates in an open manner and got to meet a lot of amazing people, who often did not appear that crazy to me at all.

Obviously, there were some cases that had seemed to have lost all connection with reality and that were somewhat tranquilized into a normal state. But I had many great and meaningful conversations with people from many walks of life that had all been through some sort of shit and now had to put themselves back together. And I was one of them, I realized, after running from that thought for about a month.

I was prescribed the chill pill promethazine as well as antipsychotics such as olanzapine and Abilify in large quantities. I don’t know if the depression that followed after the clinic was induced by the LSD (I had experienced minor depressions after trips before) or because of the fact that I was on 20–30mg of said medication, which pretty much made me lose all positive (and negative) emotion and numbed me way too much.

Because I feared the latter might be true and the medication might be the cause of my depression, I cold-turkeyed my way out of my antipsychotics. I found one or two obscure youtube videos of people trying to get off 5mg of antipsychotics and having a horrible time, while I was prescribed 4 times as much at that point. The next weeks were going to be fun!

In actuality, the next few months were just as horrible as the month before, so I did not really mind. At least it did not get worse. I spent weeks on my couch watching youtube videos and wasting away. After about a month or two I actually felt better. It might have been a coincidence or connected to the german winter finally ending.

In fact, I didn’t just feel better, I felt fucking amazing. I hadn’t experienced any positive emotion for months on end and was completely overwhelmed by my newfound happiness. I feared I was on the brink of another psychosis, and maybe I was.

After conversations with my family and therapist, I decided to get on my medication again, since cold-turkeying any prescribed medication is always a bad idea and the risk of falling back into psychosis seems to be nearly 100% if you don’t take your meds. I’m on a 5 mg dose of Abilify now and still feel pretty good.

What did I learn?

So after going through that horrible time, why don´t I regret it? Well, I regret things I said, conversations I had, and people I deeply hurt or broke the trust off. What I don´t regret though, is meeting all those interesting and amazing people in the clinic, staff, and inmates alike. A lot of them helped me through the rough depression that followed after I got back into the real world. I wouldn´t exchange those connections for anything.

Also, something interesting happened after I got out of my depression. After my medication was reduced and I got my nutrition, workout, and life habits back on track I still retain one benefit I thought id only experience while on LSD.

My anxiety is pretty much gone. During my trips, I became way more extroverted and for once was looking forward to going to new places, meeting new people, and doing new things. That curiosity overwrote my anxiety and made me leave my comfort zone. Interestingly, I found that curiosity glimmering up again and I also kept my increased enjoyment of music and art.

I also learned a valuable lesson about my proneness for addiction. It is really hard for me to do anything fun without immediately getting hooked to it and overdoing it. If that is a tendency you share with me, drugs like acid probably aren’t for you.

Acid is also said to be able to help people with addiction problems, but what if acid itself becomes the addiction? Paradoxically acid helped me overcome acid addiction.

During the past year, I often thought about tripping again to get out of my depression. Luckily I resisted the urge since a trip at this point would most likely end in a similar disaster.

But at this point, about a year after my initial breakdown, I don’t have the urge to consume LSD anymore. I finally feel good again and I carried a lot of benefits into my sober life.

So while people like my mother would like me to condemn LSD as a “bad drug” I’m not going to be able to do so. I know that what happened was due to my carelessness and overuse. I know that a few more trips might have left me with damages I might have never recovered from.

But I also know that if it wasn’t for those experiences, my anxiety would still be there holding me down and making my life miserable. Right now at this point in my life, I am happy and confident in my position. I’m looking into a career in psychology right now and have no need to scramble up my mind and possibly cause more damage in the long run.

But who knows, maybe in 40 years, when I’m drowning in routine and my ego has run amok long enough, I’ll need a certain agent, able to open the doors of consciousness and making me able to see the world in a way that a child would.

Maybe I want to take away the pain from dying as Huxley did by ingesting LSD at his death bed.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to do so in a way that is legal, controlled, and supervised.

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