A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (source: The Guardian) suggests that magic mushrooms may help with the treatment of depression.

The news made me smile. It reminded me of the many weird and wonderful trips I had on mushrooms during my time at university.

One mushroom-induced experience in particular stands out, because it became one the most horrible and illuminating experiences of my life.

God in a box

It all started when I came into possession of a very substantial amount of dried mushrooms. At home, I kept the fungi in a Japanese tea tin, which, tongue-in-cheek, I referred to as God in a Box.

Once in a while I would ingest some of the mushrooms and explore nature, listen to opera, look at paintings by Picasso, and write poetry.

By the time I had my one and only bad trip, I was familiar with the ebb and flow of the drug and comfortable with the whole process.

One evening, I decided to go on another journey. I ate a portion of mushrooms at home, waited for the initial nausea to give way to changes in my perception and then allowed the trip to deepen on its own.

So far, so good. The initial part of the trip was entertaining as usual: I saw time (this made sense at the time) and biked around town feeling 4 meters tall (this didn’t make sense at the time).

Some other distinctly odd things happened, but they are irrelevant to this story. The real fun started when late in the evening I decided to return home.

Howl

Out of nowhere, things went pear shaped. As I begun to bike home, I turned a corner into a dark and narrow alley and, as I blinked, everything changed.

Up until this point of the trip, I was perceiving reality through rose-tinted, Imax 3D enhanced glasses. My trip was funny, inspiring, creative and joyful.

Then, some miscreant swapped those glasses for a pair that was part Dante’s Hell and part Ginsberg’s Howl. Suddenly, everything was bad. Very, very bad.

My life was bad. My choices were bad. My prospects were bad. I was bad. Everything I had done was bad. The universe was bad. People were bad.

Anything I perceived, thought of, imagined or argued was inherently, fundamentally and irredeemably bad.

As a result, I felt an overwhelming sense of panic, shame, worthlessness, hopelessness, loneliness, and powerlessness. I was those feelings and I was the badness in and around me.

Back home I frantically tried to think my way out of this mess. I argued, pleaded, hoped, begged, but to no avail. The bad was everywhere and I was stuck in it for ever.

The logic of hell

Then, in rapid succession, two things happened.

First, I contemplated suicide. Realising everything had always been bad, was bad and would remain bad for ever, without any hope of change, the one and only way out of this hellish suffering was death.

This sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t. It was a simple, clear, almost logical conclusion that I arrived at very calmly.

And immediately the second thing happened: I felt a deep urge to live, remembered that all of this was just a trip and realised that my conclusion was wrong. That in spite of the total hopelessness and powerlessness I experienced, I knew that it wasn’t real and that it was all due to the mushrooms. All I had to do was wait.

And so I did. I waited a couple of hours for the mushrooms to clear my system and while everything remained bad, I clung to the idea that it was just a trip.

At some point I decided to sit out the trip at my girlfriend’s place. And as I was about to leave the house, another curious thing happened.

I opened the front door and as the cold winter air stung my face, I looked down and saw a cat. Just a normal cat who looked up at me and meowed. And just like that, everything reverted back to normal, grounded sanity.

While the trip was still buzzing in the background, my perceptions and experiences were (almost) back to normal. While my day-to-day reality at the time was far from cheerful, it wasn’t the hopeless hell I had been stuck in for the past few hours. I was going to be just fine.

Lesson

They don’t call this a bad trip for nothing, and yet I cherish this experience. At the time I was pretty depressed and I would get stuck in the feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that lends depression its crippling power. I often felt as if everything in my life was shit and always would be shit, not matter what I did.

This experience, however, allowed me to reframe this state of mind as ‘just a trip’. A shitty trip, yes, but not something I was, but something I was in and would get out of eventually. It didn’t solve my depression, but it did put some space between me and the depression, so that I was able to breath and have a sense of hope.

Over the years I slowly managed to increase that space until the depression was gone. I haven’t been depressed for may years now because of the inner work I have done, but there are still days where I feel lacklustre, cranky or tired, or when things go pear shaped for non-mushroom related reasons. Then I simply think ‘this is just a trip’ and find comfort in knowing that this too will pass and that all will be well.

Ilja van Roon

P.S. So there it is, my ‘shroom story. If you find this illuminating (pun intended) then perhaps check out this blog about my journey From Fearlessness To Courage or why Your Reaction To Pain Is The Source Of Your Pain.

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