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“Ketamine fixed what antidepressants couldn’t”

It’s like my thoughts are completely rewired, and I was reborn with a new brain

"Ketamine fixed what antidepressants couldn't"

Who: Janine Bajnauth, a 33-year-old tech worker

Treatment: Six ketamine-assisted therapy sessions

From the time I was in elementary school, I always felt like something was off. I had this voice in my head that constantly put me down. It told me I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t as pretty as the other girls. I was bullied in school, which reinforced these beliefs. When I was growing up, no one ever talked about “mental health.” Things got worse as I got older. When I was around 12 or 13, I started cutting my arms, and that continued on and off into my late 20s. I had learned to internalize how I was feeling and self-harm became my only outlet. I began experiencing suicidal thoughts.

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In 2017, I attempted suicide, taking a combination of pills that we had in the house. I wrote a note to my parents that said, “I’m sorry, mom and dad. I love you.” When I was about to swallow the pills, my dog, Loki, wouldn’t leave my side and didn’t stop looking at me. It was like he was staring into my soul. I ended up spitting out all the pills.

When I spoke to my family doctor, she put me on antidepressants, and we started doing talk therapy sessions. The first drug lifted me out from where I was, but it didn’t help that much. I felt less suicidal, but I was still depressed. I tried another antidepressant, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Around the same time, I started experimenting with cannabis. It was so beneficial for my depression. It got me out of bed in the morning and eased my social anxiety by helping me let go of some of my inhibitions.

In 2019, I tried MDMA at a music festival. It was the first time I ever felt completely myself. My mind finally went quiet. It was like all the dark parts inside of me had melted away. I felt free-spirited and light.

After my recreational experience with MDMA, I started looking into psychedelics. I wanted to know why they helped so much while prescribed medication didn’t. In my research, I learned that ketamine therapy was approved in Canada, which led me to the downtown Toronto clinic, Field Trip.

I reached out to the clinic in 2020, but I didn’t feel ready to start. Something just didn’t feel right at that time. Instead, I started working with a counsellor who practices alternative medicine in November of 2020, and met with her for about seven months. We worked to restore fragments of my soul that had been lost through the trauma I’ve experienced. Then in April of 2021, I hit another low point, but this time, it felt like the right time to reconnect with the clinicians at Field Trip.

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My parents grew up during the War on Drugs era, so they were hesitant about leaning into psychedelics. But they have always wanted what’s best for me and, after they noticed how much I was struggling, they wanted to support me in any way they could. My dad drove me to my first appointment—and every subsequent one—and patiently waited for three hours during each visit.

I shared the healing work I’d been doing leading up to my first visit with the Field Trip team, which included a nurse and a therapist. They told me, “You listened to your intuition and you’ve already been putting in the work, this is just the next step of your journey.”

I went for two ketamine sessions and one integration therapy session, every week for three weeks. I sat in a comfortable chair with a weighted blanket over me. At the start of each session, my team would talk through how the session would go, how I’ve been feeling and what my intentions were for the trip. Once we discussed everything, I’d be handed the dose of ketamine in the form of a lozenge that dissolved almost instantly in my mouth. I’d swish it back and forth for about 10 minutes, then spit it out. I put on headphones playing a curated list of instrumental music and eye shades. When my team tilted my chair back, my trip would begin.

After the first session, I remember coming home and feeling light and happy. Researchers say that for about 50 per cent of patients, their suicidal thoughts fade away after their first session. It was like that for me. I could not believe the difference right away. I remember the next day I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “I am beautiful. I am smart.” I’d tried practicing self-love before, but I had never believed what I was saying. Now, I had a new appreciation and love for myself. I was blown away that I could experience such a transformation after just one session.

There were sessions when I remember seeing certain things and thinking, Well, what does this have to do with anything? I would sit back and let it play out, and eventually it would make sense. It was almost like watching a movie.

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One time, I was above the clouds over Toronto zooming further and further out. I saw the waterfront, the lake and New York, and then zoomed out to the whole planet. I saw my grandmother, who passed away in 2019, and I could feel her love and her strength and kindness. Her name is Ivy, and I saw ivy starting to grow all around me. I could feel my authentic self flourishing. The ivy led to a rocky formation, and an endless waterfall, and I realized I was in the water about to go under but without fear of drowning. I felt at peace and one with the water. I realized I couldn’t drown in the water because I was a part of it. This same water connects our world, and it was the first time I felt truly connected with everything.

At the end of each week, I would have integration sessions with my therapist, where we talked about what I saw. A couple weeks after I finished my cycle at Field Trip, I went to a concert with a new group of people I’d never met. I was nervous that my intense social anxiety would rear up. In the past, I would have to remove myself from a group because I felt like I didn’t belong or I wasn’t good enough. But this summer, I had the most amazing time. All of my inhibitions dissolved. I was able to just be present and be myself. It was such a freeing experience.

Since doing therapy, there have been weeks where I’ve struggled mentally. There are days when I can feel the depression coming back. At one point, I started thinking that all the work I had done might have been for nothing. That’s when I had the realization that the work was about rebuilding a new skeleton—a new foundation for me to build myself on.

Now, when negative thoughts try to creep back in, I’m able to quiet them down, most days. I’ve gained a new awareness and perspective in areas where I had none before. Prior to my experience with ketamine, I struggled with suicidal ideation, an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and a loop of negative thought streams. Now, it’s like my thoughts are completely rewired, and I was reborn with a new brain. One that can love and support itself and continue to grow from a positive and healthy foundation.

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