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Mark's Story: Am I Going to Feel This Way Forever?

Mark fly fishing

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t enjoy anything and didn’t know why? Maybe you stopped wanting to spend time with your friends or do those things you once enjoyed. Maybe you felt frustrated and angry all the time. Maybe you wondered what happened to all that energy for life that you used to have. You may even have started wondering if you were going to live life in the grey forever.

I remember when I used to be happier; I liked exercising and spending time outdoors… I looked forward to spending time with friends. I wanted those happy feelings back and I wanted to feel less terrible on the way to feeling better.

On the outside, my life is pretty comfy: by all standard measurements, I’ve got it good. I’m still married. I’ve got a wonderful, healthy family. I live in a nice home in a beautiful town, with a successful career. I’m a forty-year-old guy with everything to live for.

When I was younger, I was excited to have chosen a career in the emergency services. I remembered a time when I felt confident and strong, both physically and emotionally. It was how I knew myself and it was how other people saw me from the outside.

I had chosen a career in the emergency services that led me down a path where I dealt with many people’s problems and trauma over twenty-plus years.

I was a police officer in a busy metro-area department for eight years.

After working the streets and dealing with people on their worst days, I became bitter, negative, and cynical about the way people treated each other, and about the job itself. I had developed a hardened emotional armour to keep those feelings and experiences from the job out of my head. It was a defence mechanism to protect myself so I wouldn’t become hurt – or feel their feelings. If you are a police officer, you are probably nodding, because you know this to be true. For many people, I was “hard to read” and avoided showing emotion. I saw the effects that policing had on people who had chosen it as a career. Back then, many lacked adequate coping mechanisms and would sometimes turn to alcohol or other substances, which then led to addiction issues, broken relationships and marriages.

Near the end of my law-enforcement career, I had the wisdom to see that it wasn’t going to end any differently for me if I stayed another twenty years. I got out. I changed careers and was fortunate enough to become a firefighter.

For the last fifteen years, I have been a firefighter on busy trucks in the Toronto area. Responding to 911 calls and dealing with death, trauma, and emotionally charged situations are all part of a normal day. The technique of stuffing all these experiences and emotions into a box and forgetting about them had worked for a time, but ultimately over twenty-plus years, it had caught up to me. The box was full and overflowing. I felt overwhelmed and unable to deal with little things.

I can’t pinpoint an exact time or event when things started to change, but over the years it became more obvious something was wrong. I felt so alone, weak and vulnerable. It was scary because I had lost friends and co-workers to the same feelings of hopelessness and despair. I was slipping deeper into myself: I wasn’t drowning, but I felt as though I was circling the drain.

When I was newer at the job, I would be excited when the tones went off for a call. Now, I despised it. I wished for the time to pass, so that I could sidestep whatever was coming down the pipe. I felt like I wasn’t making any difference, like I was doing the same things day after day and nothing changed. I dreaded the calls where we would see pain and suffering or the decrepit conditions that people lived in.

I considered leaving public service altogether, and finding a different career. In my mind, my work felt futile and meaningless. But I wasn’t ready to quit and wanted to find a way to make it better, and also, a way to make myself feel better.

This begs the question, “Why do I feel broken and miserable?”

I would tell myself, “There is no reason for it.” On the outside, you’d think I lived the perfect life, but on the inside, it felt like I wasn’t living at all.  I had been absorbing the trauma from the job for too long and was on the same path as those police officers I had seen around me years before.

My connection with my family had suffered because I wasn’t emotionally available. I would become frustrated and angry with myself. The emotional pain was overwhelming. Those feelings would lead to being more disconnected – and then even more anger. It was a cycle I didn’t know how to escape. More than anything, I hoped that my wife and kids would want to be around me, and share their life with me: not scurry off when I came home from work. I wanted and needed to start “feeling” again, and to rediscover the joy in life.

Mark on the ski slopes

I started doing online research to see how the government was dealing with military veterans who were coming back from deployments and dealing with their PTSD. Traditional treatments such as talk therapy and medication seemed like they were only treating the symptoms, but not getting to the root cause of the problems that these veterans were experiencing. To me, it seemed like a band-aid solution to a greater problem that needed different solutions. I had also heard of fire service members who were seeking treatments using ayahuasca in Vancouver, B.C. I’ve never been a guy who would put my faith in the hands of a spiritual shaman, but even these treatments had some appeal because I was desperate for solutions. I found through online searches that many veterans were successfully dealing with their PTSD and depression through the use of medically supervised psychedelic-assisted therapy, utilizing psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and microdosing LSD.

This is when I found Field Trip Health. Although I was looking for psilocybin treatment, it has not been approved for the clinical treatment of anxiety and depression. Field Trip uses ketamine, which is an approved drug that has been used for decades and has psychoactive effects that can elicit the same changes in the mind as the other types of psychedelics. As a former cop, I was never a “drug guy”, and I wanted to do a treatment that was legal, scientifically credible, and safe. I had tried a bunch of therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR, meditation, cold showers and cold water immersion therapy – with mixed results.

And so I got in touch with Field Trip Health.

The process was easy. The first step was getting a referral for the treatment through one of their referral partners or my own doctor. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my family doctor; he knows my medical history and all the steps I’ve taken to address my mental health over the years.

The second step was to meet virtually with a Field Trip psychiatrist to assess where I was currently, and my suitability for the program. After evaluation I was determined to be a good fit for the protocol and proceeded to book my appointment to start treatment at the clinic.

Going into the treatments, I felt vulnerable and uncertain about how I would feel coming out of them. I wasn’t sure about where the drug would take me. I have seen a lot of violence, death, and trauma in my life, and I didn’t want to relive those feelings and sensations again.

The experience I had at the clinic was profound. The treatment is medically supervised. You go into a room, relax in a recliner, and you are led through a guided meditation while you wait for the ketamine to take effect. The whole process is designed to put you in a good headspace before your exploration. Even though I was apprehensive and nervous going into the treatments, I felt incredibly relaxed, calm, and at peace when I came out of the treatments an hour or so later.

Over the course of six treatments, I felt as though I had a renewed lease on life. It changed my perspective on how I viewed the world. The treatments gave me strong actionable items to move forward and start feeling better. I felt like the team at Field Trip let me “feel” once again – and gave me a sense of hope and empathy that I had not experienced in a long time. For that I am grateful and I would encourage other first responders to consider ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) – like the kind I received at Field Trip Health – as a possible treatment for treatment-resistant depression and related mental health.

This has been my own personal experience. It’s hard to put into words how the treatment helped remove the armour that kept me locked in a protected and closed-off world. But today, I have cautious optimism about life – and a very real hope that I can be happy again.

Mark at the beach with his daughter - a favourite photo

As told to Doug Murray for Field Trip Health

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The testimonials are the individual experiences of those who have attended Field Trip and taken part in our treatment, however they are individual results and results will vary. The testimonials are not necessarily representative of all of those who have used our treatment.

Field Trip may have edited the testimonials to account for correction of grammar or typing errors where necessary. In other cases, the testimonials may have been shortened for brevity. Field Trip has not edited the testimonial in a way that would create a misleading impression of the individual's views.

Ketamine is also not for everyone and may result in serious side effects. Certain medical conditions and other factors may reduce the effectiveness of ketamine as a treatment or disqualify you from receiving ketamine. Please consult a physician or other medical professional before commencing treatment.

For more information about what Field Trip offers including an overview, risks of treatment, and cost, please review Our Therapy.

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