In September 2012 I took shrooms for the first and last time.
My friend Ari and I consumed the (revolting) magic substance at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens. The setting: lying on the bank of a dam, looking up at the treetops. Seeing shapes and faces, even before the shrooms kicked in.
Then the world changed pace, and Ari took out the map he’d appropriated from an old video game.
This nonsensical map would guide us through our little world for the next few hours. Along with the substance, it allowed us to see magic in every corner.
We frolicked in a pool of ankle high fountains. Waterdogs, we called them, because they looked like puppies jumping up at us for attention.
We made our way across the vast landscape, moving from point to point in our quest for we knew not what.
Along the way, we made up different races of people, categorised whoever else we saw enter our world, and even asked some of them for directions. They dutifully helped us get to the next stage.
And eventually, we ended up in a place with trees locked away in cages, found the tail of a Pking – a creature we had made up – and completed our journey.
As we felt the trip wearing off, we drank orange juice and smoked weed, in an attempt at a smooth transition to sobriety.
I took a drag on the joint and suddenly felt an irritating nausea. Something that did not usually accompany weed. It did not matter – I just closed my eyes to try to ward it off.
Behind my eyelids I saw spirals. Spirals that would not stop turning, that made me want to throw up, that made me start to sweat. I opened my eyes and the spirals remained. I could barely see and my breathing had gotten shallower.
Suddenly, I was panicking. At first, I had no rational reason for it. What does a bit of nausea matter? But then thoughts entered my mind. I realised that although Ari sat just inches away from me, he could never really know me or what I was going through. We’re all alone in the world, I realised, to navigate this terrifying existence on our own. This terrifying existence that would only end in death, and possibly an eternity afterwards, and how could eternity be anything but suffering? How could it be anything but lonely?
I was sinking into another major depression, I realised, one which was my fault for taking an illegal substance. How would I get out of this, or even get from here to a safe place where I could lie in a fetal position and try to numb out my existence? I had to do something to save myself.
I remembered my psychologist telling me to ground myself in the beauty of real life, and I reached out in my mind for something to care about. I found the tail of a Pking, the fact that we had found a part of a mythical creature, and that to us that tail was very real. I started laughing, and suddenly felt wonderful.
There are different states of being
The depression or panic attack or whatever exactly it was, lasted two minutes at most. But it felt like it lasted multiple eternities.
That’s because it was not a feeling. It was not just strong fear or extreme despair. It was its own state of being.
That day, I transitioned through 3 states of being. The normal, everyday state. The trip, brought on by the shrooms. And the depression.
There is no way to fully describe any of these states, which you can only understand when you’re in them. After taking the shrooms, for example, I went on a nonsensical adventure. I knew it was nonsensical. I saw no hallucinations and was under no delusions. But the state the shrooms put me in made it possible for me to take it seriously anyway.
When I sank into the depressed state, I may as well have never been in the previous state. Yes, it left its memories and effects. But I wasn’t just one feeling away. I was in a completely different world. One which truly did have no meaning and no kinship and no hope.
And then once I was back in the everyday state, I could only vaguely remember the previous two. The impact of that two minute depression lasted. For a couple of weeks I did not feel like myself – the memories haunted me. But at the same time, I did not feel anything that resembled the depression itself.
It’s impossible to understand depression
This is why those who haven’t experienced depression cannot understand it. They cannot see how something good happening can fail to make you feel “better”. They can’t see how what they imagine is a feeling can be so all-encompassing.
Because it’s not a feeling. It’s a state of being of its own. You’re grateful for that when you’re out of it, but while you’re in it there seems to be no escape, with only small indications that you’re still part of the normal world.
I wish no one had to be in that state ever again. I pray to all the gods I don’t believe in that I never experience that state again. Because when you’re in it, there seems to be no way out, and it’s literally the worst thing in the world.
My shrooms trip was wonderful, and it lasted around four hours. And yet, I’ll never do shrooms again, because those two minutes of depression, chemical imbalance caused by the substance, lasted much longer.
Depression is not a feeling. It’s a world of its own, and when you’re in it you cannot imagine life could be any different.