In this extract from Gary Greenberg's Manufacturing Depression, he describes how he found love by taking ecstasy
My first depression lasted for a couple of years. When drugs made it go away, it was an accident. Not the taking drugs part – that I meant to do – but the depression-lifting, anxiety-erasing, total-revolution-in-my-head part. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I took ecstasy for the first time – although the name should have been a clue – but what actually happened is the last thing I would have predicted.
And MDMA can be a dangerous drug. At high doses – not too high, maybe four or five times the normal human dose – it's neurotoxic. Of course, so is Prozac, or for that matter Pepto-Bismol (bismuth causes brain damage), although in both cases you need more like a hundred times the normal dose to cause problems. But that's not why I hadn't taken it before 1990. My reluctance wasn't about the drug itself, but about me. I was concerned that my emotional state was too fragile to risk any disruption. I had, in fact, declared a moratorium on psychedelic drugs when, not long after I first got depressed, I took a dose of psilocybin mushrooms and spent a few hours resisting the urge to dash my brains out on a rock.
On the other hand, my circumstances seemed in some ways perfectly suited to MDMA. Its reputation among psychotherapists, at least of a certain stripe, was stellar. They gave it rave reviews, so to speak, for its ability to foster open, fearless communication – a mainline from the heart to the mouth and the ears, they said.
It could, they went on, accomplish in an afternoon what years of therapy could not, and was especially effective for couples with *relationship issues.
And boy did we have some of those.
Susan had moved across the country to be with me. She'd left behind a marriage to a man whom she had been with for 14 years, and all the life that went with that – house, friends, money – to move to my little New England village. She arrived to find me in the midst of my first depression, so morose and sour that I couldn't even give her a kiss with her Valentine's day gift. My therapist at the time asked: "In your core, in your heart of hearts, do you love her?" That's one of the all-time stupidest questions a therapist has ever asked, but I couldn't blame her. She was tired of my dithering too.
"Love is beside the point," I told her. "I'm too old for that." I was 32 but I felt ancient. "I'm just not sure I want to marry her."
"She wants you to marry her?"
"Well, she hasn't said that. But I'm pretty sure."
"I wouldn't be so sure. If someone treated me the way you've been treating her, I'm not sure I'd want to marry you."
Which was one of the all-time smartest things a therapist has ever said. It didn't do anything for my depression but I did resolve to figure this out. I gave myself a deadline – six more months and then I'd have to call it quits.
Around that time a friend of mine sent me some MDMA in the mail. (I should acknowledge that various felonies were committed here, and it's not something I am recommending that you try at home.) Susan and I decided to take it with us when we travelled to a grimy rust-belt city to see the Grateful Dead. We took the capsules – 125 milligrams each of pure, lab-certified MDMA – in our hotel the morning of the show.
We lay down on our bed and waited. Even the best psychedelic drug experiences are an ordeal, especially at the beginning. So we're lying on this bed in the rust-city Holiday Inn, looking up at the ceiling, close but not quite touching, talking about nothing in particular, and I turn to say something to Susan, maybe even something honest about how scared I am, and she just happens to turn toward me at the same time. I look into her eyes, which are a perfect shade of violet, soft and inviting, like a calm blue sea. I dive in. I am looking back and seeing me as she does – literally, viscerally. My God, she loves me. I can't say that I understand this, but whatever: I am forty fathoms deep in love.
Which is cool enough, but nowhere near so cool as what comes next. In one moment, a nanosecond maybe, the dread, the self-loathing, the sadness and despair and nausea, all the dark, twisted thoughts that have black-dogged me for two solid years, keeping me up nights, ruining days, driving away opportunity by the carload and hurting the people I care the most for, including especially the one right here next to me, the one who has so graciously lent me her eyes – it all drains away, every last polluted ounce. I feel it leave me, like dirt washed off in a shower. Whatever poison has been running through me, I believe I have found the antidote. Not the drug, of course, but this person next to me, this steadfast, patient, kind woman who, beyond all reason, loves me, who is the channel through which all this ecstasy flows. I am healed.
Susan and I were married within 18 months. We're still married, and I am sure we always will be. Even more germane, it was years – years! – before I was ever again depressed.
Now, that's my idea of an antidepressant.
February 28, 2010
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