“For as long as I can remember, I have been held hostage by the vagaries of mood. When my mood is good, I am cheerful, productive, and affectionate. I sparkle at parties, I write decent sentences…When my mood swings, however, I am beset by self-loathing and knotted with guilt and shame. I am overtaken by…hopelessness, a grim pessimism about even the possibility of happiness.”
So what did Ayelet Waldman, the author of Bad Mother and Red Hook Road, among other books, and the wife of fellow best-selling writer Michael Chabon, do? She took multiple doses of liquid LSD!
It’s all chronicled in A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life (Knopf), a wildly brilliant, radically candid, and rigorous daybook of her life-changing, last-resort journey. For 30 days she gamely followed an illicit, experimental protocol, ingesting therapeutic doses of the hallucinogen LSD and keeping a daily record of her moods and mind-set.
Plagued for decades by mental illness, Waldman was first diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, then premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a more severe and sometimes disabling form of PMS), maladies for which she tried and rejected a tally of psychotropic meds “so long that my friends use me as a kind of walking Physicians’ Desk Reference.” Her alternating episodes of anger and despair worsened, and they took a toll on her marriage, and her children. “My husband…seemed finally to be exhausted,” Waldman writes, leaving her “terrified that he would once and for all pack his bags and leave me alone with my ugly self.” Waldman, who is 52, finally hit bottom after giving a reading to which only one person showed up (and then left early) in Marin County, north of her Berkeley, California, home. Heading back, she fought the impulse to drive her car off the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge.
By chance, she came across a book called The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, by Bay Area psychologist and former psychedelic researcher James Fadiman. She soon became part of an international self-study group on the effects of ingesting a subperceptual dose of LSD, “so small that you don’t actually feel anything unusual,” every three days. The 30 entries in A Really Good Day range from tales of her professional work supporting legal efforts to decriminalize weed and other drugs, to poignantly personal reveals about spirituality, something missing from Waldman’s upbringing.
Day 18 reads, in part: “There are so many things I believe in that are ephemeral, and I don’t mean atoms and quarks. The most profoundly important thing in my life cannot be quantified or photographed…The love I feel for my husband, my children, and my parents is entirely intangible but absolutely ‘real.’ If I can love so deeply and so specifically…if I can believe that this love is as real as the hands that type on this keyboard, if I can wrap my mind around love, why do I have such a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of a greater spiritual meaning to life beyond our corporeal existences?” She asks, “Is my mind opening? Is the microdose responsible?”
In her afterword, Waldman articulates the meaning and takes the measure of her short-term, ad hoc experiment: “[It] made room in my mind not necessarily for joy, but for insight. It allowed me a little space to consider how to act in accordance with my values, not just react to external stimuli. This, not the razzle-dazzle of pleasure, was its gift.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of ELLE.
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