August 29, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In this edition, meet a former firefighter so traumatized by the horrors she encountered during her 20 years on the job that neither therapy nor medication was able to help her recover – until, in another country, she received a guided trip using psychedelics. Also in the issue: The power of regret. How gardening helped a woman with disabilities out of her funk.

And writer Alice Carrière on her memoir Everything/Nothing/Someone. Enjoy!

Psychedelics changed this firefighter’s life. Now, she covertly funds psychedelic trips for others.

As a firefighter, Angela Graham saw the worst of the worst. Over almost twenty years of fighting fires for Santa Clara County, she inhaled scenes that dotted her dreams with nightmares and left her waking hours filled with anxiety and uncontrolled fits of anger. Now retired, Graham tried everything she could think of for mental relief, she told The Mercury News: talk therapy, medication, and eye movement desensitization reprocessing, or EMDR, a treatment that incorporates specific eye movements to recover from traumatic memories. Nothing worked. Then, she took a trip to Mexico.

There, at a clinic in Puerta Vallarta, Graham was guided through a psychedelic trip with mushrooms and another psychedelic drug called DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) to address her mental health challenges. It felt like “being turned inside out,” she said. “You know, I’m not a hippie, but they might have been on to something,” added Graham, who credits the experience for kickstarting her road to recovery. 

She felt so changed, in fact, that Graham and her husband, an active firefighter, founded the SIREN Project, to fund psychedelic journeys for other Bay Area first responders. With a combination of the couple’s personal money and support from a tech billionaire whose name they won’t reveal, the nonprofit will have funded trips for fifteen firefighters, one firefighter’s spouse, and one police officer by year’s end. At a cost of $2,000 to $5,000 per trip, travel is no longer limited to the clinic Graham first visited in Mexico, either. Now, they also send first responders to a church in Texas that says it’s legally allowed to distribute psychedelics as a sacrament during religious services. Discretion is of primary importance. Despite the growth of study around psychedelics for medicinal use, many remain Schedule 1 drugs, thus making ingestion a potentially fireable offense for the SIREN Project’s participants. 

There’s also some community opposition to general decriminalization of the drugs. Lisa Hudson, a member of the California Coalition for Psychedelic Safety and Education, said her 16-year-old son leapt to his death from a 40-foot deck at the family’s home amidst a psychedelic trip in which he believed he could fly. Though not flatly opposed to the use of psychedelics, Hudson is against California Senate Bill 58, introduced by State Sen. Scott Wiener, as written. Wiener argues the bill will decriminalize certain psychedelics and “reduce the stigma” around their use. Hudson says it’s not restrictive enough to promote safe use.  “[The first responders] got their lives back, and that’s incredible, but they were in a safe and controlled therapeutic setting.” The current bill, she says, legalizes recreational use “and is a recipe for more heartbreak.” 

Meanwhile, Graham is committed to helping more first responders toward a meaningful psychedelic experience. “I think that (it) totally changes the morale in a department and heals a lot of people,” Graham said. “This needs to change. This needs to be legal. And we’re going to do that one first responder at a time.” Read the whole story in the Mercury News.

(For more on the potential benefits and questions about psychedelics, see MindSite News’ series on psychedelics and mental health series on YouTube; editor Rob Waters’ interview with author Michael Pollan; and our stories on clinical trials and psychedelics research and training psychedelic guides in Oregon.)

Regret can be agonizing. What can we learn from it?

You ever hear someone voice regret and think, “That could never be me?” Shout out to New York Times reporter, Jancee Dunn for sharing her regret about not sleeping over at Stevie Nicks’s house for what I imagine would’ve been a legendary girls’ night. Even if it were the most boring time ever, I’d push myself to stay just to tell my friends, “I had a sleepover with Stevie Nicks!” But not every regret is funny or just a little frustrating to remember, Dunn reminds us. It’s often infused with pain about what we didn’t do that affects the heart of something deeply important to us, like making amends before someone dies. So what are we to do with it? 

Dunn spoke to Daniel Pink, author of The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, for his insights. After analyzing survey data from more than 4,000 American adults about regret, he found that it’s commonly triggered by four primary behaviors: failing to reach out to others; lapses in moral judgment; seemingly minor choices that produce major consequences; and holding back when we should have been bolder. Despite the pain regret can leave, it also equips with “data to clarify what we value most in life” to help us avoid regret in the future, Pink says. 

To successfully move forward, Pink suggests being kind to yourself – like you would be to a friend sharing regret with you. Then, consider what the regret might teach you. You might even learn there is something that can be done to “reverse” the regret if it’s rooted in a mistake that can still be corrected. It could also help to think about what good did come of a memory you regret. In Dunn’s instance, she missed the Stevie Nicks sleepover, but she did get to play dress up in her closet. The most important thing to do is not let regret consume you. If it’s getting to that point, it’s time to talk to a counselor. 

In other news…

Gardening is a refuge for Rosemary McDonnell-Horita, who lives with multiple disabilities and has long struggled with “self-perceived burden,” or feelings of frustration or guilt when someone else needs to help them. In a brief comic published in the Washington Post, she describes how gardening helped her overcome that mental hurdle. “I don’t think my plant is a burden because it needs more nutrients,” McDonnell-Horita wrote. “I don’t fault it for getting bugs and not being able to fight against them.”

Could a paradigm shift be happening in how big cities respond to mental health calls? If not, there’s certainly a growing commitment from large U.S. cities to send civilian teams to respond to mental health emergencies. The Associated Press reports that 14 of the nation’s largest 20 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Houston all host non-police response teams or programs to support residents in need of immediate mental health care.

Everything/Nothing/Someone: Writer Alice Carrière grew up in a life of extreme privilege between a massive apartment in New York City’s West Village and a penthouse in Paris. Her parents’ work as sought-after artists kept them intensely busy and thriving, but often left Carrière in a state of emotional neglect. Her loneliness was the backdrop of their revelry. “I watched my mother as she lived her life around me,” Carrière wrote, “passing by on her way down to the studio or up to her bedroom and down again in her fog of perfume and smoke to work or attend a party.”

By adolescence Carrière was diagnosed with depression and, later in life, dissociative disorder. Her memoir, Everything/Nothing/Someone, described as “remarkable” by the New York TImes, details her life during that time period, including observations about her development and the love she received from the only adult in her life to give her “true parental care,” her nanny, Eileen Denys Maynard. Maynard kept entire notebooks affirming Carrière’s difficult experiences growing up as her parents’ child, many of which Carrière was able to read decades later, after Maynard’s death. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...