I Did Ketamine Therapy to Heal My Heartbreak — and It Worked

Having been in long-term relationships since age 16, I have experienced my fair share of heartbreak. But this last one hit differently. For the first time, a breakup caused me to retroactively doubt the sincerity of our time together, and to seriously question my ability to trust myself.

For almost a year and a half, we regularly acknowledged that this was the best and most intimate relationship either of us had had. He told me he'd never been so close to another person, and that this was the first time he ever trusted a partner or felt so loved and cared for. We communicated deeply and supported each other; it felt like having a true partner.

Then, everything changed. After a particularly great weekend together, he called me in a fit of anxiety and a jarring departure from his previous words, behaviors, and actions. After 12 hours of tears, he concluded that he did not — and worse, that he never did — have deep feelings for me, even as friends. He said he had only been trying to convince himself he loved me, among other things that made me feel utterly objectified.

I was shattered. This person I loved and trusted was not who I had believed him to be. My life, which had been closely intertwined with his, no longer felt like it fit. Being in my home, which we had seen for the first time together, and which was filled with his belongings and gifts he brought me back from Italy two weeks before, no longer felt like "home."

The aftermath of this shock was tortuous, and I knew it would change me irrevocably. Still, determined not to let this derail my career and life, I left to stay with my favorite aunt in Florida. This ultimately led me to ketamine therapy, which I now call "the heartbreak drug."

The Discard

Based on my former career as a therapist, I had never been more concerned for my emotional well-being. Even the ending of an eight-year relationship had not impacted me so severely. My ex's switch from hot to cold invalidated my reality and plagued me with a loss of emotional security. The shock left me with physical symptoms that terrified me: I completely lost my appetite and shrank down to 94 lbs, I kept waking up in the night, and I could not focus on my writing or enjoy my usual hobbies.

It turns out this type of breakup is known as a "discard," which is associated with avoidant attachment styles. (My ex and I believed he had a fearful avoidant/disorganized attachment style based on research and conversations with a therapist.)

"Breakups are different from discards," certified relationship coach Ryan Holley says. "[Usually] breakups are not blindsiding, and there's been a winding down of the relationship. Discards are unilateral, happening quickly and seemingly out of nowhere." Josh Lichtman, board-certified psychiatrist and medical director at Pulse TMS and Neuro Wellness Spa, says the discard often traumatizes partners, "as it can shock the individual's emotional system and significantly affect their sense of self-worth and security."

The First Month of Heartbreak

The first month following the discard was the worst of my life. The thought of returning home to California gave me severe anxiety. I had barely worn anything other than leggings, or washed my face, in weeks, which is saying a lot for a beauty editor. Mentally, I was exhausted by inner turmoil. Aside from grieving and missing my partner, I felt fractured inside, having lost self-trust, wondering how I could have been so wrong for so long. Thanks to Holley, I now know this is a common post-discard symptom: self-blame.

Dr. Lichtman explains that intense heartbreak often impacts patients on the physical, emotional, and functional levels, from insomnia and appetite changes to grief, anhedonia, and rumination, for several months up to a year. "Functionally, this can impair one's ability to work, maintain social relationships, and carry out daily activities, leading to a significant decline in overall quality of life," he says. Holley elaborates that being discarded can push a partner into a prolonged fight-or-flight state, hence my cortisol-fueled distress.

Only my impatience surpassed my sadness; I was determined to heal thoroughly but quickly. I was willing and eager to do the work — to feel intensely and process it — but desperate not to let it go on for several months. I threw myself into a healing journey, booking a session with the renowned celebrity shaman Shaman Durek, and even trying an accelerated protocol of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (SAINT TMS). I attended therapy, listened to the "Expanded Podcast" by To Be Magnetic, regularly journaled, practiced breathwork, and did meditations by Dr. Joe Dispenza. I was making progress, but I needed a breakthrough.

Month 2: Ketamine Therapy

I spent the first month falling apart, but spent my second rebuilding. After three weeks in Florida, I went to stay at my mom's remote ranch in Abiquiu, NM. There, I visited the office of emergency medicine doctor and ketamine expert David Rosen, MD, of Blue Sky Ketamine in Santa Fe and decided to undergo a series of ketamine IVs.

Having first studied the brain and neuroplasticity — what neuroscientist and MD Tara Swart refers to as the brain's lifelong ability to adapt at the neuronal level — at Columbia University in my 20s, I was fascinated by research on psychedelics helping patients recover and heal from trauma. Dr. Lichtman explains that ketamine helps patients "detach from the immediate, intense emotional pain and gain new perspectives on their experience." This shift creates new neural pathways in the brain from a non-emotionally-activated state, which "is crucial to how individuals adjust to and recover from emotional trauma." Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dave Rabin, PhD, confirms the "therapeutic, drug-induced dream state is helpful for overcoming depression and trauma, including the trauma with breakups."

Buffered by the dissociative effects of ketamine, my brain could reprocess the experience from a nonactivated state. Dr. Rabin explains that ketamine also releases trauma that is otherwise stored in the body causing long-term, conditioned effects. This would interrupt the feedback loop between thought, emotion, and physiological response that was fueling my psychosomatic symptoms like my loss of appetite.

My Ketamine Therapy Experience

I opted for a series of IV infusions, which Dr. Lichtman refers to as the "gold standard." My goal was to undergo roughly five 50-minute IV infusions to "reset" my brain before returning to California. It sounded too good to be true, but I was willing to try. Dr. Rosen encouraged me to continue my therapy and neuroplasticity-promoting practices like breathwork and meditation. I also took a lot of time to speak to friends and cuddle my dog.

During my intake appointment, we reviewed my health history, and I explained how my recent breakup was impacting me. It was hard to put into words that I was essentially a shell of myself and could not resume my life as before in my current state. Dr. Rosen was calm and confident, relaying encouraging statistics from emerging research, but nothing boosted my morale — until I experienced it myself.

Once treatments started, I chose to fast on mornings before my IVs to eliminate chances of nausea. I wore comfortable clothes — leggings, a sweatshirt, and Converse sneakers — and packed snacks for afterward. They checked my blood pressure and oxygen levels, and I was offered anti-nausea medication (which I accepted) and anti-anxiety medicine (which I declined). A nurse would then set up my IV as I settled into a recliner with blankets, a playlist (I opted for Sigur Ros), noise-canceling headphones, and an eye mask. When it was time to begin my infusion, Dr. Rosen would check in with me and answer my (many) questions. Then he would start the infusion and dim the lights, which was my cue to pull down my eye mask, play my music, and relax.

The experience is highly visual, like an immersive ride at Disneyland.

To be clear, this was not a micro-dose; I was hallucinating and sedated in a medically facilitated K-hole. I lost awareness of my physical surroundings and turned my attention within. The experience is highly visual, with different scenery, textures, and colors, including sensations of movement, changes in visual perspective, and sounds, like an immersive ride at Disneyland. During one session, I felt like a bee, buzzing and hovering around; in others, I saw everything from my dog to aliens, and felt sensations like floating, expanding, and flying.

Sensory distortions aside, I was mentally cognizant and emotionally aware. I remembered the relationship and its demise, but with calm acceptance and no trace of grief or confusion. At times my mind wandered to other topics, like my brain was getting a "spring cleaning" by reworking other memories.

Each time I woke up, I was groggy, but the physical symptoms of stress were alleviated. I regained my appetite immediately, and the queasy feeling in my stomach ultimately went away. I usually felt the elevating emotional impact of each infusion the next day. Each infusion was similar to having a weeklong vacation crammed into 50 minutes. My therapist and I both noticed how rapidly I was making emotional progress, and I was able to conduct and write up a celebrity interview on a day off between infusions.

I went into my sessions with specific goals in mind, like detaching from the relationship, anchoring myself into the present, and feeling excited about my future — mostly because I dreaded the idea of longing for the past. I also set emotional intentions, like developing a state of calm receptivity (as opposed to wanting to control outcomes), and reconnecting with my passions, like my career. During sessions, I imagined that expansive imagery was a representation of new neural pathways forming; more than once, I sat atop a foamy pink substance, and it expanded.

Some sessions also inspired me to take action, like booking a trip. Persistent, London-themed imagery appeared at two consecutive appointments until I consciously decided to book it. In London with my friend Diane, I genuinely had fun and felt like myself again, entering what my friend, astrologer Marie Satori, dubbed my "glow up" era. These experiences helped me rebuild my trust in myself and my intuition.

So, Can Ketamine Therapy "Biohack" Heartbreak?

After getting back from London at two months post-discard, I had officially moved on. I am happy, reinvested in my career, excited for my future, and ready to date again. I went into my treatment doubtful, but feel that the treatment helped me leverage it into personal growth. I can say unequivocally that ketamine helped me heal my worst-ever heartbreak, and I can always go back for intermittent "booster" infusions if needed.

I am most amazed by ketamine infusions' rapidity and efficacy for rehabituating from trauma, and wondered whether I might have "biohacked" heartbreak. "You can absolutely biohack heartbreak and trauma with a little help from psychedelics," says Dave Asprey, entrepreneur and author. "Biohacking is all about taking control of your own biology to get the best results in the least amount of time. [Ketamine facilitates this] in far less time than [neuroplasticity-enhancing modalities like] meditating, doing breathwork, or working with a therapist alone."

As Asprey puts it, "more neuroplasticity means more progress in less time" — and that is exactly what I set out to do. But even though this is a medically administered medication (which is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines), there is a lot of stigma around the topic. People often ask me if I was afraid before my treatments, and the answer is no. I was afraid of the potential detriment to my life if I didn't give healing my best shot.

Jessica Ourisman is a freelance beauty and wellness editor who frequently writes about skin care and cosmetic dermatology for POPSUGAR, Harper's Bazaar, Allure, InStyle, The Zoe Report, Coveteur, WWD, and more.