A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman

Think suburban mothers doing drugs and you might go to some sort of Valley of the Dolls scenario. But Ayelet Waldman’s story, A Really Good Day, is quite different.

The idea of becoming a ‘self-study psychedelic researcher’ felt ridiculous. I am a mother of four children. I am, to use my children’s gibe, “totally basic.” I wear yoga pants all day, I post photos of particularly indulgent desserts on Instagram.

The memoir is summarised in the subtitle, ‘How microdosing made a mega difference in my mood, my marriage and my life’. Basically, Waldman microdosed LSD over the course of a month and recorded the daily changes she experienced in her mood, sleep, work, pain (she had a frozen shoulder), conflict with others, and her physical sensations.

With each diary entry, Waldman also explores various aspects of the use, history and side effects of LSD, as well as detailing her own mental health – ten years ago, Waldman was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, and has since tried over twenty different medications to manage her moods. Some of the medications worked for a short time but the side effects had to managed with other medications. Those drugs made her irritable, so she was prescribed something else to calm her down –

…my moods have not only made me unhappy, they have damaged the people around me. Families are hostages to the moods of their members.

When Waldman heard about the research being undertaken by James Fadiman and the results of microdosing LSD, she was immediately interested.

The individuals…experienced ‘joy and gratitude’, increased focus, better mood. I wanted that. They reported rarely losing their tempers, becoming more fun to be with. I really wanted that. They experienced that most seductive and elusive thing: a really good day. I really needed that!

Microdosing involves taking a sub-perceptual amount of LSD, small enough to eliminate any kind of hallucination. As Waldman describes, it’s ‘…not so much going on an acid trip as going on an acid errand.’

Her first task was acquiring the LSD (she was lucky to obtain some via a ‘contact who had a friend’. I was interested in this part of the story because I wouldn’t even know where to begin). And so she starts, noting that her self-managed experiment is like ‘…the Wild West, and I’m running my on saloon.’

Waldman’s writing is engaging and she makes the ‘technical stuff’ interesting – the historical use of LSD by academics and inventors to supercharge their creativity; its initial use in psychotherapy, particularly couples therapy; the physiological effect of LSD (basically LSD enhances neuroplasticity and stimulates connectivity, hence the boost to creativity and productivity that people experience); and the legalities of drug use, including the arguments for and against decriminalisation of some drugs.

Although her experience is positive, Waldman doesn’t shy away from exploring the drawbacks and risks of microdosing. She quotes Tim Ferriss who cautions against microdosing psychedelics on the basis that they activate serotonin like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) but might have an impact on the brain’s own serotonin production – ‘There is very rarely a biological free lunch’. Drawing on her experience as a federal public defender, and as the mother of teenagers, Waldman also explores the legal and ethical aspects of microdosing –

The experiment is irresponsible not because of the drug itself, but because it is a crime…

So did Waldman get her ‘really good day’? Yes, many of them.

I had so many really good days, but they didn’t necessarily come from being happy. The microdose lessened the force of the riptide of negative emotions that so often sweeps me away, and made room in my mind not necessarily for joy, but for insight. … This, not the razzle-dazzle of pleasure, was its gift.

If you’re interested in this idea but not sure you want a whole book, start with this recent article.

3.5/5 Lost me a little toward the end (when Waldman talked about an earlier experiment with psychedelics) but interesting nonetheless.

3 responses

  1. “They” have had half a century to study users since LSD was popular. Do, I wonder, users still have flashbacks? (I was tempted by lots of things, but not drugs).

  2. This sounds fascinating. There was a good series on TV here recently, with celebrities talking about their own mental health struggles and then looking at treatments. The one I liked most was David Harewood talking about his experience of psychosis, but Alistair Campbell looked at his depression, and met someone who had taken magic mushrooms as part of a clinical trial. He had experienced relief from his social anxiety and depression for about 3 months, but then it came back and so he’s back on standard meds. The researcher said other participants had similar experiences of about 3 months reprieve. You could see their frustration because they can’t prescribe, as its not yet a licensed treatment.

  3. Pingback: Sample Saturday – non-fiction picks | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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