Ayelet Waldman is in a good mood, cracking wise about Donald Trump and the still-as-yet-unknown entity that will be Trump’s America. “I’m Canadian; I don’t need this shit, frankly,” she jokes, on the phone from her home in Berkeley, Calif., which she shares with her husband, author Michael Chabon, and their four children. (For the record, the Israel-born Waldman’s father is Canadian and she spent a few formative years in his native Montreal before moving to New Jersey at age seven.)
Contrary to her tough public persona, the Bad Mother author is warm and witty in conversation; she’s a woman’s woman who likes to talk. Her high spirits may be due, in part, to the fact that after many decades of struggling with her moods, the former criminal defense lawyer and law professor has found a tiny measure of peace. Or make that a microdose.
In her new book, A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life (Knopf, $35), Waldman writes about how taking tiny amounts of LSD over a 30-day period helped her rebound from one of the darkest periods of her life. “I fell into a pit,” she says of that time, “and I was not getting out and I was really afraid that I was going to do something terrible to myself, to my marriage, to my family—whatever it was. I lost my faith in my own ability to not ruin my world.”
In her despair, she turned to LSD, which is not as crazy an idea as it sounds. As she recounts in the book, the psychedelic—in small, pure doses—has proven useful in freeing people from negative emotions. Separate studies at both New York University and Johns Hopkins, for example, suggest it helps ease the mental suffering of terminally-ill patients.
Encouraged by emerging research and the work of psychologist and psychedelic researcher James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorers Guide: Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys, she decided to start taking 10 micrograms of LSD once every three days for 30 days. Luckily for Waldman, she was able to get the illegal drug via a mysterious benefactor who went by the name “Lewis Carroll.” The Alice in Wonderland allusion is fitting. Like Alice, who famously queried, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle,” Waldman has struggled with solving the puzzle of her own character—and she, too, has encountered a rotating cast of characters; in her case, therapists and pharmacists—to help her achieve enlightenment on the topic.
The results have been varied. Misdiagnosed as being bipolar, she spent nearly a decade on psychotropic drugs before she discovered she was really suffering from a mild case of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). She thought she’d cracked her problem finally with a treatment protocol of well-timed SSRIs—but then she hit perimenopause and everything fell apart. “Self-loathing is an element of my mental illness.” She sighs.
At first, Waldman was terrified of taking LSD. In fact, her inner lawyer didn’t take the decision to engage in illegal activity—or to write a book that flagrantly supports that transgression—lightly. “I have a whole fleet of lawyers and we tried to minimize the risks, but you can’t make it vanish completely and there was a point where I had to sit and say, ‘Well, am I willing to take this risk?’”
It paid off. Waldman says of everything she’s tried when it comes to minimizing her mood disorder, microdosing is hands-down the most effective method. She became less prone to sinking into a negative state of mind and more resilient; her bad moods were more transitory. That may be because, as she points out in the book, LSD stimulates the brain’s feel-good serotonin receptors and enhances the brain’s ability to grow and change. “It was kind of like a hard restart,” she says. “It wasn’t like the whole month was glorious, but my baseline shot up really fast.”
Now, she wants everyone to be able to benefit from microdosing. An advocate for drug-law reform, she would like her experience and the book to help drive a “larger conversation in the world about the way we view drugs and drug activities.” Mass incarcerations for minor crimes, racist enforcement of drug laws, the suffering caused by the illegal drug market—not to mention emerging studies into the benefits of controlled drug use to treat everything from addiction to PTSD and marital discord—have convinced Waldman that the legalization of drugs is in the best interest of public health. And though the current hardliner political climate doesn’t inspire her confidence in the direction the U.S. is taking, ultimately, she’s persuaded there remains a “small window” of hope that this issue may be able to cross partisan party lines. “The reason I believe in drug legalization is because I think that the harm caused by criminalization is so overwhelming that even if there were to be harms caused by legalization they would be so minor [in comparison].”
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