Microdosing isn’t a shortcut to professional success

Originally published on Medium

The transition from fully committed to quitting was slow to start. My hours of operation started to sync with my circadian rhythm. The 9–5 became 8–3. Mornings were so efficient that by midday, I’d be fried. Done with screens, done with meetings. So I’d leave the office early.

On a microdose of acid, I’d feel completely in tune with my energy capacity, unable to ignore the afternoon dip. There was no more gray area of hanging around the office or poking around on Twitter, letting the time slip as the outside world turned. No more “should I stay or should I go” debacles in my head. I couldn’t sit (er, stand) at my desk any longer for the optics of working a few extra — unproductive — hours. I realized the work would never be done, so it was up to me when to go. And as soon as I felt accomplished for the day, I’d slip out the door. Down the stairs. Into the sunlight.

I didn’t initially start microdosing at work for the professional edge like many people in tech. I started to manage shifting moods that made it hard to leave my apartment. To feel better just being. And it worked. I felt happier and more comfortable within myself. I took it on workdays because I wanted to stay consistent in my regimen (one day on, three days off). Heightened imagination, concentration, and energy at work were really just nifty side effects. But eventually, this new way of feeling, thinking, existing made it much harder to spend time in the office.

After microdosing for six months, I didn’t progress at work; I quit.

There’s a few reasons why the wonderful effects of microdosing didn’t translate so well into the office. Microdosing may have drastically improved my mental health, but it simultaneously made me more critical of my office environment. I became more aware of everything, including the way work was impacting my health. The repetition, the stagnation, the stress. Peaking cortisol levels, nightmares about my coworkers. I’d turn on my computer and see a screen full of events I didn’t create. My time, energy, and life felt beyond my control. I started to wonder: Who am I really working for?

A feeling crept in. A desire for change, movement. Leaving on Fridays started to feel way too damn good.

Microdosing isn’t just a performance enhancement to power through the day, through the emotions, through the bullshit. It’s not like a shot of espresso, Adderall, or whatever nootropic is trending at the moment. It won’t take the edge off like a glass of wine at lunch. It reconnects regions of the brain and reroutes maladaptive thought patterns, so profound life changes — not just heightened productivity — may take shape. Psychedelic medicine and therapy shouldn’t be taken lightly. Or simply for professional gain. The potential impact could rewrite psychiatric care as we know it. This is bigger than 5-Hour Energy or Moon Juice or Four Sigmatic or Bulletproof-anything.

But some people are trying to market microdosing as such. A pick-me-up. A key to flow states. A way to bring teams together, even. But it won’t magically increase worker productivity or create a tech culture panacea. If anything, this heightened sensitivity could magnify the deep-rooted organizational issues privy to startups and escalate turnover.

Sure, not every company or startup cultivates an unhealthy work environment, but finding a balance these days is tricky. Especially for highly sensitive people overstimulated in open offices. Especially for people keeping up with the news cycle. Especially for content teams hustling information. Always online, always current. It seems easier than ever to spiral out of control and get completely drained in the process.

The thing is: I liked my job. I was the managing editor at Clue, a female health company in Berlin. I got to talk about periods and sex all day and help people understand their reproductive health. It was as good as it gets. But like most mid-level positions, no matter how fulfilling, things started to feel monotonous. A feeling crept in. A desire for change, movement. Leaving on Fridays started to feel way too damn good.

We don’t need to change our biology to be better at work, we need to change the way we work to be better for our biology.

I needed to mix up the mundane. If a 5 PM meeting invite appeared before my eyes, I’d decline. I tried to work remote as much as possible. But then I realized I was just avoiding the office because going in everyday didn’t make me happy anymore. Microdosing only amplified this urge to break free from the same schedule that repeated weekly. It didn’t make me better at my job — it changed the way I perceived daily life at the office and made me more certain that I needed to leave. To do something else.

It’s hard to quit. But young professionals are approaching work differently than previous generations. We’re more likely to leave a job and diversify our skills than commit for life. And yes, having a job at all is a privilege, but we’re still huddling at water coolers like it’s 1986.

So why isn’t our office culture advancing as fast as the technology? How many hours should humans be expected to stare at a screen per day? How many years should we stay at a company? What will happen when some jobs automate? Are there other ways to earn a living? What’s next?

We don’t need to change our biology to be better at work, we need to change the way we work to be better for our biology. Maybe “tune in, turn on, and drop out” wasn’t so far out — a premature, but inevitable, call for escape.

Away

It’s easier to establish a voice after leaving home. Surrounded by expression so foreign from my own makes me feel more alone. And there’s comfort in the solitude. Background voices merge into a mush of sounds. Hidden in a cafe, away on a train. Language becomes noise. Until I hear my own. That familiar accent pierces past and I distract. Mind deciphers meaning. “We sold two so far.” “She was so wasted she couldn’t stand.” “Should I be writing this all down?” The words of others crowd my mind and expel any I want to read or write. Familiarity pauses attention. Everything stops. I fall under a spell of the known, craving the strange again. Lips moving in silence. Everywhere I go, one language turns up the volume and pulls me back. Drowns out stream of thought. The others become a sea of sound I can sense, but not grasp. A loss of comprehension can liberate. Submerged in the unknown, searching for significance. An inner voice becomes more clear. More distinct. I can think.

La ciudad de la eterna primavera

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Where the sidewalks stop. Sending a letter in the mail can cost you 120,000 COP/41 USD, but a joint 2,000 COP/.70 USD. Every new apartment comes with servants’ quarters attached to the laundry room. Buses and trucks push black clouds into your pores. Would you like meat with your meat or more meat? Men, this. Women, that. Everyone is looking. ¿BIEN O QUE? Run before you get hit. Breast and butt enhancement. Worship God and a virgin. “Oh my, how this place has changed.” Hasta abajo. High interest rates at banks. GOOOOOOOOL. Thunder. Fruit you’ve never tried. Grocery lines that are never express. Rat tails. Arepas con quesito. Please take a number. Maximum capacity. “No, no, really, hire a driver.” Mr. Tea at the country club. Pico y placa. Unfinished buildings, unfinished business. Días violentos en la comuna 13. Mazda, Mazda, Mazda, Renault. Venezuelan migrants trying to get their families out. Saturday sin, Sunday mass. “Yo no creo en las brujas pero que las hay las hay.” Numerology readings and pink quartz somehow under your pillow. European backpackers flocking to resort hostels to sit on the beach and drink beer. Selfies so they know. Chicharrón everything. “Restaurants don’t let me park my taxi outside when I’m a customer, so I don’t really eat out.” Don’t question, have faith. Buenas. Nonconsensual reggaeton. Got cut in line for the cable line. +DMT, -TV written all over the city. People say hi. Hooks under the table. Don’t give papaya. White lace on a five-year-old girl. Her brother almost went priest. Juice with added sugar or milk? Postobón brings the family together. Weekend lunches into TV marathons. Magic realism can’t extinguish the trash fires, but the butterflies are real. Long tees asking if you wanna buy some coke. More likely perico (not the bird). Trauma. Un tinto, porfa. Bricks. Near misses on motorcycles. Feedback loops break with a punch in the face. Two condors poisoned in Tayrona. “It’s God’s Will.” Cream paint job with tinted windows. Still a patrón. Don’t say his name. Salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, vallenato, champeta. Brave bicyclists wearing facemasks. Nada cambia. Single/American/male tourists who often refer to themselves as digital nomads and openly cackle over the conversion rate. Parents hustling candy at traffic lights. Sniffing gasoline will suppress the hunger. Medellín es una chimba. A child begs for money while an older man watches from a distance. The leaves will breathe it all in and spit it all out until the valley suffocates.

Cosmic Travel in 20 Minutes

Originally featured in Michael Pollan’s ‘Trips Worth Telling’ series

Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”

At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.

That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.

Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.

On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.

Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically. Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.

Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.

That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but that single experience gave me the reassurance I needed to simply be as I am. To stop trying to embody a personality or mimic a state alien to myself. To stop worrying about what others are thinking and feeling at all times. This is not a story of ego loss, but a story of ego restructuringA moment of solitude that allowed my mind to better prioritize what matters and what doesn’t. What deserves attention. Especially for women, who may exhaust too much mental energy outside of themselves, constantly thinking about how others are feeling, thinking, and perceiving, this return inward can be especially therapeutic.

People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit. DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.

Goodbye Berlin

Saying goodbye to Berlin. All the history, the hofs, the cafes, the dark hallways. Messages in bathroom stalls. Strangers and smirks and lit uBahn station tiles. The haircuts, the black. Dogs waiting outside Lidl off-leash. Seven spätis on my block. The canal. Sourdough brötchen for breakfast, with extra butter. The zimt rolls. Working at Clue. Kotti. The first time I tried to pronounce Straße. The complaints and the appreciations. Grey skies in winter. Fucking February. Sonnenallee. Hermannstraße. Karl-Marx-Straße. An apartment all to myself. Quiet mornings. Summer sidewalk seating. The smell of cigarettes. Nah? Sunset at 4pm; sunset at 11pm. Candle-lit bars. Clubs with no phone policies. Femme attire including white sneakers on the dancefloor. Faces full of speed and ketamine. Event poster on event poster on event poster on event poster. The first warm day of spring. 3€ slices at Pazzi. Buying groceries at the Schillermarkt. Cherry blossoms and momentous parks. Eyes on thighs and catcalls. That one pitbull on Dresdenerstraße. She’s not there anymore though. Grunewald? Bad pot at Hasenheide. Learning the proper sauna regimen. Nudity. Being scolded by an aufgussmeister. Seeking bougieness in Mitte. Falafel und halloumi teller, bitte. Azzam. (But Maroush is better.) Reminding grown men not to litter. Open air festivals. Feeling empty then full. Looping thoughts. Australians, Australians everywhere. Natural wine. Getting into Berghain. Not getting into Berghain. The wedding caravans of honking Mercedes. The wedding dress shops of Neukölln. The chocolate cake at L’eustache. Ambulance sirens. Keith. Blaming and praising Angela Merkel. Sitting topless at Tempelhof Airport. Funkhaus. Being called Frau. Spilling gluhwein at Christmas markets. Unapologetic PDA. Still saying hella. Babies in backpacks and bike baskets. Abandoned TVs and mattresses. Cryptic heartbroken messages. Gold plates under your shoe. The Ausländerbehörde. A mountain made of rubble. Trees you wish could talk. Rides on the front of his bike. Music everywhere. The people. All seeking and leaving and finding and hiding and yearning and making and changing. See you soon/never/always.

Unreasonable

Reason is unquestionably a fine thing, but reason is no more than reason, and gives fulfillment only to man’s reasoning capacity, while desires are a manifestation of the whole of life — I mean the whole of human life, both with its reason and with all its itches and scratches. And though our life in these manifestations will often turn out a pretty sorry mess, it is still life and not a mere extraction of square roots. After all, I quite naturally want to live in order to fulfill my whole capacity for living, and not in order to fulfill my reasoning capacity alone, which is no more than some one-twentieth of my capacity for living. What does reason know? It knows only what it has managed to learn, while human nature acts as a complete entity, with all that is in it, consciously or unconsciously; and though it may be wrong, it’s nevertheless alive.”

 

– Fyodor Dostoevsky
Notes from Underground