My Life with Art, Ketamine Therapy, and Depression
My name is Tanner Rhines and I’m a 23 year old artist from Fairbanks, Alaska, and I have lived with depression and bipolar disorder for about 10 years. When I was asked to write this blog post, I was a little hesitant to open up about my therapy and personal life, though I contemplated how my words and story could hopefully stimulate others to make positive changes to their lives, and the lives of others. If there’s something I’m qualified to talk about, it’s my art, life, and personal journey. I am doing very fine in life now, and I attribute my happiness to ketamine therapy, my family, and the joy art brings me.
There are many factors I could have attributed my depression to; lack of vitamin D from the cold Alaskan winters, childhood trauma, social anxiety, chemical imbalances, and bipolar disorder. Growing up, my relationships were based around drugs and money. I would self medicate with alcohol and various substances, thinking it’d eventually ease my emotional pain. I would spend money believing it would bring outward joy. I was reclusive for a long time and had little trust in the people I believed were close to me. I would sleep the days away, and had little motivation to interact with people or go to work. I would occasionally think about ending my life, believing the negative outweighed the positive. Art was one activity that had been a constant in my life. I’ve gone through phases, but I always came back to develop my artistic style and to learn more about my favorite artists in the art world. Deep down, it brought me joy, and to this day, I couldn’t have lived without it.
In 2015, I received a Scholastics Art and Writing award for an art portfolio I had created in high school. I had the opportunity to fly to New York City and stand on the stage of Carnegie Hall to be recognized for my work. Previous recipients of Scholastic awards included Andy Warhol, Steven King, Sylvia Plath, and Cy Twombly. When I received my Scholastic Art and Writing Award, I knew I had achieved something great, yet I was still profoundly depressed. I was proud of myself, but it slowly passed. It made me sad to think about what was supposed to come next in my life. For the next couple of years, I would go on to be shortlisted in an art competition hosted in Dubai, and I would able to display my work in museums in London and South Korea. Though I was happy on the outside, the depression lingered. I knew something was wrong with me from early on, so I reached out to doctors for help. I was always on some sort of anti-depressant growing up but they ended up making me feel worse than I already felt.
One obscure day in July of 2018, my mother, who had been aware of my depression for some time, told me about a type of infusion therapy she had heard about on NPR. An anesthetic known as ketamine was being used to treat patients with PTSD and severe depression. I was a little skeptical at first, but as sad as I was, I knew trying something new wouldn’t hurt. We did some digging around on the internet and found medical research/resources to support the claims. My mother and I eventually contacted Ketamine Wellness Centers to schedule an infusion in Seattle, Washington, where the nearest treatment center was located.
My first infusion was tolerated well. While I sat in a reclining chair, I was given intravenous ketamine, as well as Zofran, an anti nausea medication, since I have a tendency to get sick from anesthetics. I preferred to have the lights turned off in the room, and I immediately felt the effects of the ketamine, which made my head and body feel fuzzy and light, like I was floating. I felt like my mind was rewiring itself, replacing bad thoughts with good ones. I remembered all the advice I had been given about finding happiness and it all started to make sense to me. I finally realized if you want to change your life for the better, it has to come from you, and you alone. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. I was in a deep state of bliss, a feeling I had never felt before. During the infusion, I was able to listen to music off my phone – a song that stuck out to me during this time was “Dr. Carter” by Lil Wayne – and I watched space videos on the treatment room’s monitor. Whenever I needed to talk or have something adjusted, there was a nurse monitoring me in the room, which I found very helpful. After about an hour, I was disconnected from the intravenous, and I didn’t feel any nausea. I was able to walk out of the treatment center with a new found feeling of self worth and confidence that would last me until my next infusion. I was on top of the world, and I knew now that I could create positive and constructive situations for myself if I kept a good attitude and an open mind.
In contrast, my last infusion in Seattle was on August 8th, 2019. During this infusion I contemplated my trajectory as an artist and as an individual. I realized the positive impact I could make in the world with my life. This time around, I watched art videos on the treatment room’s monitor and I listened to a playlist I made specifically for the occasion. I thought about how resilient I want to be in life, and how I need to rise up to challenges and refuse to crumble when things get stressful for me. We aren’t defined by our flaws, and as long as we stay enthusiastic for life, we can learn from our mistakes and eventually overcome them. The American investor Ray Dalio wrote “pain + reflection = growth” and this is something I contemplated deeply and identified with.
It’s been almost a year since my first ketamine infusion, and a lot has changed for me in my personal and professional relationships. I’ve gained about 40 pounds since then, which puts me at a healthy weight, and I no longer have the urge to use drugs for recreational purposes. It feels like I’ve been given a second chance at life, because I have an increased desire to achieve and do well for myself now. I’m doing things now with my life that I couldn’t have done before, being that now I’m more sociable and active. I always enjoy opportunities to travel and speak to new people about their lives and experiences. I learned that whatever I choose to do in life, I should go all in… and even if I fail the first time, I will learn so many valuable lessons in the process. I still create art in my downtown Fairbanks studio, and I am planning to visit Art Basel Miami Beach, which is an international art fair for established and emerging artists held every December. I also started an online clothing/accessories company with my cousin David, called Modern-Volume. I would like to thank my family for never giving up on me, and to extend my gratitude to the friendly staff at Ketamine Wellness Centers, for devoting their time to helping me and others to be our true, positive selves. I’ve never felt so free, motivated, and happy, and I plan to keep changing my life for the better.