I first studied psychology when I was 17 and part of a gifted youth programme called Centre For Talented Youth of Ireland. I went on to take Psychology as one of my subjects when I did BA Arts at University College Dublin, where I was mostly interested in Archaeology as an ancient history fanatic (especially Ancient Egypt). Through taking psychology, and because of my constant frustrations having spent my life trying to learn in environments that only favour a certain type of learning, I decided I no longer wanted to be Indiana Jones, but rather, I wanted to learn more about neuroplasticity and the brain, and devise methods to help people with different brains like mine. Depression which I’d had since my school years continued to worsen as the disappointment of not flourishing at University now that the pressures of school were behind me, and I finally agreed to take medication, having been adamantly against mind altering drugs of any kind up to that point. I became obsessed with neuropharmacology, as well as the pathology of creativity, reading books about famous artists and writers who had been mentally ill. I was diagnosed with Autism and ADD around the same time, although I wouldn’t even begin to understand the meaning of that until my late twenties.
My twenties were very much my lost years. I took a handful of medications every day for ten years: citalopram and lamotrigine were the constants, but sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, and ritalin were also present, in different configurations at different times. I used to learn off passages of the DSM to make my psychiatrist prescribe more and more drugs. I didn’t even want more drugs, I just wanted the higher doses to symbolise how much pain I was in. I left university without graduating in 2004, and went to live in the UK with a man who tracked me down after seeing me at a LARP event with my boyfriend, and groomed me to leave my already troubled relationship to go live with him. There, he kept me isolated and subservient. I decided one day out of the blue that I wanted to go home, and my father drove from Dublin to London to collect me. My abuser followed me back to Dublin and rented an apartment where we lived for a year and a half. There again he kept me isolated, I was not allowed to work, talk to men, or my friends unless supervised, and I could only see my family under strict conditions. My every move was policed. Surprisingly, he allowed me to go to art college, where I met an old friend from school and started socialising and being with people again. These were happy days full of life, and after a weekend field trip down the Burren drinking poitin and smoking with our teachers, I realised I missed being full of life and surrounded by people. I left the relationship, packing a bag while he followed me ominously around the house, and fleeing to where my mother met me at the Luas station near home. It would be many years before I began to process my experiences as classic Domestic Abuse.
After leaving, I became wild and lost. I was partying all the time with my new college friends, and started drinking and smoking the worst hash Dublin had to offer in the 2000s, finally learning ways to release emotions and frustrations, albeit unhealthy ways. I went from bad relationship to bad relationship, and suffered years of being degraded, used, cheated on, and dragged into all sorts of underworld horrors. My last official relationship (with a man that was supposed to be the “nice guy” after all the others) ended in 2013 when I was 28, shortly before my 29th birthday, after being on and off for a year and a half. A combination of brewing PTSD, undiagnosed PMDD, and the toll the cocktail of medication, alcohol, and cannabis took on my body over the years meant I had become deeply unstable. Being in a relationship with someone who, along with his family, would tell me that people like me don’t deserve to be loved or supported destroyed me. It was somewhere in the middle of this relationship that I decided to stop taking all medication, and vowed to find a different way, to become someone who deserved love.
In 2013, after almost a year of unspeakable withdrawals, and a month or so after that last crushing breakup, I was working as wardrobe supervisor on a film set, trying to force myself to be normal even though I could barely walk from sheer emotional wreckage. The people I met on set were so nice to work with, and I started to really enjoy being there. At one point, I felt something inside my head just…switch. I went home that evening, dyed my notoriously pink hair for the first in a while (the first thing I do when I start to feel better) to look good for the wrap party after filming the next day. I started to feel like myself again in ways I hadn’t in years, like suddenly I had my old brain back from before it was chemically dampened. At the wrap party, someone talked about taking ecstasy, and as much as I would love this to be the story about how I first took MDMA, I simply said that I wasn’t into it. At this stage, I was still vehemently “anti-drug”, despite years of literal drug abuse. It occurred to me the next day, that I had no idea was ecstasy even was. I had always just dismissed it as a fool’s drug, having been subjected to one of Paul Betts’ famed anti-drug sermons in the 90s. I started reading about it online, setting aside judgement, and learned of a whole world I never knew about, far from the sinister impressions I always had. Not only that, but the experiences I was reading about were not dissimilar to the explosion happening in my brain at the time.
During this deep dive into ecstasy around Erowid and the like, I learned of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) clinical trials into MDMA for the treatment of PTSD. I quickly became obsessed with learning about psychedelics, altered states, mental illness, and the brain. My previously dead-end passion for finding ways to help people like me was given a brand new lease on life. Over the next months, my own brain continued to have an ecstasy like glow, and I started to flourish professionally, moved out by myself for the first time at 29, and in many ways, started life proper. I enjoyed some prolific years as a costume designer, a burlesque dancer, a box office administrator, and a social butterfly. I adopted two adorable cartoonish kittens who have brought love and magic into the lives of their many friends and various carers. I experimented more with different drugs, and learned firsthand of the virtues of MDMA. Life was not without it’s challenges and I always struggled financially. Not everybody in the workplace accepted me and there was always someone hell bent on marginalising me. I had to learn a lot about navigate support systems and finding the financial support I needed as disabled person constantly at risk of unemployment. At times, I felt really unhappy, because I could never really relax or feel safe. Looking back, these were the happiest days of my life.
In late 2015, it all came crashing down when I made a decision that would both make and break me. I had enjoyed some years of being more connected with the pagan community, like I had in my youth, and I met some people who belonged to a well known secret society. After some time, I became more curious and decided to join. I had very polarising experiences. On one hand I met many wonderful people, felt a sense of belonging and purpose, and experienced the true power of ritual which has guided my practice ever since. On the other hand, I had become involved with dangerous, unstable people who were not only given the power to abuse, but who were supported in their actions by problematic interpretation of ideology, and by people who gave them their trust, a trust which they used to scapegoat me and force me into exile. My earliest experiences in this new organisation, coupled with a bad reaction from a copper IUD, brought up all the unprocessed emotional pain – from my youth and from my years heavily medicated – all surfacing at once, and I developed full blown PTSD, which to this day has not been diagnosed, not for lack of trying to educate all the sceptical clinicians I met along the way. I stopped dancing, I stopped creating, I drifted from the burlesque community, and instead focused heavily on trying to make sense of this deep, spiritual upheaval and the events happening around me. The occult scene in Ireland was briefly having a real hayday, a fire that burned strong and fast.
It was around this time that I first explored classic psychedelics, like psilocybin and DMT, and learned about microdosing. I was gifted, by the person who first introduced me to microdosing, a small bottle of 1P-LSD diluted in alcohol, with “Drink Me” written on it. It was also during this time that my connection with the Netherlands was made. I had been trying to ignore a very strong pull back to continue what I once started and get my Psychology degree, but working for myself as a costume designer was starting to feel lonely, and I could never really shake the feeling that I was supposed to be doing something to help other people like me. In 2016, I went to the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research (ICPR) at Het Sieraad in Amsterdam. Various researchers from MAPS would be presenting, and I was sold. It was a life changing step into a world buzzing with promise and excitement. Whilst in Amsterdam, I also visited one of the Universities with my travel companion who was a former student. Even just this glimpse into the Dutch attitude to education was enough to make up my mind.
Not wanting to go another round in the Irish education system, I spent the next year planning my new life and applying to universities around Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands, but sadly no English language degree programme was on offer in Amsterdam. I was trying to keep up with the gruelling task of applications and decisions whilst also grappling with my worsening clinical state. In late 2016, my mother had to arrange foster care for my cats and take me home. I saw a psychiatrist who said that I needed to be hospitalised, but I didn’t have health insurance. Through the public system, I was as good as mocked and sent away. Months later in early 2017, I was back in my flat with my cats. As I was continuing my applications for Dutch universities, I noticed that Vrije University Amsterdam had since added a BSc Psychology programme in English. I applied, and was accepted unexpectedly quickly. The rest of my time in Ireland was nothing short of an agonising grind full of grief, stress, and hope.
By the time I actually arrived here, my name had been smeared amongst both occult and psychedelic folks around Ireland and Europe by my poisonous brethren. Old friendships back home had been destroyed, and new friends were “warned” of my coming, everyone believed me to be a villain. I spent my early days in a brand new life feeling like there was nothing in front of me and nothing behind me. Everything that I, a struggling autistic woman, had worked so hard to build, was ashes. Everything that I wanted to build was unreachable, because there was no me to reach for them. I felt like a ghost. I had a form of PTSD that causes derealisation and depersonalisation. When it first happened, in late 2015, it was like I had decided once and for all I just didn’t want to be this person anymore. Not that I didn’t like myself or want to be myself, I just didn’t want to be someone that others wanted to be so cruel to anymore. So my consciousness shifted somehow over to the side, hovering just near my body. I no longer had a phenomenological experience of being myself, even though I still knew myself implicitly and could make all the right decisions on my behalf, and I’d just been sort of stuck that way since. I remember meeting fellow students on my programme who were far younger than me who would ask me what I used to do before this and, gosh, I just didn’t know what to tell them. I spent the first five months sleeping on a mattress on the floor, with only a desk and chair, no other furniture, and all my belongings in boxes. I went in search of mental healthcare and help from anyone in the university I could. I also, somehow, managed to join APRA and PSN, and get swept up in the psychedelic scene here rather seamlessly despite the constant fear that others could see the way my consciousness no longer lined up with my body, or worse, that my reputation had preceded me. I joined the local body of the secret society here, who were welcoming and friendly, and a nice change, but the suspicions hung heavily in the air.
I was also still learning about microdosing when I got here. I had saved some from the bottle I had been gifted and started taking it during the Indian summer of my first months here. One day in October, I took a dose that seemed like nothing for the first part of the day, went to class in the morning and had the rest of the day to myself. I decided to go to the forest near my home and next to my university, and rent a bike for a while and see if I could relearn how to ride it, perhaps on the grass where I could fall safely! They had a child’s bike available that was the perfect size for me. It turns out that riding a bike is just like riding a bike – no relearning necessary. I freely explored the whole forest, on a glorious day, with the magic of that morning’s microdose kicking in, Albert Hofmann style. Everything felt beautiful, the ease of cycling made me feel free, and the little nooks and crannies around the forest where you can find little café’s and beautiful views made life full of wonder again. I spent a lot of time after that exploring Amsterdam on the bike I bought from a stranger on Facebook the next day. I loved cycling into town to where I found a Kundalini Yoga class that would go on to be the space where I would process a lot of my grief. I loved leaving class and cycling around the city getting lost. I loved cycling when it was dark and the city would light up. It was all like a new romance.
My microdosing practice remained fairly sporadic, mostly due to money and just not knowing the right way. In early summer 2018, after a conference hosted in Barcelona by the higher ups of the secret society, I finally decided to leave. It was actually the moment I met the head of the order himself, a grim, greying man, that I saw the face of who you become on this path, and I was done. I still belong to the same creed, but a different practice of it. It was my first full summer in Amsterdam, and I spent it lazing about in the sun at pretty cafes, reading, and breathing, after a tough but prolific first year at university. I had decided on a new microdosing experiment where I would increase my dose to 15ug, take it every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so it was easy to remember, and I would do it without fail for six months. I bought enough in one go so that I wouldn’t run out and make excuses and delay restocking. Towards the end of August, I had a difficult experience where I learned that those closest to me had been keeping secret from me another vicious rumour spread by yet another venomous person in the occult community, and I was called some heinous names. I was in shock, and the anger at everything that had happened rose up again and I shut myself in my room. I was busying myself doing chores and whilst washing the dishes and dwelling on my anger, I just suddenly felt…done. The anger had become bigger and bigger over the years, and eventually it became so much bigger than me that it just seemed pointless all of a sudden. And I never felt that anger again. Pissed off, sure, but not That Anger.
A short time later, I had a disappointment of another sort, more trivial, but one which would normally really send me spiralling. I remember going into my room and getting upset, crying, feeling that awful sense of upheaval. I went to bed and the next day I got up and it simply didn’t bother me anymore. This was new, the feeling of my emotions passing through me rather than becoming me was very new. It’s not like I never went through a rough patch again, but in the years that followed, this fundamental change, plus a semi regular microdosing practice, would go on to be a powerful tool in withstanding some of life’s hardest and saddest challenges yet. From the time my father went into hospital in early 2019 until this year, life has darkened mine and my family’s door with crisis after crisis, with barely time to breathe in between, and sometimes they have all come at once. I simply can’t imagine the woman who felt like stranded ghost living in an empty room in a foreign country, a woman so unfamiliar to me now, handling the extraordinary circumstances of the last five years in the way that I do now. It’s not so much that things are easy, or that I never struggle, I often struggle because I still live in the same world I always have. It’s more that whatever comes my way can affect me in a human way, but the scaffolding remains intact.