• Maria

I changed my mind. Will you?

Updated: May 15, 2020

From advertising to psychedelic therapy in one brave decision

It’s 11am on a Monday and I’m perched up on the sofa with a cup of coffee, reading a book. I turn another page and it suddenly hits me: just how lucky I am to finally start my day the way I'd dreamed about for years. Meanwhile, my morning sprint to the train station, the endless thread of emails, the meetings, the elevator pleasantries, they all feel as alien as the idea that I was ever in advertising.

I'll be honest with you, I didn’t expect that ending my ten year career would be so… easy. I seem to have adapted to my newfound freedom overnight, with very few regrets other than the financial insecurity of giving up a decent salary in order to retrain into an emerging field. Yet here I am, surrounded by a small mountain of books waiting to be cracked open and a series of courses that would hopefully shape me into a good psychedelic therapist and guide.

But first, the ad break

At the end of November I shared the news of quitting my job, and advertising, in an Instagram story that featured me jumping around my flat. It was a quick, silly video that I didn’t think much of. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with more messages than I could attend to.

The overwhelmingly positive response to my post about quitting advertising, mostly from people within advertising, says more about the industry than about my decision to part with it. I started my career in Bucharest, during my second year of university, fuelled by the mirage of the creative industry that draws so many of us to it. We were supposed to be creative geniuses who lived like rockstars. We’d show up late to state-of-the-art offices stocked with free booze, flowing from brilliant brainstorms to yet another cocktail party to celebrate how our ideas had, yet again, saved the world (you are so very welcome). Except we weren’t. We were earning so little we could barely afford a life outside work, not that there was much time for that anyway. But at least we had a hashtag. #thisadvertisinglife

Four years later I entered London advertising doe-eyed and even more determined to, as the industry likes to preach, "do great work". Finally, I thought, I’d work with the budgets and advertising giants I used to admire so much. I gobbled up all the inspirational talks, the Trottian rants, the side hustles, the "doing well on day-to-day work is not enough"-type mentorship. I went to so many meetings I’m afraid parts of my brain are forever atrophied. I entertained creative directors by rewriting the same pieces of content more times than language and common sense permitted. I smiled and did as I was told. I raged. I went to interviews. I got so, so bored. And as the beautiful creative promise started to feel more like a very dull scam, I wondered how I ever took this stuff seriously.

What was a painful thought at first became a very liberating revelation that allowed me to let go. I just wasn’t cut for advertising, at least not anymore. I knew that the Insta-worthy-climbing-up-the-advertising-ladder life would take more from me than I was willing to lose. And the things I liked about the industry - creative expression, the potential to solve real problems cleverly, plus working with some of the funniest, kindest and most talented people I know - are not bound to it at all.

So how does an atheistic, materialistic, cynical and at times arrogant creative copywriter raised with the firm belief that drugs are bad suddenly decide to become a psychedelic guide?

My first encounter with psychedelics was a hilarious magic mushroom experience that ‘magically’ dissolved my depression and anxiety for six months. I took a lot of convincing that it would be safe, and "even fun"! So I reluctantly sipped the tea and went for the weirdest and most wonderful ride I’d ever experienced. A year later, I was staring into the same tea with an unsettling mix of fear and excitement. Coming back from an ayahuasca retreat in Peru, my (way more drug-friendly and adventurous) boyfriend had made up his mind that he wanted to join the psychedelic renaissance, and I wanted to join him. So, in the safety and intimacy of our living room, we were replicating the psychedelic clinical studies from Imperial College London: two doses of psilocybin (the "magic" compound in magic mushrooms) a week apart, and lots and lots of preparation and integration for each of those experiences. This was no laughing matter, as I had to wear an eye mask and headphones to fully immerse myself in the journey accompanied by a specially designed playlist, while my boyfriend made sure I was safe, hydrated and definitely not going to call my mum. It was challenging and beautiful, and deeply transformative. And then we switched roles.

Months later a series of decisions that felt almost too easy quickly landed me at a women's-only circle at Synthesis, a legal psychedelic retreat in the Netherlands. There, I felt years of trauma, fear and sadness leave my body under the loving care, wisdom and kindness of the facilitators. I felt joy. And so much love. I was humbled by this process, and I knew there was no turning back.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Of course, these mushroom experiences didn’t “fix” me. With years of introspection, therapy, a fair amount of reading and a budding meditation practice under my belt, I was in a decent place to face my shadow - those uglier, hidden aspects of myself that I try not to look at, as Jung coined it (however, he didn’t refer to the omnipresent layer of fat that’s been squatting on my belly since the early ‘90s, but rather the aspects of the unconscious mind that we deny, whether they’re good or bad). It wasn’t easy, but with every journey I felt myself moving towards something greater than whatever identity I had shrunk myself into. I sobbed. I shook from every limb. I asked for my hand to be held and I laughed with relief when the tough parts were over. I cried in awe at the ineffable beauty of this consciousness that permeates everything, but eludes our conscious efforts to grasp it. And two days later I packed my laptop and rushed to make a 9am meeting at work.

The shift that happened following these experiences felt more like getting new prescription glasses. Or the right fit bra. Or getting good running shoes. Or finding that one whiskey that makes you appreciate this drink at last. (Am I relatable yet?) There they were, my values, the things I held dear, stripped of all striving. I wanted kindness, calm, love, humour and plenty of time for ideas to flow. And I wanted to guide others on their own path to finding this magic, with the same wisdom and love I had been offered.

Now, the problem with deciding to train as a psychedelic therapist is that, well, you can’t. Most programmes cater to certified clinicians (psychologists, psychiatrists, and sometimes nurses or priests) - which I’m not, or bank on you having a spare couple of tens of thousands of dollars to spend on studying in the US - which I don’t have. The renaissance of psychedelic therapy is too new, and the requirements are still uncertain. So what do you do then? Rob a bank? Invest in crypto? No, you build your own curriculum.

My retraining will probably be a very long and costly process, as more modalities reveal themselves to me. But for now, I am focusing on covering the bases: a course in humanistic counselling, one in transpersonal psychology, lots of harm reduction, and a really great course for training therapists and clinicians to work with psychedelics. And books. Lots and lots of books, from Jungian psychology to Grofian approaches, and from Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk’s theories on trauma to more spiritual approaches to healing. Sound a bit overwhelming? It is, but I’m also buzzing in a way I haven’t for a while.

And I realised that learning all this is for nothing if it isn’t shared. I can only get wiser at the rate my friends and the people around me do. So I’m going to take you on this journey. I'll be sharing the insights as I learn more about the healing potential of psychedelics, best practices, Jungian psychology, new research, safety and harm reduction, meditation, yoga and other modalities, and, of course, my very own experiences with them. I’m by no means an expert (yet), but isn't that half of the fun?

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

So if you'd like to learn more about this emerging and very exciting field with me, please subscribe to my newsletter. I'd be very grateful to share this journey with you.

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