I’m going to be perfectly honest here: 25 was a rough age for me. My quarter-life crisis began at least two years before and didn’t let up until I turned 26. At the center of this hurricane of self-doubt, introspection, and anxiety, were two nagging feelings: that I needed to do something with my life and that my friends and I were drifting apart.
So, in the grand effort to figure out how to become who I am, I took to experimenting with psychedelic drugs. LSD is my favorite, but between January and April of 2012, I was a regular user of psilocybin. Shrooms, to the uninitiated. And for my 25th birthday, I planned a weekend excursion to a rented cabin outside of Oakland, Maryland with my then-girlfriend and four of our other friends. To mark the occasion, I brought with me an eighth of an ounce each of grass and magic mushrooms. I was going to do 25 right.
The first night was a drunken montage of loud conversation and Talking Heads. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that a formidable distance had formed between myself and my friends. I’d been feeling it for many months now, but it was especially apparent on that first night. Even though it was my birthday, and I had organized the entire trip, I couldn’t help but feel like an interloper, a stranger on the periphery. As my friends reveled and connected, I sat quietly alone on the cabin’s porch, smoking joints and cigarettes, wondering why I felt the way that I did. The weight of it was so great that I felt like crying, but instead, I simply went to bed and left the rest of my group to continue with their partying.
The following day, we did a bit of hiking in the morning, and then returned to the cabin around 11:30 for lunch. We made BLT’s, and I piled mine high with the entire eighth of shrooms. I was still feeling isolated and depressed, but nevertheless excited about tripping my ass off and doing some more hiking in the lush hemlock forests of western Maryland. I sat at the table, guzzling orange juice straight from the carton (I’d read somewhere that niacin relaxes the cells in your body, which makes for a more enjoyable drug experience), waiting for the mushrooms to take effect.
And then, to my dismay, my friends began to retire to their beds, one by one, to sleep off their hangovers. This was definitely not good. I’d been counting on at least one of them to accompany me on another hike and make sure I didn’t do anything excessively weird or stupid. Now what? I was much too afraid of going out into the woods alone after a heavy dose of mind-altering chemicals. I resigned myself to sitting on the floor of the cabin, drinking my orange juice, and riding the trip out. Disappointment coursed through my veins.
As I sat, the mushrooms began to kick in. I stared at my hands, having visions all the while of my skin gradually decaying. I rolled a joint and moved to the porch, where I’d at least have nicer scenery to admire while I tripped. At some point, however, a restlessness overtook me and I said to myself “Fuck it,” and set off down one of the nearby trails.
The first leg of my hike, I must say, was more enjoyable than I’d thought it would be. The shrooms were providing me with some gorgeous, intense visuals. The thick hemlock trees seemed to be dancing to the strains of a distant Viking battle chant, their branches swirling and congealing with one another in a glorious arboreal kaleidescope. Now, the fierce warrior pride of my Norse ancestors flowed through my veins rather than disappointment. I felt at ease and free, solitary but not lonely. I strode mightily along the dirt footpath, finally okay with the fact that I was now a quarter century old.
At some point during my hike, at the peak of my euphoria, I noticed that I’d passed the same trail map twice. I was vaguely aware of having travelled in a giant circle, which was worrisome. Not too worrisome, however. After all, the parks department had been kind enough to place this handy map on the trail for just such occasions. But as I approached the trail map, it occurred to me that I could not understand anything that was written on it. The words seemed to be in some indecipherable alien language I’d never encountered before, and the map itself was just a jumble of meaningless lines and colors. The thought that I was lost gnawed its way into my brain and took up residence. Soon it was the only thought left.
What happened next was what I can only describe as a complete epistemological breakdown. Imagine for a minute that the entirety of your knowledge of the world and yourself is a precarious tower of Jenga blocks. Now, imagine that tower collapsing, and you’re pretty close to understanding just what I was going through. I was no longer a rational, thinking organism. All that I had to go on were my immediate sensory perceptions and the piercing fear of being lost in an unfamiliar place.
I don’t know how I found my way back to the cabin. I simply kept walking until I did. By the time I came stumbling to the front door, it was night and a light spring drizzle was falling coolly over the forest. I burst through the door like a lunatic. My friends were all awake now, chatting amongst themselves over PBR and Rilo Kiley. Their conversation sounded like utter gibberish to my ears, like when an adult speaks in a “Peanuts” cartoon. They each briefly acknowledged my presence, and went back to whatever they were talking about. I simply balled up on the sofa and didn’t say anything. I was back to feeling totally alone.