Garden of Anxiety

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I Took Ayahuasca to Fix a Health Problem

Six months ago, I sat outside, on a wooden deck in the mountains, across from a white dude with a man bun.

“Do you actually think this can fix me?” I asked him.

The man went by “Kapétt”, a name he picked up while studying indigenous culture in a Peruvian forest, though his legal name was John Thomas Caldwell III, and he was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“I can’t promise that,” said Kapétt/John III, moving his left leg to cross under his right. “But I’ve seen people speak with their deceased loved ones. Others who’ve had their depression instantly cleared. Things you wouldn’t believe.”

Neither of those possibilities interested me. I’m not depressed and I don’t believe in ghosts or God or an after-life. When we die, I believe we turn off. And if I’m wrong, and my dead loved ones are still out there, I have no desire to hear from them, as they float around my bedroom, judging me for the gay-leaning porn I consume when I believe I’m alone.

But regardless, I, at thirty-one, came to this retreat because of a vestibular balance issue I’d been dealing with for three years—something wrong with my left ear. Every moment that I’d been awake, on a first date or a job interview, on a run, or in a chair, drunk at a concert or sober in bed, standing up or upside down, I’d been mildly dizzy.

I’d seen ear doctors and neurologists, acupuncturists and ayurvedists. Had MRIs that showed a swollen left inner ear, specifically my utricle (a crystal-filled straw that tells the brain which way is up and which way is not), but no one had been able to tell me why said utricle was swollen or how to permanently make it not.

And after years of always being a tiny bit off-kilter, causing me not to be fully present with myself or anyone I loved, I began to accept that I would never get better and I contemplated whether living a life like this, constantly distracted and tilted to one side, was worth living at all.

So, there I was, 1,095 days and 26 health practitioners later, sitting on a porch, staring at the face of a ripped-sweatshorts-wearing-hippy, who claimed that a vomit and diarrhea-inducing hallucinogen from the forest might help.

I looked down at the journal I’d brought for the weekend.

On the first page, I had written:

Intention: fix ear

I looked up. “Either the drug fixes me,” I told Kapétt, “...or it doesn’t.”

“We don’t say drugs, Alex,” he said, staring. “We say medicine.”

Unamused, I stared back.


In Quechua, “aya” means spirit or corpse, while “waska” means rope.

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