A Really Good Day (2018) is the true story of one writer’s attempt to tackle her struggles with depression and mood disorder through a novel – and illegal – remedy: microdoses of LSD. Charting her experiment with the drug over 30 days, Ayelet Waldman explores her reactions and discovers a newfound sense of serenity in her everyday life. At the same time, A Really Good Day is a broader exploration of the history of LSD, the myths that surround it and society’s attitudes toward legal and illegal drugs.
Ayelet Waldman had been at the mercy of her moods for decades. On a good day, she could be sparkling company – cheerful, friendly, affectionate and productive. But on a bad day, Waldman was worn down by self-hatred, guilt and shame. She’d start arguments with her husband, feel overwhelmed by pessimism and had little sense of self-worth, despite being a successful, published author. Her erratic moods have always made her life, and the lives of her friends and family, more difficult.
Seeking help, she turned to therapy, spending many hours sitting on the leather couches of professionals – from Freudians to cognitive behavioral experts, social workers to family therapists. She tried mindfulness – spending long periods meditating and even longer telling her therapist how much she hated meditating.
One day, crossing a bridge while driving home, she found herself considering steering to the right and hurtling into the water below. Shocked at this suicidal thought, she sought medical help. Diagnosed with a form of depression – bipolar II disorder – she started taking drugs. For years, Waldman tried numerous medications: Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, Cymbalta, Effexor, Lamictal, Adderall, Ritalin and many more. Some helped a little, for days or even months at a time. But they had unfortunate side effects, such as weight gain, irritability and a decreased interest in sex.
Eventually, she discovered her diagnosis hadn’t even been correct. She realized her moods were fluctuating in direct correlation to her menstrual cycle, and that she had a type of premenstrual syndrome – called premenstrual dysphoric disorder – that caused mood swings at certain points in her cycle.
This discovery allowed her to learn the cycle and timing of her moods and take medication only when necessary. But when Waldman entered the perimenopause, her period became irregular, and so did her mood. Things took a turn for the worse, and she became exhausted with fury, irritation and despair.
It was at this point that she happened upon the work of James Fadiman, a psychologist and former psychedelic researcher. Fadiman was popularizing the microdosing of LSD – people taking tiny doses of LSD to treat mood problems were reporting that they’d enjoyed a really good day. And a really good day was all the author had ever wanted.