For years I’d resisted going to Burning Man. Many of my friends had gone. Some went once or twice and enjoyed it. Others were devoted disciples of the playa who descend on Black Rock City every August and spent the rest of the year waiting to go ‘home’. I even had a boyfriend half a decade ago who was so committed to his solo pilgrimage that he didn’t want me to go with him. Yes, we broke up.
But I’m not a joiner, thanks to a level of social anxiety that can sometimes render me housebound. Yet, if I really want to do something, I’ll figure it out. So, after a summer trip to Europe fell through, I decided to take the resources I had gathered and go try the thing that every ‘Burner’ swore would change my life…
The Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Burning Man is a pretty large party (there were 70k people in 2017). But I don’t drink (well…if you have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot you can come sit by me) and I so very rarely use drugs. Instead, I take a nootropic called KATY, developed by a company called Limitless Life. Marketed as a natural alternative to MDMA, it sustainably stimulates dopamine, serotonin, and gaba production resulting in a body and brain high with no crash. Yes, it alters my state but I actually use it to combat my social anxiety. For me, KATY lessens the stress of social situations so I can comfortably be around strangers. Whenever I had to go somewhere I’d never been before and be around people I’d never met, I’d go into a state of panic. I’d tried many times to turn my fear of the unknown into curious excitement and I simply couldn’t.
According to the Social Anxiety Association, social anxiety is the third largest mental health issue in the United States. It is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. I realized I had social anxiety when I stopped drinking years ago; it wasn’t that I liked alcohol but I sure liked how it took away the stress of the unfamiliar. But I couldn’t bear losing any more days of my life to hangovers and migraines that booze caused for me – even one drink was enough to obliterate my next twenty-four hours. Until KATY, there wasn’t really much I could do about it and staying home put a major dent in my social life – obviously. So, for the last year, KATY had been my go to for any evening out in the unknown. Considering how much unknown I’d have to deal with, I took KATY to Burning Man.
From the official Burning Man website comes this introduction: “Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome.” It is a perfect description. Populated by camps with any theme imaginable, there is something for everyone. And if you want it, you will find it. Want to participate in an orgy? You can (well, single dudes can’t). Want to learn more about microdosing? There’s a workshop for that. Need a Vietnamese iced coffee and someone to wash your feet? You got it. Dying for a martini? Want a cuddle pile? A sober dance party? Need to work on topping from the bottom? Ecstatic birth? Ecstatic dance? Massage? Meditation? Bacon? You can have and do it all.
But you have to be prepared. The website provides a first-timer’s guide with a list of essentials and they are not kidding. The climate of Black Rock Desert is unforgiving. It will dry you out, kill your appetite, and keep you up all night. It is never, ever quiet. Art cars drive the grid of streets all day long, blaring music or shooting fire into the sky. Camp parties rage until morning. If you’re not in an RV (or your blackwater tank is full) you’ll be heading to porta potties when nature calls – and if you’re averse to bad smells and seeing other people’s bodily waste, you’re shit out of luck.
I had talked to enough ‘Burners’ before I went to get real with what was coming. The playa dictates the terms, not you. If you need to be clean and sanitized, stay home. The dust gets everywhere (and learn from my sad story: wear your mask or you’ll lose your voice and cough for weeks. ‘Playa Lung’ is no joke). If you require organization and order know that the playa has its own reality and runs on its own time. If you need your ‘space’ and ‘quiet’ and like things to be ‘just so’, and don’t want everything you bring to get dust on it, perhaps just go to an all-inclusive resort where locals bring you drinks and dance in the bar. You might get some sand in your flip flops but you’ll be happier where you can control your environment and the people in it…
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it took effort for me to keep my reactions in check sometimes. The drone of 4/4 at 120-something bpm would seep in when I was sleeping despite the A/C running in my yurt and my earplugs. One-ply toilet paper is hard on the behind, and where the fuck was I supposed to wash my hands? Other people’s tents were close, and – I’m being honest – I flat out did not want to spend time with some of the people I had to live in community with for a week.
I gave up on showering because it required much too much hoop jumping but witch hazel and baby wipes worked like a charm – and one of my best friends just washed my hair in the kitchen sink. I reframed the porta potties with the help of organic hand sanitizer and a pretty, pink pee funnel. Those people I didn’t want to be around? I forgot about them and found some beautiful people who weren’t contained by a clique and wanted to experience true connection.
I didn’t use KATY right away because I wanted to challenge myself to do self-care rather than depend on something I could swallow. But by the night of my camp’s party I was already at capacity when it came to socializing. I froze just thinking of talking to yet another person – if you have social anxiety then you’ll understand what I’m talking about. When I’m at home and I decide being around people is too much I just stay in. But ‘staying in’ at Burning Man is a bit tough – especially when the party is thirty feet from your yurt. So, I took two KATY capsule combinations on an empty stomach. Then, I plugged in my curling iron, did my hair, and put on my makeup – which was just enough time for KATY to start to work.
One hour after the red light of my curling iron blinked on, I was dancing on the bar. There I was, chatting away with not only the women dancing with me but with the partygoers on the floor into whose mouths I was messily pouring some terrible pink liquor. And laughing. KATY allows me to do something that I find impossible to do otherwise: make small talk. I was free of the tension that usually sits in my chest and shoulders and the voices that tell me how stupid I’m going to sound just before I open my mouth – both hallmarks of social anxiety. And yes, the big smile on my face lasted through the six hours of dancing (on the floor and in the dust) that followed thanks to the amazing DJ’s and one more dose of KATY. (It’s really important to not take more than three of each KATY caps in twelve hours; I did it once, it was a mistake, and I don’t recommend it.)
Is it like MDMA?
Honestly, I was never much for MDMA. But when I’m on KATY, I feel euphoric and fearless yet still in charge of my judgement. I’m open to people while still feeling safe. On KATY I am even more comfortable in my body, love to move and dance, and hugging someone feels incredible. But most importantly, instead of fear driving me to protect myself, my heart feels full and open. My ex (who didn’t want me to go with him all those years ago) was in my camp with his new girlfriend, making sad eyes at me all week, asking to talk. I chose to take my space from him. But when he interrupted my dancing with a teary request for a hug that night at our camp party, I gave it to him. Not because I wanted to hug him, but because I could see he was in pain and I wanted to be kind. KATY is that kind of girl.
In fact, I feel I owe so much of my positive playa experience to KATY. It was a myriad; magical, beautiful, inspiring, overwhelming, overstimulating, annoying, sometimes boring. Maybe it was KATY and maybe it was the playa but some of my relationships blossomed in ways I didn’t expect. I reconnected with an old friend and my time with him became one of the absolute joys of my entire experience as he showed me the playa through his eyes. I was reintroduced to a high-school crush with whom I danced at sunrise to one of the most amazing DJ sets I’ve heard in my life. We essentially had the date I had always wanted, but never got.
Even the friendships I formed on the playa moved quickly. I spent an evening dancing with a married man with whom I had one of the most profound conversations of my week. A complete stranger in a white corset to mirror my black one, his words brought me back to me after wondering how I had lost my center to too many disappointments in the months prior. Another man who heard of my desire to have a child made an offer to impregnate me because his three children with his ex wife would ensure there were more people to love our child. (In case you’re wondering, I didn’t take him up on it.) But it wasn’t all fun. The playa also shines a bright light on problematic relationships. I let go of two close friends thanks to playa drama. I’ll simply say I’m grateful for the space that has opened up in my life for people who understand that their behaviour is not anyone else’s responsibility – or fault – but theirs.
It’s funny to me that some people who are ‘illicit’ drug users eye KATY with suspicion; as if a nootropic supplement is going to do more harm to them than a substance that might be laced with something dangerous. The reality is that deaths from Fentanyl are at a crisis point up on the West Coast of Canada and spreading south, as well as increasing on the East Coast of the United States. We all want our chosen family to be safe and no matter who you’re getting your supply from, you just can’t ever truly know what it contains. KATY’s ingredients are extracted from organically grown plants from sustainable farms all over the world. I trust that.
KATY’s effects on mood last long after the ‘high’ has worn off. And one of my favorite aspects of KATY is that I never feel a crash. I was tired after so many late nights. But when my friends talked about decompression post-burn, I just didn’t get what they meant. I walked back into what some refer to as the ‘default’ world feeling elated and inspired. Part of that is because of the experience I had. But the real reason is because my neurotransmitters weren’t depleted. KATY actually increases levels of serotonin and dopamine – your system doesn’t ‘dump’ it in exchange for a good time. And KATY is nutrient dense – the B-12, vitamin E, and amino acids she delivers are probably why I didn’t get the ‘flu that everyone else got once they got back from the playa.
Did Burning Man change my life, as promised? No. But I’m glad I went. When I go back – and I will someday – KATY will be at the top of my list of essentials to bring so I can feel less stress, experience more bliss, and dance once again on the top of the bar. And I’ll be sure to bring enough to gift it to all my dusty people – even my ex – so they can leave their favorite place feeling as amazing as I did.
Curious about KATY? Check out LIMITLESS LIFE and their line of all natural, organic, sustainably grown, experiential nutrition supplements: www.MyLimitlessEvolution.com