Insane in the Membrane: The Inside Story of a Psychotic Mind.

Via on Jun 27, 2011

For a long time, I thought that I’d had a Kundalini Awakening in August of 2004.

It was the month of my 29th birthday, the same month that Venus was transiting the sun, and the month of Shamballah Music Festival in Canada.

It also become the month that I had a full-blown psychotic episode, complete with speaking in ancient Egyptian, performing ritualistic kriya unknown to me at the time and getting admitted to the Acute Psych Ward of Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital.

At the time, in the hospital, I knew that I’d had some kind of spiritual experience, but I also knew if I mentioned that to the doctors, they’d think I was crazy.

Actually, they already thought I was crazy – the weird kriya I’d been doing in the waiting room on my hands and knees in front of my soon-to-be ex-fiance had proved that.

So I kept my mouth shut. Nodded obligingly at the diagnosis of bi-polar and took the drugs they handed me.

I can’t remember the exact date of these happenings – but I could work it out. I know it was a Friday night that my fiance and a friend drove me down to the hospital. I know too that it was a new moon. I woke up, sane, after they’d sedated me, to find the sheets soaked in red.

Just when you thought life couldn’t get any worse eh?

Dumped into a psych ward by your fiance, so off the planet that I hadn’t clued in to the arrival of my period.

Somehow I found the state of mind to do a quick recon of the psych ward, and locate a stack of the faded orange pajama pants I’d been dressed in, and do a quick change in a nearby toilet. By the time I made it back to my bed, the sheets had been changed.

Odd now, to think of those faded orange pajama pants. They weren’t disimilar to monks clothing… only bleached out.

It’s difficult to remember the weeks that followed that three day stint in the hospital.

Relations were strained between my fiance and I. I was no doubt still in La la land as I tried to make sense of the experience I’d had. He was struggling to come to terms with the loss of the woman he’d fallen in love with, and the replacing of her with this hippy-trippy and most definitely-dippy crazy woman.

I went off to a five day yoga retreat, knowing he was on the verge of breaking up with me, pushing the knowledge deep down as far as I could.

I wouldn’t recommend doing five days of yoga when you’ve already had a psyche-blasting experience. Especially when at the end of those five days you come home and get dumped by your fiance, a man you’re deeply, madly (!) in love with.

It was the new moon again.

This time September.

And again, another psychotic episode.

This one worse.

I was alone in the house my fiance and I had rented, and spent five days avoiding grief by retreating into my fragile mind. Everything that happened I filtered through denial and hope – that we’d stay together.

I thought he was planning a secret wedding.

I thought the sports car with Toronto plates parked across the complex we lived in was his Dad, arrived for the wedding.

I thought he would arrive in a helicopter and whisk me to the top of a mountain to marry me.

I thought… and I thought… and I thought…until my mind went nuts and I ended up back in the psych ward, this time committed, unable to leave.

My entire world collapsed.

It had been teettering for a long time though, and this was just the final death throes. Everything I’d been ignoring in my life – no work, mounting debt – was no longer ignorable. I couldn’t just deny and hope and pretend any longer.

And that meant when part of me had this feeling I was undergoing some kind of spiritual experience… another part of me wondered if this was just more denial and sugar-coating and impossibly-positive thinking again.

So I pushed it all away, went home to New Zealand, and focused on putting myself back together.

Two years later, I attended a yoga workshop with Swami Shantimurti.

He spoke about Kundalini. And Kundalini Awaknening. And how it can manifest as psychosis.

I started crying.

I’d been so afraid that I was just mad. That I could no longer trust that anything I seemed to feel was true. That even the sense I had that this was something bigger than me was wrong. That I was wrong.

Now I had a place to start from.

The mind is a tricksy thing.

I’d watched mine go crazy.

Literally.

My mind totally took over and ran the show – and the way it ran the show was the way it had always run the show my whole life. It looked to protect me from emotional pain by focusing on the positive and looking for signs that things were going to go the way I wanted.

It’s a misnomer to say ‘she’s out of her mind’. Craziness is being totally in the mind. It’s when all that exists is mind. And my mind wanted to protect me, look after me, shelter me.

Those two episodes of psychosis showed me a way of operating in the world which had no doubt served me well as a child, but now it was time to deprogramme.

Problem once, once your mind goes crazy, it’s really hard to trust yourself. You question everything that arises in your mind. You doubt anything you think or believe or know.

Initially, this made life really hard.

Not trusting yourself feels awful. But over time, it also meant that I was learning discernment. Anytime I had a thought, I’d examine it to see where it came from, what it was about, what it was trying to do, what the energy underlying it was.

It was like I had to experience the full-blown aspect of this particular self-protection mechanism in order to learn the antidote to it.

And learn I did. In the process, I was dismantling the ego. Or at least, the self-protection aspects of the ego.

I observed the results in my life as I followed the thoughts inside. I noticed when things flowed well and when they didn’t. I began to get a sense for when my thoughts were coming from a place of fear and self-protection, and when they were coming from a place of love and expansion.

I also started to notice that there was a quiet voice inside I could totally trust. A knowingness, if you will.

This was the part of me that waking up in the psych ward knew I’d had a spiritual experience.

I began to practice listening to this quiet voice and doing what it said. The voice got louder, and clearer. Life began to flow more.

I noticed the beliefs and ideas I carried that limited my life. I noticed how these beliefs and ideas stemmed from fears, and existed to protect me from experiencing not-so-nice feelings.

But you know what?

Life is full of not-so-nice feelings that we have to experience if we want to also experience the super-nice feelings.

Feeling sad about someone leaving means I can feel glad about them arriving.

Feeling nervous about a performance means I can feel joy after the event.

Feeling scared I might not get a job means I can feel happy when I do.

Somehow, as a child, my programming had get stuck on protecting me from feelings so that I’d totally forgotten what it was like to feel at all… the psychosis had broken all that wide open and re-introduced me to the magic of feelings again.

Unfortunately, what this meant was all the feelings I had never felt as a child, teenager and young adult now all had to be felt. Feelings are energy in motion, and when we don’t allow them to move through us, they get stuck in our subtle bodies, often created rigidity.

Feeling these feelings took years. The first four months after I returned to New Zealand I would wake up with sensations in my lower belly. I began to notice that the nature and strength of these sensations predicted exactly the nature and strength of the tears I would later shed.

Shed is probably the wrong word.

Vomit is more appropriate.

At some point in the day, often in the morning, I would start to cry. And cry, and cry. These tears would come from a place deep  behind my navel, and I would often be doubled up as I purged. Sometimes even on my hands and knees. Tears, and tears, and tears and tears. Oceans of them.

I can only assume these were the unshed emotions of 20 years or so finally set free from the shackles of my mind.

Finally, about four months in, I finally had a day with no tears. That was when I knew I would make it through. That life would get better. That the tears and pain would one day stop.

It’s been almost seven years now since I had those two episodes of psychosis.

Despite the experiences of unknown kriya and a language my fiance picked out as ancient Egyptian (could’ve been just gibberish right?) I don’t know if I did have a Kundalini Awakening after all.

Maybe I did just go crazy.

It doesn’t really matter.

I’ll always be grateful for those two experiences, as they broke the cosmic egg of life wide open for me. Experiencing bliss, oneness and the secrets of the Universe, whether wrapped up in psychosis or not, changes a person for ever.

So does going crazy.

Not so many people can say they’ve experienced full-blown psychosis and come back to integrate the experience enough to articulately tell the tale (and boy, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the weird and wonderful things that happened to me in those two five day periods over the new moons of August & September 2004!).

Sure it made me feel like a worthless failure for a few years, and it’s taken me about seven years in total to heal all the shadow aspects of Self that were thrown into stark relief post-psychosis… but’s it’s a journey I’ll always relish.

It made me sort my shit out, finally.

And if nothing else, it makes one helluva a story.

So this one time, when I was Crazy…

About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is the author of Forty Days of Yoga - Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice, and the publisher of New Zealand’s own awsome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox. She has just released her second book The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. She lives in Wellington with her young son, a ninja-in-training.

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40 Responses to “Insane in the Membrane: The Inside Story of a Psychotic Mind.”

  1. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Wow that is an amazing story. Do you have any sense of what explains why you were able to connect to that quiet knowing voice and follow it toward healing and others don't seem to be able to do that? That for me is a huge question.

    Thanks for sharing; again, that is an amazing story. Best wishes.

    • Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

      Hey Carol,

      Great question!

      I already had a fairly regular yoga and meditation practice when this happened, and during the first psychotic episode, had an experience of Bliss or Oneness. After that, I just knew there was more to life than the ego/mind. Somehow that knowing just propelled me on to continue with my yoga and meditation, and learn to trust the knowingness I could feel.

  2. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, great story well written.
    As a yoga teacher with experience of Kundalini awakening your experience certainly sounds like it to me. ( read about my experience here if you like: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/awaken-the… )
    But as you say, does it matter? And where is the line between insanity and spiritual awakening anyway – I'm sure that very often the people who 'lose it' are simply the most sensitive.

    • Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

      Hey Ben,

      Great to read your story. There's no doubt my experience was premature – too much ego/mind stuff still going on, much of it in the sub/unconscious, and not enough serious, established practice.

      Afterward though, I was able to use practice in the last seven years to pull back those veils and release/heal/understand all the ego/mind stuff that had presented as psychosis. I kept asking myself of my experience – was that Knowingness, or was that the messed-up psyche stuff?

      • Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

        Yes, it's an interesting question isn't it?!
        I'd just like to add that it's great to point out to people as you did, that if you get caught up in an experience of premature Kundalini awakening, STOP all yoga / spiritual practice. As I'm sure you know, your extra 5 day yoga retreat only propelled you further into chaos!
        In this situation one of the best things you can do to slow it down is eat meat…

  3. randolphr says:

    That.is.one.helluva-story, baby.
    If you ever write more, I'll read every word.
    Bless ya !

  4. HollyShabtai says:

    You are so brave!! I am touched and inspired deeply by your candidness and truth in the details of your story ! What a journey Mama! I am so proud of you. Thanks so much for writing it down for us all to share and relate and integrate into ourselves. Great job!

  5. Katherine says:

    you rock. You are a total bad ass. Thank you for telling your story.

  6. yoga-adan says:

    glad you're expanding on your longer tale of this earlier on ej; such valuable info to share, thanks kara-leah

  7. Alex says:

    Thanks for sharing.! And best of luck as you continue on your journey towards a more peaceful Self.

  8. Hannah says:

    So beautiful. I experienced a similar breakdown/awakening over several years and I really resonate with the part about "trusting yourself". It's nice to hear someone else's experiences. Lots of light to you.

  9. ReactivePsychosis says:

    Psychosis is no fun, I remember having all those thoughts that everything was being orchestrated for my benefit. I much liked your explanation of being "totally in mind", its as though psychosis manipulates your conscious mind at the joints rather than destroy it.

    • Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

      Hello,

      Yup, had the same sense of the whole world being orchestrated just for me… all was like a movie and I was the star!

      I wonder though if there isn't some kind of deeper truth in this… once you get past the way the ego sees it all…

  10. Shelly says:

    I am nearing my 5th anniversary of my last hospitalization. I had 2 episodes within about a year of each other after my divorce. Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i also really love how you track the journey through to the deep and authentic process of dealing with the layers of unresolved emotion so as to find your way through…. and especially how there came a point when you had cried all those tears out.

    many people never enter that process for fear it will be endless and many spiritual teachings/teachers will provide all sorts of self-invalidating reasons for not "going there" but i think that is where the real work lies.

    • Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

      Hey Julian,

      Ah yes… the only way to heal was to turn around and face it all head on. Having tasted bliss, there was no way I could go back to living the way I had been, unconscious and in denial!

      And it wasn't endless. Maybe 5 to 7 years. Sure, there were months that would go past when every single time I stepped on to my yoga mat, I would cry and cry and cry… but there was always a sense of relief afterwards that kept me on the path. There's no doubt in heart that moving the emotions through is where the work lies. Release is key!

  12. Carlie says:

    Thanks for sharing! I too went through the vomit purges of old emotions and still experience the odd language stuff (I don't know what language it is). But that's OK., the Kundalini knows what it is doing.

    • Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

      I'm with you – the process knows what's going on and it really is just surrendering and trusting it, while looking after oneself and staying safe….

  13. Powerful stuff, Kara-Leah. So glad you're here and willing to share this with us.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  14. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  15. Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

    Hey Julian,

    Great question you raise, about the difference between mental illness and the spiritual path. Are some illnesses brain imbalances and some spirit-related? Or are many mental illnesses a case of people not being able to make sense of the sensory input through the filters of their ego/mind?

    I know people who are not mentally ill who hear voices… see beings… and use ritual in a powerful way. Yet they're not attached to these things, there's no emotional charge around defending them you could say…

    Huge topic area… thanks for raising all these different points.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      well – just to present one side of that question more deeply:

      it is most likely that everyone who hallucinates voices or visions is either experiencing a brain pathology or on powerful drugs – the simple fact is no-one else experiences these things in a vivid undeniable way.

      it may be a mild pathology.

      it may co-exist with a lot of intelligence and compassion and reasonableness.

      it may even be of some benefit.

      they may not seem "crazy" – and indeed may not be; just kinda cross wired somewhere.

      but the hallucination of disembodied presences is most likely in this case a manifestation of mild temporal lobe epilepsy or a schizotypal brain.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizotypal_personalhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporal_lobe_epilep

      i would suggest there is no truly spiritual hallucination or dissociative/psychotic experience….. and the reason that it seems to be spiritual is because for millennia we misinterpreted mental illness for prophecy, divine visitation or demonic possession. (there is a whole side subject here about the innate tendency to be mind/body dualists which is a side effect of brain evolution but gives us the convincing though incorrect perception of something "other" than our biological nature.)

      what is perhaps better described as "spiritual" would be states of greater integration, deeper clarity about reality, expanded compassion, more acceptance of our existential reality. the whole preoccupation with the supernatural i would suggest is 100% a product of brain malfunction!

      as hard as this may be for us to accept – try it on for a moment, just think about it and see where it takes you. for me it removes none of the grace and beauty of genuine spiritual practice, great art, human connection and philosophical meaning, while clearing away the unnecessary baggage of the past.

      here is the brilliant stanford psychology prof robert sapolsky spinning his perspective on this central human question:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNSe4Ff57n4

      part two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8GFQRAlDmE&fe

  16. Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

    Hey Alicia,

    Wow! Sounds like we had super-similar experiences. Makes me wonder if this doesn't point to some deeper archetypical playings-out of the psyche. I'm sure Jung could give us some answers if we invited him to dinner and told him our stories!!!

    Maybe these experiences are even just a part of breaking through the clutch-hold of the ego/mind, and surrendering to God/Life/The Divine.

  17. randolphr says:

    I'm loving the exchange going on here ….

  18. Thank you for this. It was so nice to read an inside prospective of this. I watched a friend, with little spiritual foundation, "loose his mind" at a Lakota Sundance one year. He just opened right up and found himself in the clouds and in another mystical world that he didn't have the foundation to navigate. It was very awe-inspiring to be with him on his magical journey. But not pretty when he came down and tried to sort himself out. He started to act violent and his family thought he was crazy so they put him in a hospital for a few days. The whole thing lasted a couple weeks. It was scary. I figured it was a kundalini type experience.

    I think it is important for this information to get out there, so that if it happens to others, then they will have more background info to help and lead them toward healing. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hey,

      It must have been heart-breaking to watch your friend go through that. It is so important to get this kind of information out there so more people understand what's happening when people have these kind of energy shifts, and how to support them.

      As Swami Shantimurti told me, energy shifts are our evolutionary destiny as human beings. How we experience them and the chaos they create depends on how grounded and solid we are when they happen, and how much of our Self we have integrated.

  19. [...] Insane in the Membrane: The Inside Story of a Psychotic Mind. [...]

  20. [...] Insane in the Membrane: The Inside Story of a Psychotic Mind. [...]

  21. [...] I’d left behind my fiance – well, ex-fiance now as he’d broken up with me in between the two psychotic episodes which had sent me to [...]

  22. Richard says:

    People experience things that other's may or may not experience in their life time whether physical or emotional good or bad, usually when emotional we as humans tend not to express (unless its good) to trusted people. The fact that you have opened yourself to the world in an incredible detailed article truly reflects that you are no longer in fear of your emotions, from where you were back when you were having this say life challenge your certainly not in fear of what people thiink which in my opinion goes along way in your future actions, attitude, behaviour, and future … :-).
    Keep being you, and living the good fight – teacher, spiritual healer , presenter, speaker.
    Namaste Kara-Leah.

  23. [...] In September of 2004 I spent nine days committed to Lion’s Gate Acute Psych Ward. [...]

  24. Cherylin says:

    I experienced the same , more or less. It was 1996 and I was very young. Also LSD induced. It lasted a full 5 days and shook me to the core. I have had a couple of flashbacks, usually if my body is out of sync, on certain medications or in a fear based situation. It still takes much work to put the pieces together. Currently feeling the best I ever had and I have come to peace knowing what I saw was also years of repressed fears and emotions. Love to you!

  25. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    ahhhh i may not have been clear enough: i am certainly not saying that all spiritual experience is a brain malfunction, not at all!

    i am saying there is a spectrum of altered states ranging from psychosis, schizophrenia, temporal lobe epilepsy, schizotypal personality, dissociative disorder – on one end….. all the way over to profound states of healing and integration, powerful communion with nature, community, our beloved, sublime meditative experiences of bliss, expansive compassion and luminous lucid awareness – on the other end.

    yea?

    somewhere in-between is the kind of normal everyday consciousness that is all the vast majority of people ever experience.

    one side of the spectrum is brain malfunction, it is accompanied by delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, OCD behavior etc..

    the other side of the spectrum is usually attained through long term practice or being in the right setting with the right people, and opening into a very positive state of being.

    because our knowledge of mental illness, brain function etc is so very recent (and still developing) people in earlier times lumped all altered states into being spiritual and interpreted mental illness as being in contact with something supernatural – demonic possession, god talking to you, traveling in the spirit world etc…

    i feel very comfortable saying now (and this is where some of the links i sent might be very interesting if you are curious) that only people with some kind of brain imbalance hallucinate, hear voices, believe they have entities etc speaking through them…… people with healthy brains just don't experience this, and people engaging i long term spiritual practice with healthy brains tend to go more in the direction of bliss, compassion, deep communion, peace etc with zero supernatural overtones.

    i AM saying that all supernatural experiences are most likely a brain malfunction – and the research suggests that electromagnetic fields and a handful of mental illnesses we now understand quite well are the cause…..

    this is probably the reason why there has never been any objective empirical evidence for anything supernatural – because it is all a hallucination.

    this may be tough to swallow, but if you are open sit with it for a minute, doesn't it make sense? check out the links i sent you they are fascinating food for thought.

    oh – regarding your questions: i think simpler explanations than the massive assumptions implied by supernatural beliefs help us make sense of all of those phenomena….. the entity channeling one is the easiest – they are simply mentally ill or making it up…. the performance of ritual is innate to the human brain and amplified by certain potent altered states, but there is no reason why it shouldnt have recognizable and repeated forms. speaking languages – well that is trippy, but i would love to see some research on specific cases – and see some proposed natural explanations!

    al the best
    ~julian

  26. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    another way of saying it:

    the feeling of divinity or sacredness IS A BRAIN STATE! what else could it be? it is a meaningful subjective experience based in a set of neurochemical transactions – it is why we can activate it through music, breath, beauty, mental focus etc..

    we should be careful though (and this is where it is so tricky) because in that brain state there is a potent metaphorical, soulful, intuitive language being expressed – and it tends to be animistic – it tends to anthropomorphically project sentience into processes, into nature, into the vast expanse of space, it tends to be hyper attuned to perceiving patterns and meaningful connections.

    in it's grounded reasonable form this is magnificent.

    in it's ungrounded fluffy form it is sweet and kinda harmless.

    in it's highly exaggerated pathological form it is psychosis, OCD, paranoia etc…

    tweak the dopamine this way, activate the temporal lobes a bit more that way, simultaneously stimulate the two branches of the autonomic nervous system and we start along the spectrum from relief, to bliss, to lucidity, to ecstasy, to mania, to madness….

    it is a spectrum and it is 100% reducible to biology. (though of course genetics, trauma, socialization, resources etc all will influence how it expresses itself.. right?)

    this is why mental illness and spirituality and creativity and addiction all are such kissing cousins…. they rely on various recipes of the same basic neurochemical ingredients being blended together in the same regions of the brain's kitchen!

  27. Jack Weber Jack says:

    Wonderful and heartfelt sharing Kera….Shamans were and still are chosen for their "schizophrenic" tendencies, for epileptic ones as well. Word is that culture nurtures and contextualizes and changes the nature of our physiological experiences…to separate physiology from experience from spirituality from pain from understanding by way of the intellect is flawed already. Nature-nurture continues to give meaning to what is both meaningless and meaningful! Too much dissection begs the wrong questions…who knows why you spoke in tongues. Certainly the rational scientific mind cannot know except in its own limited logical terms…to say that your experiences were due to brain imbalance is short-sighed and limited. What caused the imbalance to begin with. I have alternately suffered and been blessed with OCD for years…deep body-centered therapy work relieved me of its panful gip on me…sure my biochemistry was likely altered in OCD fits, but what caused the abberative brain chemistry in the first place? Something deeper than the form of chemicals, for sure…which unites mind and matter in the mystery of experience, for which science and logic and chemistry fall short…which places the whole art of healing and becoming in the context of creative alchemy…mind-body-spirit-soul churning…not reducible to brain behavior, unless one is stuck in a logic-box. After all, our brain chemistry changes all day long…and these are not named psychotic states. Logic and science are but a sliver of the window of life…I'm glad you made it through too! Anyway, cheers and g-night…J*

  28. Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

    Compassion has most certainly been one of the biggest gifts for me too… and yeah, I too had that harsh inne/outer judgment going on.

    I wonder if serious yoga practice + severely repressed emotions = madness in the breakthough?

    Thanks for sharing your story… really interesting to see all the common threads.

  29. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    yes that's right there is no way of knowing anything, so any assertions about anything are all equally possible, and it all comes down to personal experience and interpretation – what does neuroscience and psychology know anyway!?

    let's just make some stuff up or look for explanations from ancient prescientific cultures – doesn't that keep the "mystery" alive?
    :)

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