June 28, 2011

10 Insights from Inside an Acute Psych Ward (& Recovery Afterward).


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.


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…

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