[Editor’s note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors and are not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. For serious.]
In 1974 at the age of 20, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with an Acute Schizophrenic Episode.
I was hospitalized for two weeks. During that time I was given a round of shock treatments and injected with anti-psychotic medications. At night I was strapped down to a bed with leather restraints.
But what brought me to the hospital in the first place was an intense spiritual experience. It is hard to describe in words what I experienced. I had a feeling that I knew the secrets of existence.
Everything seemed to be energy and everything vibrated with life. Rocks, trees, plants and grass were vibrating and pulsating with life. I felt my connection with the earth and sky and all that I saw. I felt elated and out of the constraints of time.
I experienced my eternal nature, my soul. I have never taken acid but have heard the same type of experience described by people who did. The problem for me was that I did not take a drug to create this experience, although I was tested for that, and could not “come down.”
I could not cite a drug as what precipitated this event. Since I was outside of time, I did not know what time it was and did not sleep. I was so energized that I didn’t feel the need for sleep. I did not think of eating or caring for my physical body.
I was in a different realm. I was having an ecstatic experience. I was in a state of bliss. I experienced the vastness of nature and the universe and felt my part in the whole of eternity. I can only describe it as a profound spiritual experience.
I was in ecstasy until I was handed over to the the psychiatric community. That’s when I began to experience the hell that is psychiatry. Instead of taking my place as the saint I felt myself to be, I was diagnosed as mentally ill.
I had the same kind of experience that I read about as a girl growing up in the Catholic Church. But instead of being heralded as a saint, I was given a diagnosis and labelled as mentally ill. Instead of staying in my inexplicable mystical experience I was forced back to reality.
And worse, a darker reality than the one I had known before. My head seemed to be thick and my body dense and heavy. I had a hard time expressing myself. I was given a prescription to take home. I felt that the medication was causing my flatness and denseness, so I flushed the pills down the toilet.
After having electric shock to my brain, I had to work hard to collect my thoughts and senses. It felt like putting a very difficult puzzle together. That puzzle was my brain and my entire being. That puzzle was me.
Simple tasks that used to be second nature, now required concentration and effort. In time I was able to bring myself back to a semblance of normalcy. I forgot about my spiritual experience and went about the mundane task of living day to day.
Before this episode I was drawn to a yoga practice I saw on TV. Later I found some obscure books on yoga which described something called a “Kundalini Awakening.” This was in the ’70s and yoga was not mainstream. These books described my experience of bliss and oneness with all.
There were only a few brief paragraphs on the subject and there was always a warning that Kundalini energy could cause extreme psychological problems. The books also warned that if you were to pursue such an awakening that you should have a guru. It sounded just like what I had experienced. There was no one I could talk with about this. I did not have a guru. And so I closed the book on my experience, labeled it a fluke and went on with my life.
Several years later I again found myself again losing touch with reality and was hospitalized with a similar experience. Again I was forced back to reality, this time with injections of an anti-psychotic drug called Haldol. Haldol is related to Thorazine, which is nicknamed “liquid lobotomy.”
I became physically toxic and suffered symptoms of an overdose several times. I was hospitalized for months. I suffered at the hands of psychiatry as they brought me back, time and time again, to stark reality. By the mid ’80s, I considered myself a person who had a mental illness. I carried the shame of it quietly. I did not share this aspect of my life with anyone.
During this time I found a teacher to study yoga asana from and eventually asked her to train me to become a yoga teacher. On my own I learned about the Chakra (energy) systems of the body. I read that the body needs to be strong enough to handle the intensity of Kundalini energy and that this was the real purpose of pranayama, and asana. I wondered to myself if this was the true cause of my problems.
Was it that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the energy that had somehow awakened in me? It was an interesting prospect.
I began to notice, during my numerous hospitalizations, that there was a common theme among mental patients. There were many people I met who suffered from delusions of grandeur. They thought that they were Jesus or God. Could it be that society was hospitalizing people whose Kundalini energy had become awakened?
I wondered if psychiatry was sedating people who experienced their divine natures, back into the reality of society where spiritual nature is denied. I wondered, are we medicating our mystics? I had a grandiose thought that maybe our mental hospitals should be turned into temples. Who was I to wonder about these things? In fact these thoughts are considered crazy. And I of course was mentally ill.
Through the years and with repeated hospitalizations and changing diagnoses, I continued my yoga practices and study. Yoga was the one thing that could give me relief from the symptoms of mental illness. It also relieved some of the side effects of the medications I took to try to comply with being acceptable and to get through the arduous task called life. But during my yoga practice I could experience wholeness, clarity and peace and would do my best to carry those things with me into my days, my years, my life.
Psychiatry, I have found, ignores the spiritual aspect of human nature. But like a moth to a flame I have been compelled to return to my spiritual life and progression, even if it means being burned. I have learned, through difficulties to walk the fine line and to balance my human and divine natures.
I have learned to comply with society and its constructs. I am learning to be in the world but not of the world. Over and over I have struggled to shed the labels that I was given by the psychiatric community. Over and over I returned to my spiritual nature and my desire to obtain the ultimate union with my divinity.
My journey with mental illness has been a complicated one with many twists and turns. It has been a path with shining heights and seemingly bottomless depths. It is a crooked path to enlightenment. I believe we all have our own crooked path. Mental illness happens to be mine.
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Editor: Travis May