August 24, 2014

Mental Illness: My Crooked Path To Enlightenment. ~ Michele Collier


[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

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Tanya Dec 3, 2015 12:41am

Michelle, Your testimony is a perfect translation of hope to those who have had no idea what they got themselves into or didnt know they were in the hands of torturers. Your voice speaks volumes for all those who have suffered and families with loved ones who died in the hands of those mental health workers who still carry on their jobs today. It is so hard to have the confidence to make the story of your pain and suffering noticeable after more and more mental health consipiracies spread across the world people are confused. I hope more people who have had experiences can tell their stories and can help those understand the degree of damage mental health has done to our communities…

Tiffany Nov 12, 2015 8:43pm

1 year ago almost to the day at the age of 30 I started experiencing what I later determined to be an extremely intense awakening, which I tuned into rather quickly and started doing things to help balance me (mediation, etc.) and the experience mellowed. Six months later, this past March, I began feeling that same way, only a million times more intense. Nearly every single word you wrote I experienced. As I lost touch with reality and lived in my state of constant bliss, I was admitted to a mental hospital where I was quickly labeled bipolar (within 24 hours). I spent 5 days there and eventually trusted my family doctor to get me on track with referrals to the appropriate mental health practitioners everyone has told me I need, along with the medication I now ‘have to take’ the rest of my life. The last 6 months have consisted of me finding my identity, which was buried deep in my brain almost immediately after being labeled bipolar by someone who had never met me prior to our sit down. More importantly it has consisted of me questioning my experiences which is what finally led me to break down and Google ‘enlightenment mental hospital’ to confirm my personal thoughts and experiences are not crazy. I am so incredibly happy to have found this article and truly appreciate you sharing your journey. I hope this finds you well 🙂

Michael Sep 20, 2015 2:04pm

Thank you so much for this article. I always felt unique in my mental illness. I had been diagnosed with schizoid affective disorder at age 40. Which is kinda of late. Since then I have not one problem.I take Ablify and several antidepressants I am stable and quite sane. Another thing, I remember absolutely every detail of my psychosis. the mental illness tag doesn't seem to fit.
I had several spiritual experiences during the time I was "ill." I started meditating before that. All of my mental problems starting by just sitting still. Beatific visions and ecstasy, horror, love I do not blame myself for thinking I was "special."
It took me forever after that to sit again. I think a lot of it was isolation and trying to keep it secret.
I really enjoyed this and I will keep on keeping on…seeing this is a old article but maybe some more resources for spiritual awakenings ? thank you

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Michele Collier

Michele Collier has never been bored one moment of her life because her thoughts keep her so entertained.