After meditation retreat, Cleménce had a psychotic breakdown. Her panic attacks, her loss of self, were finally, through medicine, brought back to the real world.
Here is her story, reprinted with her permission1.
It’s taking me some courage to write you my story but I need to, so here we go:
My name is Cleménce. I am age 28 and a former yoga instructor originally from Paris.
In 2014, I attended a 10 day Vipassana retreat. Before the retreat I was a lively, dynamic, New Age kind-of girl. I would trip on the present moment, “connect” to my higher self, read minds, “manifest” stuff– and well, imagine things a great deal.
After my retreat, I had a psychotic breakdown. I became filled with fear, anxiety, and terror. My panic attacks were filled with a horrendous realization that I was nothing, empty, just a ghost with no heart, no personality, no feelings, no tastes–I became a no-self that I had not been warned of. My retreat instructor, when I reached out to him about my panic attacks, said to keep on meditating. I completed the retreat. When I returned home I was a psychological zombie.
Soon after, I reached out to the “spiritual community” who told me “it’s all a dream”. Hearing that made me lose my shit and my mind. My family (and I) freaked out about my zombie state and panic attacks. I saw doctors and went in to the hospital. Months later, gradually I was able to function again in the real world.
I’m now stabilizing on medications and looking for a job in my old profession, editing and communications. I had to stop all kinds of spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation. I try now to only believe in things I can actually see and touch–to keep me grounded in reality. I don’t even worship the clichéd “present moment” anymore. Ekhart Tolle makes me want to throw up.
I suffer a great deal from hatred and anger towards buddhism, mindfulness, and New Age. Even taking a deep breath reminds me of new age crap and triggers anxiety.
I wanted to reach out, say hey I’m here! And let you know that I have a project to start a website to collect stories of people who had meditation and spiritual problems–and who now tend to live a more grounded life–to connect and share resources for recovery.
Scott: I’m so glad you contacted me, Cleménce. We need more people to come out like you. People who meditate(d) that have the courage to speak of the entire range of experiences–not just the bliss-bunny, feel-good experiences–but also the unwholesome side-effects of meditation and the often accompanying supernatural belief systems steeped in delusions.
While I was an ordained Hindu-yoga monk for 14 years, I too had a nervous breakdown and panic attack while I was living in the ashram. I’ve not yet written or spoken to people about my psychotic episode in the monastery. Your sharing of your recent psychotic episode reminded me. Eventually, what caused my psychotic breakdown also led me to question the entire premises and postulations of the ashram, of god(s)), which led me towards skepticism and nonbelief in any so-called supernaturalism. I’m not angry about what happened to me. My only regret now was that I was so gullible and that I didn’t find my way out sooner.
I’m wondering if you would allow me to reprint your email “anonymously” in a blog post for interested readers.
Cleménce: Yes, I’m totally cool with being quoted anonymously.
Scott: Perhaps your story will encourage others to come out, to comment, to share with others about the full-range of personal experiences from meditation and mindfulness practice–not just sugar-coat meditation like a bunch of bliss bunnies.
Recovering from Religion http://recoveringfromreligion.org/about/overview/. I strongly recommend that persons who experience negative side-effects of meditation and/or religion seek professional medical help. Support groups, such as Recovering from Religion, may augment professional help. Please first seek the help of qualified, certified medical and psychological professionals.
1 Reprinted with permission from Cleménce. Her real name and particular details were changed so her identity remains anonymous.