The Trauma of Forcible Hospitalization

The other day, with the help of my spiritual teacher*, I realized that I’m still dealing with the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized. Of course I knew this on some level, but I’ve admittedly been trying to bypass the healing process. Why? Because, to put it simply, healing sucks. It’s necessary and feels great afterwards, but during, it’s no fun at all.

Thinking about the hospital and its surrounding events still triggers shame and grief in my being. Of course, avoidance never works forever. We live in a culture steeped in deep avoidance, which is something I would love to see change soon. Since I can’t make that happen on a wide-scale, I’m starting where I can: With myself. In an effort to face that trauma, I’m going to share some of the feelings I experienced while in the hospital.

I don’t know if posting this will help me to release anything, but I’m going to do it anyway. There’s been a tight/blocked sensation in my throat for over a week now, and as I continue to watch it, I know it is indicative of something I’m not expressing that needs to be expressed.

*My teacher’s name is Jim Tolles and his website is www.spiritualawakeningprocess.com. I have referred back to his website more than any other to help integrate my awakening. He’s amazing and I recommend reading his blogs and/or reaching out to him for a session if you feel you’re ready for a teacher.

First things first: Being hospitalized during a spiritual emergency is really traumatizing, and that should not be dismissed. A spiritual emergency can be something like an ego collapse/death, a psychotic break triggered by the use of drugs, or any other variation of someone’s “reality” breaking down that they simply cannot cope with. What these people need is compassionate care from those who understand that the human being is much more than a collection of chemicals. They need truly nonjudgmental care, not the kind that calls itself “nonjudgmental” and then literally labels us “disordered.” That is, pardon my language, a fucking judgment.

From the outside, it seems “right” to sedate those who are having a psychotic break/spiritual emergency. From the inside—well, you honestly have no idea until you go through it yourself. Not even a little bit.

The following paragraphs flew out of me. I’m aware they may sound hyperbolic, but they are accurate in regards to what it felt like to have my physical body restrained and my consciousness altered against my will:

Basically it felt like I was processing the sins of humankind through my own being. I felt the rape of every human who has ever endured such trauma and the persecution of every prophet. I felt the shunning and isolation that every outcast has ever experienced. I felt extreme, undeserved rejection. I felt the harsh punishment of every child who has done something their parents deemed wrong, even though they had no idea what they were doing. I felt horror and fear on levels I did not even know existed.

I felt like a baby whose leg had been cut off, and like everyone around me was standing by laughing as I tried to crawl around. I felt like this especially afterwards, when my friends (and myself) tried to joke about it out of discomfort, or when my loved ones expressed relief that I’d “finally accepted” I had been “crazy.”

I felt like every prisoner who was about to get their hands chopped off by the state. I felt like every person who had been in a concentration camp, subject to unthinkable injustice. It seemed like everyone around me was unconscionable and cruel and merciless—and stupid. Really, really stupid. To me, the hospital staff were no better than Nazis (I’m pretty sure I called them that, too) in the sense that they were “just taking orders,” “just doing what they’d been trained to do.”

Honestly, I still don’t see much of a difference between a Nazi and those who are still just moseying about life today, refusing to challenge a culture as murderous as ours. I recognize that it’s all fear and unconsciousness and so it is forgiven, but we are still killing each other. It is happening everywhere all the time for no reason other than widespread insanity. I don’t feel as though we have made much progress in this regard.

Being forced to take medication was an extreme violation of what I wanted in my own body. When I was taken to isolation, everyone just looked on like they didn’t hear me screaming to be let out, like my pain wasn’t real, like my extreme suffering didn’t matter because I was “hysterical.” I felt like everything I said fell on deaf ears, even though I know at least some of it was valid. Because no one knew what to do with me, they to took me to a bed and allowed strange men to shackle my body down when I was incredibly vulnerable and angry. To someone who is psychotic, it doesn’t matter if said men are apparently licensed to do this. It reads as terrifying.

I bit a male staff member for trying to touch me. I do not even feel ashamed of that now, although it was used as “evidence” of my insanity more than once by the psychiatrist and my caseworker. To me, it was very reasonable: I didn’t know him, I didn’t want him touching me, and my teeth were my only weapon. I never consented to him touching my body. More than one staff member actually laughed at me while I was psychotic; I saw it in their faces and heard it in their voices. I still believe that those people do not possess the emotional maturity to work with those who are in acute mental health crises.

Just so we’re clear: I’m not trying to assert that my actual circumstances—being a patient in the mental hospital—were “just as bad” as every human experience I just described. I don’t play the “suffering Olympics,” because it is a simplistic and unhelpful game to play. If anything, this is a testament to how one’s external circumstances are a poor measure for what they’re actually dealing with inside.

I’m just telling you how it felt, and it felt like Hell to an unimaginable degree.

There was no one. I don’t really like saying that, because my family and friends did the best they could. My husband came to visit me even though I’d just stepped out of the marriage. Some of my friends came to see me while I’m sure I was saying shit that made absolutely no sense. Everyone did what they could.

But really it felt like (and still does feel like) there was no one who saw my experience as deep and real and significant. Way too many times, people talked about how hard it was for them to see me in the hospital. I know they meant well, but it just made me feel worse for troubling them. Afterwards, a lot of people said “I wasn’t myself” in the hospital, but I didn’t even feel like I knew who I was. It was very confusing. I also felt like whoever they thought they’d “known” before wasn’t the True me. I felt, overall, horribly ashamed of myself and tossed in a corner to recover from the most intensely awful time in my life.

I felt these feelings for months and months after I was released. Everyone around me was still somewhat scared and worried, and my feelings of loneliness were staggering. I had no idea what had happened, and I felt so looked down on, so pitied, so mislabeled. I laid in bed with just saying “I’m scared; I’m scared,” even though I didn’t know what of.

Whatever explanations anyone had for my breakdown, I knew they were incomplete, and it was maddening.

Before I was hospitalized, I was highly sensitive and unstable and in violation of many many social contracts, but I was not violent. When I got into the hospital, I became violent. I want to say clearly and openly: Being forcibly hospitalized worsened my overall state of being during my spiritual emergency. Every professional failed to understand what was happening at a deeper level. They did not provide me with an alternative to the “disease” story, and the experience overall worsened my prognosis.

For as hurt and resentful as this post may sound, I do not begrudge anyone. People were trying to be there in every way they knew how, and I retreated from a lot of potentially nourishing spaces and people because I was just so shaken up. I had no idea what had happened. I just knew I needed to hide, lick my wounds, and turn my attention inward. I had to look into other explanations outside of “you got dysfunctional genes; your brain chemicals are all screwy.” Fortunately, that is what I did.

With this post, all I mean to do is share some of how it felt. I have no doubt that someday, someone will read this and it will help them feel understood. If you’re one of them, I hope it lets you know you’re actually not alone, and that you can move forward from the experience and even have a life filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Still, I mostly wrote this for my own self. No lie: I sobbed as I wrote most of this post as I recalled what it was like to be shuttered away, talked down to, drugged, watched, confined, and perhaps the worst part: judged, judged, judged at every turn.

I also want to get across something very simple: We can do better for one another. We can do so much better.

– lish

location: Georgetown, TX

Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– Lish

Bipolar Disorder & Consciousness

I have tried to make this post as simple as possible since this topic is very important to me. It’s about bipolar disorder and the (incomplete) way it is viewed in mainstream psychology/psychiatry. It’s about how you can heal from it. It’s about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have advantages, though it can be difficult to overcome without a sincere commitment to yourself.

My advice to anyone reading this who has the diagnosis (and really anyone else) is this: Be a badass, get to work on yourself, and become who you really are. Anything that is stalling your growth has to go. Yes, the cost seems high, but there is no other way, and in the end you will see that you didn’t really “lose” anything at all. I know, I know… “easier said than done.” But I promise, it is worth it a billion times over.

I hope this will be of use to some reader, somewhere, someday, who perhaps has had what we call “a manic episode” and cannot make sense of what really happened to them. That’s how I felt for a long time after I was hospitalized. My experience felt so real, because it was real, and to go along with the story that “I just have this illness because—oh wait, no one really knows for sure” felt unsatisfying and kind of like a lie.

I’ve read a lot about consciousness and bipolar disorder, but the most important thing is that I’ve lived it, just like I’ve lived addiction, awakening, and recovery. That is why I feel qualified to say these things. They come from my experience, and I don’t fully trust any authority who purports to understand that which they’ve never gone through on their own. I know these things firsthand, the same way you know you love your family and that the sky is blue:

  1. Ultimately, what you are is a thing called consciousness. You defy quality. You are limitless, formless, genderless, raceless. You are beyond mental constructs including “good and evil;” you are perfect beyond the concept of “perfection.” Also, you are not separate from anyone or anything else, except as the mind imagines it. In case it isn’t clear: I do mean this all quite literally, and I encourage you to realize these things for yourself. I would much rather you do that than take anyone’s word on it.

  2. In society, the “normal mode” of existence is called ego-consciousness, or the ego-identity, or simply the ego. Identity is just a thought. In this mode we do not feel limitless, genderless, or anything-less. We feel like particular people with stories and quirks and opinions. We have fears and comfort zones and certain people we close ourselves off to. There’s nothing “wrong” or “bad” about the ego—this sense of separation and individuality is what allows us to have our life experiences at all. This mode is useful for getting by in daily life: My ego is a writer who doesn’t use intoxicants, for instance. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a server who will move to an ashram in about a month… and yet I am also this Great Big Thing, not as measured by my “value” to society, but as to how I experience my own self.

    It is very important to know and remember that the ego is but a limited mode of being. It is like an ice cube in the ocean: Small, contracted, rigid, and ultimately subject to melting one day. When you believe this ego is all that you are, problems are created immediately. You worry about protecting this ego and everything that said “protection” entails. Here’s the thing: You can know your full, unlimited self and become truly healed, but doing so will require you to expand beyond the ego. This is an evolutionary process. This kind of growth is not something our society encourages, because the entire world order requires that we all take our egos seriously; that we believe sincerely in the machine we are a part of. Just as we have our individual egos, these little egos combine to create one big cultural ego. If that big ego were to be seen through in this instant, the world would probably look even more chaotic for a while, even though that is exactly what we need to survive as a species on this planet.

    One who transcends the ego (or who is trying to transcend the ego) can look “crazy” to those who have never seen beyond it. This brings me to bipolar mania.

  3. Bipolar mania occurs when we are unaware that we are trying to transcend our egos. This is evolution we’re talking about. It cannot be halted, and when we try to suppress it, it rushes up like a freshly released spring if given half the chance. Bipolar mania is an unplanned, unskillful expansion in consciousness, which explains why “feelings of expansion” is one of the main symptoms. These episodes can occur when our egos are severely threatened, like if too many changes in life occur within a short amount of time. They can also occur when we alter our consciousness through lack of sleep, drug use, or the abrupt stoppage of regular drug use. All of these things can trigger a deeper consciousness to emerge. The ego—not knowing that it is false, and not yet wanting to know this—believes it is dying, and rushes to defend itself. This is why we have delusions of grandeur and other self-beliefs that are out of touch.

    Part of this occurs because the mind is using every trick in the book to maintain that the ego is real, but the other part is simpler: You really are capable of much more than you were ever led to believe. When we are manic, we can catch glimpses of our potential, which might be much bigger than anything our small selves could’ve imagined. It is important to me to say that spiritual awakening/enlightenment does not lead to things like fame and wealth and all of these egocentric things. The highest “goal” is to become who you are, and whatever comes after that won’t matter in the same way at all. However, due to our conditioning about what “potential” means, the mind tends to go there if the ego is dying.

  4. Severe depression represents a contraction in consciousness. You think you’re worthless, small, and terrible. All of these things are functions of a mind that believes more strongly in the “little self” and is very caught up in what “we” have done or whatever we’re not doing that we believe “a good person” does. This contraction often occurs out of our awareness, so of course no one is to blame for any of their moods. Still, beneath all of this, consciousness is trying to emerge. The friction between consciousness and the unconscious ego can create depression in the first place. We resist change and/or looking at life in this new way because to do this represents stepping into unknown territory. The unknown is frightening to the ego, which likes to maintain and preserve its safety (even though its safety is an illusion.).

    Furthermore, our social/world structures—again, built from billions of little egos—are not currently interested in what is best or most joyful for human life. These structures are interested in perpetuating themselves, plain and simple, and in their unconsciousness they spiral onward even as they kill the host. One goal of a spiritual revolution is to create a world that leads to joy within humanity and other living beings, rather than this world where humans serve The Machine. Our structures (if we need them) should work for us, not the other way around. We should be quite clear about this: Even the people “at the top” live in service to this machine. They are not free by virtue of being at the top of the pyramid, and perhaps even less so than one who is “lower.”

  5. A healthy spiritual path should guide one to expand their consciousness little by little, until the entire ego is seen through for its ultimate illusory nature. I am a huge advocate for gradual, sane spiritual awakenings (when possible). Some of the kundalini-and-LSD stuff I’ve heard about really shows me that most people have no idea what it is they are dealing with or what their aim is in spirituality. This is not to say I’m anti-kundalini or even anti-drug, but that very often these things are approached naively, without the support of an experienced teacher, and these experiences can make us a little (or a lot) insane. Those of us who have had what they call “a full-blown manic episode” know that there is nothing fuzzy or cute about expanding in consciousness even though it is necessary, and even though doing so does lead to ultimate Truth.

  6. The solution to overcoming bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) is to train in the gradual expansion of consciousness. We are on the path whether we want to be or not. The most hardcore atheist is on the spiritual path. Serial killers are on the spiritual path. There is no difference between that which is “spiritual” and that which isn’t. The sooner we accept this and consciously get to work on ourselves, the better.

    Finding your own path may mean things like giving up drugs and alcohol, taking your nutrition more seriously, meditating regularly, praying (whatever that means to you), reading books on consciousness, journaling, changing your friendships or your job, becoming more solitary, finding a doctor who actually supports and listens to you, talking to your family about what you really think is happening, finding a spiritual community, etc. It’s a whole new life, not a hobby, not a “take this but leave that” deal. The main takeaway here is this: We cannot expect to be healthy and well if we continue to live in damaging ways, or if we keep trying to live the way others think we should live. Every time we do this, we resist who we are. We push ourselves away, but this method is ineffective: Consciousness can’t and won’t go away. Unless we commit to a significantly different way of life, the cycles of bipolar disorder are likely to return.

    Another perhaps-difficult pill to swallow is this: There is simply no “halfway” when it comes to finding your true self, though we often like to act like there is. Many times in my life I have begged and wished to “just be normal,” ignorant of what it was I truly wanted. Turns out that God (which is also consciousness) is not interested in social normalcy or upholding our current world order—not in the slightest, and in fact the opposite. Any wish that is not in alignment with your true self will go unfulfilled, and this “just be more normal” wish usually falls into this category. We’re talking total transformation with the possibility of becoming Yourself, not whatever you and others expect that self to be. It is so important that we keep going, even when it feels impossible, even when it feels endless, and even when it seems like it isn’t getting better.

    I promise, even if it doesn’t feel like it, it is improving.

– Lish