Meditation in quest for fast enlightenment led to psychosis
In this series, Like Minds Taranaki manager and journalist Virginia Winder shares stories to foster understanding and openness about mental health.
Rosa's fast-track quest for enlightenment turned into a harrowing psychotic journey.
The New Plymouth woman set out to find inner peace through technologically enhanced meditation tapes and instead found herself in hospital.
As a result, she has written and self-published a novel called The Girl Who Thought Too Much. The book, starring a young woman called Ruby, is a fictional account based on the author's own story, which she has written under the pseudonym Rosa Edwards to protect her family.
"The major reason for writing the book was preventing it happening to someone else - and it's been very cathartic for me. I like the idea that it's given me a chance to help others. My doctors suggested I write it."
Rosa's story began about 10 years ago. "I always wanted to get the best out of life and had always strived for the best possible outcome in trying to achieve a perfect life."
In the book, the protagonist's downfall, using theta and then delta brainwave meditation tapes, happens over a shorter timeframe than Rosa's reality.
Her unravelling happened slowly, in increments, over a three-year period. "I ended up on a massive high and, without realising it, I had not felt emotions for a whole year. I was just in a blissful state."
By then she was meditating for an hour each day and her energy levels began to soar. With that came a time of great busyness involving healing work and studying, along with working.
"I got really manic in the end. I was not in touch with my body - I was not grounded. I was very much in the head and it overtook me," she says.
The crisis point came one night when she was home alone, not remembering her husband-to-be was out of town. "I was confused and didn't know what was going on."
A friend came over to be with Rosa. "I thought that being next to me might hurt her for some reason - it was the whole idea of exchanging energy with people."
Rosa was in a state of psychosis, which means she was out of touch with reality.
"I remember being in the backyard and someone next door was digging in a post and my mind twisted it around and they were digging a grave for me."
In that state, Rosa didn't question anything. "Whatever my head came up with I accepted. I started to imagine that I would materialise in another world, or something like that."
She also had little awareness of her surroundings or any imminent dangers.
"I tried to get out of the car when it was driving along at 100kmh. I had just no understanding of anything around me - I was completely in my head."
But she wasn't alone. Her husband, parents, family and friends were there to protect her and get Rosa the help she needed, and their support has never waivered.
"I could not have done it without my family. I saw a lot of people in hospital who didn't have family support."
Initially though, she resisted treatment, believing there was nothing wrong with her. "Then my state got worse. I was not making sense and not eating. I was totally lost in my mind and if they didn't do anything about it, it was going to get really dangerous."
Finally, she was admitted into hospital, where, because of her psychotic state, she was tested for drugs.
Because Rosa's state was induced by long-term meditation, her blood results came back clean.
At that stage she was moved from the medical part of the hospital into the psychiatric ward.
Still, it took doctors some time to work out what was wrong, especially because she began to have withdrawal symptoms similar to a person coming off opiates, including convulsions.
Rosa understands that people will always seek enlightenment, but she has serious concerns about some of the meditation tapes available.
"They claim to take you to a place that people get to in 20 years, but without any work," she says.
Even worse, people using these tapes are doing so without a teacher. "When you meditate to a high level you can get visions or have strange thoughts and if nobody is guiding you, it can be dangerous. "
For Rosa, it triggered psychosis and bipolar, a mood disorder involving periods of deep depression and manic highs.
While writing her book, she researched the subject of binaural beats - using delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma meditation recordings that entrain the brain.
She also read many books about mental health: "It was these books that made me realise I wasn't alone."
However, she isn't into the blame game; she just wants to share her cautionary tale.
Since that first harrowing time of mental distress, Rosa, now a mother, has had three more stays in a psychiatric ward because "I didn't get the balance right".
These days she doesn't meditate, preferring to do tai chi and have periods of silence. She takes anti-psychotic medication, ensures she eats healthily and sleeps well.
If she has one bad night, the next evening she will take a sleeping pill or a magnesium tablet to ensure a good rest.
"I think the biggest thing for me is daily exercise. It doesn't have to be sweaty exercise, just getting outside is a big thing for me," Rosa says.
If she has a problem, she will share it with someone and that may be as simple as making a phone call to a friend.
She also tries to stay grounded and in her body, rather than in her mind. "If I have a bath or a shower, it really brings you back into your body."
Belly breathing is also helpful and when she goes to bed at night, she focuses on her feet, not her head. When unwelcome thoughts do come, she thanks her mind and then reminds herself that thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.
For Rosa, doing something creative, like cooking or writing, is also good for her soul. She is now on to her second novel and belongs to a writers' group.
And best of all, she has found what she was looking for: "In the end I think life is a meditation."
The Girl Who Thought Too Much is available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book. People can contact the author by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about mental health services in Taranaki, check out the online directory at www.likemindstaranaki.org.nz
Taranaki Daily News