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Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help

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Hello, my name is Brian and I'm new here.

I would like to thank in advance the people willing to take a look at this post and help shed some light on what's going on.

I began meditating about 1.5 years ago. My practice is fairly simple, not something I would expect to produce serious results. I generally do an hour of concentration meditation, in the way I practice I tend to use my breath or the sound of a fire, resting awareness on it and keeping it from moving. I follow with an hour of "insight" meditation, if you will, though the method I use is body sweeping. During the day, I constantly pay attention to whatever is present in experience in a non-judgmental way. That's really it. On the last technique, however, I notice if I just rested the gaze on noting in particular and "relaxed" all trying to understand what I was looking at, thing would appear to melt together and look completely unfamiliar, though I might be staring at my own hands, for example.

About three months ago after a meditation session, this quality of things looking both familiar and unfamilar became permanent. I want to make clear I am in a state of intense fear (not trying to romantacize this at all). It feels like the movement of leaves in the trees or even wind rustling a stack of papers is merged with me, theres really no other way to put this. I feel completely absent, like there is only sensations/perceptions where I used to be, and there is a huge sense of unease that seems... unlocatable. I don't know what causes the unease. It might be that I am now judging things  again. For example my hand was pulling a chair and it felt completely merged with it.

Another bizzare symptom is that I can see very, very fine details, such as all the fingerprints on my touchscreen phone in ludicrous, alarming detail (this symptom began after the meditation session i mentioned three months ago). Things have progressed to where I feel like I am simply dying, I don't know how to explain it.

Now, I've seen a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a neurologist so far. None seem to think anything is wrong with me, but I talked to my neurologist about how drastic this perception shift is and will be trying to get an MRI soon, though I suspect meditation played a role in whatever happened since this craziness began right after that session. I am hoping that, if it is meditation related, someone can help me understand what is going on. I've only read a few books on buddhism, including MCTB, but would never try to hazard a guess as to whether or not this is insight related. What do you suspect? Since it is causing so much fear, should I tone back practice or seek out a teacher? Should I get another opinion on my mental health? Any comments welcome,

Kind regards

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/17/15 7:03 AM as a reply to Brian W..
Hi, Brian, I'm so glad that you've had the professionals check this out. That's very wise.

I would speculate that this unnamed fear and unease you experience is very old fear, from the preverbal phase of your life. Some kinds of meditation remove mind-habits and, in particular, dissolve the defense mechanisms that muffle old feelings. This would also explain wny you feel absent. The sense of self is largely constructed from mental habits.

I would recommend that you lay off all meditation and even spiritual reading to allow yourself time to integrate. Heavy food (meat) and plenty of sleep and rest can also be helpful here.

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/17/15 7:12 AM as a reply to Brian W..
I can almost certainly help you with this in-person Brian, perhaps even to some extent by telephone but it's extremely unlikely that I could provide anything remotely close to that level of help in writing.

If you'd like to meet (in a public place) or to discuss on the phone (if your location precludes a meeting) then we could arrange this via the messaging system.

Kindest regards to you too.

Vic.

PS It occurs to me to add that this is offered in friendship and there would be no financial consideration or any other obligation whatsoever (on either part).

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/17/15 10:41 AM as a reply to Brian W..

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/17/15 1:40 PM as a reply to Brian W..
Brian W.:
I would like to thank in advance the people willing to take a look at this post and help shed some light on what's going on...
... Since it is causing so much fear, should I tone back practice or seek out a teacher?  Any comments welcome..
Ryan is correct in his link - Research Depersonalization and de-realization

Enlightenment, DP/DR & Falling Into the Pit of the Void ~ Shinzen Young
Shinzen talks about the empowering facets of enlightenment and compares this to "enlightenments evil twin" DP/DR. He talks about the rare occasions that he's encountered a meditator moving in the direction of DP/DR and the strategy he used to "cure" it using mindfulness methods.
What you have done is deleted certain selfing processes that identify you with sensations of reality....BUT there are other processes still running and this creates the problem.... Most of your mind is telling you that this all is not you, but then some parts are saying it is...you need to fix this.
I would reach out to Shinzen  - http://www.shinzen.org/index.htm I would definitely email him and see what he says you can do - vsi@shinzen.org
If you integrate what is happening I believe you will be very happy with the results.
Post your results please, we would all like to know what happens.
Good Luck,
~D

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/17/15 2:29 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:
Brian W.:
I would like to thank in advance the people willing to take a look at this post and help shed some light on what's going on...
... Since it is causing so much fear, should I tone back practice or seek out a teacher?  Any comments welcome..
Ryan is correct in his link - Research Depersonalization and de-realization

Enlightenment, DP/DR & Falling Into the Pit of the Void ~ Shinzen Young
Shinzen talks about the empowering facets of enlightenment and compares this to "enlightenments evil twin" DP/DR. He talks about the rare occasions that he's encountered a meditator moving in the direction of DP/DR and the strategy he used to "cure" it using mindfulness methods.
What you have done is deleted certain selfing processes that identify you with sensations of reality....BUT there are other processes still running and this creates the problem.... Most of your mind is telling you that this all is not you, but then some parts are saying it is...you need to fix this.
I would reach out to Shinzen  - http://www.shinzen.org/index.htm I would definitely email him and see what he says you can do - vsi@shinzen.org
If you integrate what is happening I believe you will be very happy with the results.
Post your results please, we would all like to know what happens.
Good Luck,
~D
+1 for reaching out to Shinzen, very pragmatic and approachable in my experience.

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/18/15 2:48 AM as a reply to Brian W..
Thanks for all the prompt and thoughtful replies.

To help clarify how my perception has changed, I can share a few exmples. For one thing, written characters appear almost like a foreign language. The biggest change is visual, and the morning after it happened I remember driving to my friend's house and it felt as though the car was moving towards the house as much as the house was moving towards me, it's very hard to explain but its like I can't find a center to consciousness and everything is moving on its own. Then I remember looking at a plant and it felt like i was the plant (blue agave). This happens constantly now throughout the day with whatever I'm looking at. 

Thank you for posting the video of S. Young. It really, really resonates with me. I think Dp/Dr are pertinent, that has actually been my diagnosis at one point. Before I began meditating, I was suffering from high anxiety levels and depression, and I wound up at an outpatient treatment center (the Zen Institute), and as you probably guessed, most of the techniques we learned were derived from Zen. My personal therapist there diagnosed me with Dp/Dr and commented she didn't like labeling people and did it for technical reasons. She was very good and knew I took up meditation. She didn't seem to think it would make things worse either, and Young mentions it's rare that it does. Maybe I just got unlucky? She even commented something intresting, saying that there comes a point where Dp/Dr can be ok and fulfilling, and she reccomended a book on Zen. While I've never met realized beings (or at least anyone admitting they are such) in person, I believe she indeed was realized. I never got around to buying the book she reccomended, but around that time I stumbled on MCTB and bought a few books on meditation practice. That was about a year and a half ago. There's definitely a lot of stuff I can get into about my past if you guys feel more info would help.

I hadn't seen that video from Young but I read an article where he mentioned falling into the Pit of the Void and I do think it applies. A problem I've encountered is the psychiatrist I am seeing now has put me on meds (I'm ok with that if they turn out to be helpful) but, get this, he reccomends mindfulness heavily, and while we have discussed my Dp/Dr, his "remedy"  for my predicament is for me to do mindfulness meditation more. He doesn't seem to believe mindfulness could excacerbate what I am experiencing, but I definitely disagree with him. In my case, after a session of practice, everything is an ocean of strangeness. He wants me to practice meditation more for a relaxation response which would help me. 

Sadly, I've noticed I've actually become agoraphobic too, my last big outing was to see a movie but my awareness was caught up in how everything appeared centerless and moving on its own. I'm afraid my making an issue out of this is isolating me more from my friends, since whatever it is, its not something that's easy to communicate or understand. The only thing I can do is refrain from judging whatever is happening, but then suddenly I find I am involuntarily meditating by doing so -- if that makes sense.

I think the advice to stop practicing for a while is good and it shouldn't interfere with my life. My main concern is how this is affecting those close to me. I remember a few days after the event three months ago I freaked out saying "I can't find myself" in front of my mother and she was understanding and took my hand and said "you are right here". I feel that way all the time now, and Dp/Dr or the "Pit of the Void" described by Shinzen Young fits very well. Again, Dp/Dr is what I am being told it is, but again mindfulness is being pushed hard by my therapist and psych, and if I tell them what I think (the practice makes it worse) I'm not sure how they'll react.

I started meditation aware dark experiences could occur and took Daniel Ingram's "no bleed through" policy should I encounter the Dark Night, but didn't expect this 24/7 intensity and feel bad about how it affects my friends and family.I'm getting the opinion of a different psychiatrist tomorrow who is a friend of a lady who introduced me to spirituality here in Tucson, and I know he has a strong backgroung in meditation, he might be able to understand what is going on better. 

Victor, thank you so much for your offer, I do think talking will help, rigtht now I feel completely unreal and non-existant (yet very fearful, agoraphobic), perhaps we can start communicating via email or messages here then I can reach out to you in phone or in person in a few days or weeks after taking a break from practice? In my current condition it's really tough for me to even talk with close friends on the phone. The video definitely hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways, this is pretty much the opposite behavior one would expect from a good spiritual state, yet all the freaking out revolves around this sense of not exisisting. Despite the anxiety, I should mention there are times where I experience great peace, especially when interacting with my two nieces (whom I also hope my strane disconnect doesn't affect).

Sorry for the lenghty, rambling post and thanks for reading,

Brian
 

 

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/18/15 8:02 AM as a reply to Brian W..
I've just tried to send you my contact details via the messsaging system here but I've no idea how to do this because it seems to require your email address and if I had it already, I'd simply use that instead of the messaging service.

Obviously (especially in these circumstances) you'd be unwise post your contact details on a public forum and if I were you, I'd create a separate anonymous email to discuss this issue in the event that you decide to discuss anything by email.

I'll leave it up to you to figure out the messaging system here if you want my contact details but, hopefully, tomorrow you'll get the competent help that you need.

Kind regards,

Vic

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/18/15 9:05 AM as a reply to Brian W..
Brian W.:
Thanks for all the prompt and thoughtful replies.

To help clarify how my perception has changed, I can share a few exmples. For one thing, written characters appear almost like a foreign language. The biggest change is visual, and the morning after it happened I remember driving to my friend's house and it felt as though the car was moving towards the house as much as the house was moving towards me, it's very hard to explain but its like I can't find a center to consciousness and everything is moving on its own. Then I remember looking at a plant and it felt like i was the plant (blue agave). This happens constantly now throughout the day with whatever I'm looking at. 

Thank you for posting the video of S. Young. It really, really resonates with me. I think Dp/Dr are pertinent, that has actually been my diagnosis at one point. Before I began meditating, I was suffering from high anxiety levels and depression, and I wound up at an outpatient treatment center (the Zen Institute), and as you probably guessed, most of the techniques we learned were derived from Zen. My personal therapist there diagnosed me with Dp/Dr and commented she didn't like labeling people and did it for technical reasons. She was very good and knew I took up meditation. She didn't seem to think it would make things worse either, and Young mentions it's rare that it does. Maybe I just got unlucky? She even commented something intresting, saying that there comes a point where Dp/Dr can be ok and fulfilling, and she reccomended a book on Zen. While I've never met realized beings (or at least anyone admitting they are such) in person, I believe she indeed was realized. I never got around to buying the book she reccomended, but around that time I stumbled on MCTB and bought a few books on meditation practice. That was about a year and a half ago. There's definitely a lot of stuff I can get into about my past if you guys feel more info would help.

I hadn't seen that video from Young but I read an article where he mentioned falling into the Pit of the Void and I do think it applies. A problem I've encountered is the psychiatrist I am seeing now has put me on meds (I'm ok with that if they turn out to be helpful) but, get this, he reccomends mindfulness heavily, and while we have discussed my Dp/Dr, his "remedy"  for my predicament is for me to do mindfulness meditation more. He doesn't seem to believe mindfulness could excacerbate what I am experiencing, but I definitely disagree with him. In my case, after a session of practice, everything is an ocean of strangeness. He wants me to practice meditation more for a relaxation response which would help me. 

Sadly, I've noticed I've actually become agoraphobic too, my last big outing was to see a movie but my awareness was caught up in how everything appeared centerless and moving on its own. I'm afraid my making an issue out of this is isolating me more from my friends, since whatever it is, its not something that's easy to communicate or understand. The only thing I can do is refrain from judging whatever is happening, but then suddenly I find I am involuntarily meditating by doing so -- if that makes sense.

I think the advice to stop practicing for a while is good and it shouldn't interfere with my life. My main concern is how this is affecting those close to me. I remember a few days after the event three months ago I freaked out saying "I can't find myself" in front of my mother and she was understanding and took my hand and said "you are right here". I feel that way all the time now, and Dp/Dr or the "Pit of the Void" described by Shinzen Young fits very well. Again, Dp/Dr is what I am being told it is, but again mindfulness is being pushed hard by my therapist and psych, and if I tell them what I think (the practice makes it worse) I'm not sure how they'll react.

I started meditation aware dark experiences could occur and took Daniel Ingram's "no bleed through" policy should I encounter the Dark Night, but didn't expect this 24/7 intensity and feel bad about how it affects my friends and family.I'm getting the opinion of a different psychiatrist tomorrow who is a friend of a lady who introduced me to spirituality here in Tucson, and I know he has a strong backgroung in meditation, he might be able to understand what is going on better. 

Victor, thank you so much for your offer, I do think talking will help, rigtht now I feel completely unreal and non-existant (yet very fearful, agoraphobic), perhaps we can start communicating via email or messages here then I can reach out to you in phone or in person in a few days or weeks after taking a break from practice? In my current condition it's really tough for me to even talk with close friends on the phone. The video definitely hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways, this is pretty much the opposite behavior one would expect from a good spiritual state, yet all the freaking out revolves around this sense of not exisisting. Despite the anxiety, I should mention there are times where I experience great peace, especially when interacting with my two nieces (whom I also hope my strane disconnect doesn't affect).

Sorry for the lenghty, rambling post and thanks for reading,

Brian
 


Wait, so your psychiater did diagnose you with DP/DR? since he puts you on meds... and on your first post you said you went to a psychiater and a psycholog without finding anything wrong with you...

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
10/25/16 12:27 AM as a reply to Brian W..
Hi Brian,

As Dreamwalker and Derek Cameron have said, you should stop meditating for a while and contact someone who has had experience with negative outcomes in meditation. Shinzen Young has a lot of experience in counseling people who are experiencing anxiety as a result of the changes that happen with deep meditation. I've worked with him quite a bit over the last 4 years and recommend him highly.  His email address is [deleted per Shinzen's request, sorry about that]. You should send him email with the descriptions you've been posting here, and ask him for a telephone or (better yet) Skype session (he lives in New Hampshire and therefore is on Eastern Time). Willoughby Britton at Brown has also worked with people going through difficulties but is not as actively engaged as Shinzen, more in the mode of studying cases post hoc to try to figure out why they occured. Meds are fine, they helped me break out of my negative outcome a few years ago, as did stopping meditating for a time. My problems were a bit different than yours, but I eventually overcame them and so can you.

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/18/15 4:24 PM as a reply to Brian W..
What kind of "insight meditation" have you been doing? Is it fast noting? I'm guessing that, since you are moving out of concentration into vipassana, you at least aren't practicing "dry" insight.

Do you or does any close relative suffer from migraine or headaches?

EDIT: Do you have any symptoms, or have you ever, of prolonged or persistent migraine aura (note that these can occur without a headache, as is the case with me most of the time):

  • Tunnel vision or doughnut vision
  • Warping, undulating vision (metamorphosopia)
  • Bright zigzagging scintillating visual lights (fortification spectra)
  • Panic or extreme out-of-the-blue feeling of doom or coming annihilation (usually followed by one of the other aura or headache)
  • Vertigo 
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Derealization (check)
  • Depersonalization (check)
  • Numbness, especially of hands, feet, eye sockets, nose, and mouth
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Blindness
  • Partial blindness, with part of vision either turning black or just not being there (scatoma)
  • Double vision or jumping-around vision (nystagmus)
  • Feeling like you are freezing even though the temperature is fine, shivering for no reason
  • Weakness or lack of fine-motor coordination on one side of the body
  • Transpositions in writing or speech
  • Extremely noticeable inability to remember common words for things (expressive dysphasia/aphasia)
  • Extremely noticeable inability to understand common words said by others (receptive dysphasia/aphasia)
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle twitches
  • Complete disappearance of body parts and body fields (this is terrifying)
  • Headaches or neckaches
I've had all of these auras, many of them all at the same time. Diagnosis: Migraine with persistent aura. Soon after reading MCTB, I began fast noting, and I ended up with my vision warping so badly for 6 weeks that I couldn't see to do my job as an editor. I ended up in the ER.

Just checking against another posibility. Most neurologists, by the way, have not a clue about my condition. Good news? Impermanence.

Hang in there,

Jenny

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/18/15 11:24 PM as a reply to Brian W..
From my experience, many psychologists and psychiatrists base a lot of their decision on how well you are functioning in society.  If you are taking decent care of yourself (eating, sleeping, clean clothes, etc), maintaining friendships, going to school or work and doing your job, are  not a danger to self or others, no voices are telling you to do bad things nor are you wanting too, and you are not doing anything illegal, etc, then they are likely to figure you are doing a hell of a lot better than a lot of people in this world and are not really a bad case.  As for the fine nuances of how you perceive and conceive of your world, that varies greatly across individuals. 

What you describe sounds like a rather extreme experience of the Buddhist concept of no self (one of the 3 characteristics).  I suspect part of the problem is that experiencing the world in the way you are now is so very different than the way it was before.  The concept of 'self' is something we grow up thinking is a stable construct and we base a lot of our thought processes around it.  If that sense is suddenly gone, it's very destabilizing until the mind has a chance to restructure.  It's like a dear part of self died, it's very scary to suddenly have to live without that.  But you wanted to know truth and sometimes truth is scary. 

Consider that if you were born with that kind of perception, it woudl probably seem totally natural to you.  You would function just fine, probably not realizing that others perceived differently.  It's mostly the sudden change that makes is scary.  And sounds like from what you said, the main issue is your fear of the way you now perceive.  That anxiety seems to be, from my impression of what you said, the thing that is causing all the probs.  The weird perceptions by themselves do not seem to be stoppign you from functioning, just the fear of them is.  So seems to me the main prob is the fear, not the perception style.   You may not easily be able to change your new way of perceiving, and maybe in the long run, that way may be closer to the truth of how reality functions, maybe it was what you were asking for, just not totally realizing it at the time.  You may just need time to accept the change and get used to it.  It's find to be different, sometimes it's even a very good thing.  As for the psychologists, as long as you are still taking showers, have a roof over your head, etc, then they will probably any prob beyond that is at base an anxiety problem and really when it gets down to it, I would generally agree with them.  I am kinda guessing they gave you an anxiety type med yes?  I do think speaking with Shinzen is a good idea as he comes highly recommended, but I also think making some peace in your mind and thoughts for your new way of processing things will go a long way.  You are changing in amazing ways, it's natural to be scared of change and the unknown but it's also part of evolution to experience those things, some people just get a way more intense dose of experience than others. 
-Eva

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/19/15 5:29 AM as a reply to Eva Nie.
You got lots of good advice above, but I would add the following:

This is almost certainly insight meditation stage-related, likely Dissolution to Fear to the rest of the Dark Night. There may be some underlying stuff as well.

The advice I particularly like:
 *Meditate less or not at all
 *Contact Shinzen Young
 *Let things settle and integrate
 *DR/DP is the dark end of insight

Insight is an acquired taste. It can be totally creepy to realize everything is happening on its own and isn't you. This definitely can freak people out until they get used to it. That can take time and go down lots of strange pathways until some comfort with it happens.

I would be very interested to see what you find most valuable along the way, so feel encouraged to keep posting here. If you hunt around, you will find that a few people have mentioned similar problems here before, and your adventures and explorations may be of benefit to them also.

We are still working out the best ways to handle things like what you are running into, so more data points help.

Daniel

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/19/15 8:07 AM as a reply to Brian W..
The same thing happened to me post stream entry, except in my case it lasted only 8 days. Fortunately, I had booked a local retreat and was able to talk to the teacher about it. She told me to avoid getting concentrated (the opposite of what people usually want to do on retreat) and work on grounding practices, like walking. Heavy food helps as well. The point is to get yourself back in your body. I skipped sits, and when I did show up I just sat quietly watching the breath. I came back soon after. 

Physical work/exercise can help. Good luck. You are not the only person to experience this. 

RE: Complete psychotic break? Insight? I kindly ask your help
Answer
8/20/15 9:40 AM as a reply to Brian W..
Brian, I can pass your request for help to one of Reggie Ray's senior students if you like. I can't promise anything, but that group has probably encountered your problem before and may have some unique advice.