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Is Mania a Spiritual Experience?

I was eighteen years old when I first experienced acute manic psychosis. I had just arrived at the University of Georgia for my freshman fall semester when I suddenly had what seemed like a profound spiritual awakening. I felt as if I was waking up from a bad dream, as if my mind and body were merely figments of my imagination. I felt an incredible transcendence and oneness with the universe, an experience I could only fathom to be spiritual. Back then, I didn’t know anything about bipolar disorder. 

My first thought upon being struck with this overwhelmingly blissful state was, “This is what God feels like; I must be Jesus!” It was from there that I began my deluded descent into madness. I ran upstairs in my dormitory, assuming that my friends would be my first disciples, and tried to perform miracles to prove my divinity. When they attempted to calm me down, I punched one of them in the face, calling him the devil, and ran back downstairs. Campus police promptly met me in the dorm lobby and arrested me on the spot. 

On my way to jail, I was no longer feeling so ecstatic. In fact, it was the most excruciating fear I had ever experienced. I began believing that the police officers were the Pharisees taking me to my crucifixion. They placed me in my own jail cell, and I began stripping off my clothes, demanding for the officers to come look at my naked body. Throughout the whole experience, I felt almost completely dissociated, as if I was watching a movie of myself with little to no control of the actor. 

After a few days of trying to convince my parents that I was returning humanity to the Garden of Eden, they realized my condition might not be from taking psychedelic drugs as they had thought. I was escorted to my local psychiatric hospital, and once medicated, came down from my messianic mission to create heaven on earth. The only problem was, I had never been more certain of God in my life, and the clinicians just kept telling me that it was normal for grandiose delusions to take on religious and spiritual themes. I was not convinced. 

My thoughts immediately went to the biblical stories I grew up with: how God tested Abraham’s faith when he was told to sacrifice his son, and how God communicated to Moses through a burning bush. Were these not examples of delusions and hallucinations? Even Jesus was convinced to be the Son of God. Were the holy men of the Bible bipolar? I had a lot of questions, and my questions seemed to be forcing me to choose one side or the other—either spirituality or psychiatry.

It took me about a decade to finally integrate both truths and find some peace around my manic episodes. I studied spirituality and psychology, and I came to the conclusion that bipolar disorder and spiritual experiences didn’t need to exist in opposition. I’ve come to some basic definition of spirituality as the transcendence of ego. In this sense, mania was indeed a spiritual experience, albeit an unmanageable one. This didn’t mean my bipolar diagnosis was bogus, and I’m not saying all psychotic episodes are spiritual. But I can now rest easy knowing that my experiences were both spiritual and bipolar. 

If I’m honest with myself, a major sign of my mania is increased spirituality, but at the same time, a major sign of my depression is a lack of spiritual significance. Finding balance in recovery means that I am able to seek both spiritual and clinical solutions to my bipolar symptoms without fear that I am falling out of grace with God. When I was first diagnosed, I had the idea that either bipolar existed or God existed. There was no space for both. 

My spirituality has necessarily evolved over the years. Because of my history with manic psychosis, I have to guard myself against dogmatic or superstitious beliefs. I try my best to live a life of love, and I rest assured knowing that the more kindness I spread to the world, the more aligned I am with my spiritual path. Telling my story of recovery has become part of this spiritual process. My faith means a great deal to my health, and without it, my recovery wouldn’t be as strong as it is today. I hope that by sharing my story, others going through the same difficulties might not take so long to make sense of their own experiences. 

Chris Cole is the author of The Body of Chris: A Memoir of Obsession, Addiction, and Madness, and he’s a life coach for people in recovery.

Comments

I spent the first part of my life dealing with tragedy’s that my illness caused me school relationships leaguel problems it’s power was always negative then I was diagnosed and put on lythium and my life changed in more ways than I could have ever dreamed I was in the car business and I was the best I found I had ability’s and talents I never new I had but the funny thing was the same energy that made me a shit show for the first part of my life now was making me a total acceptable member of society and getting payed on the back this lasted for 17 years but it slowly started to fade I was not able to keep up and in two years I was homeless and you know what I was once agin treated like I was a piece of shit and went through 8 years of hell to get any help but because I knew I was capable of being ok I kept fighting the story’s I can tell you will make you laugh and cry but today I’m part of a movement to make sure the mentally ill will never face that brutality you see people make the defferane and because of a hand ful of dr advocates and others gave me the use of my power agin and set the record straight never give up even til you taste the power of the jucie

Finally - a place to share about all the things. If so many people have had these experiences it must be true. I can't begin to describe some of the things that happened to me in my spontaneous kundalini awakening. The first time was quite violent. I honestly don't know how I managed it all by myself, didn't tell the 'wrong' people and get myself sectioned. Time stood still so I'm unsure about how long it lasted. I had experiences of EGo death, felt like I died and then was reborn (I know now this was simply the 'death' of an old self, an old way of being). My kundalini fully opened, would you believe it I was just doing a little breathing/meditatiokn with my dog - he had his little paws on the forehead point and the heart and the root. Then bang. Each Chakra opened some painful, I felt I could feel inside all my organs. Then higher and higher. Until the head Chakra and I felt like I was living inside the brain of God. I could 'understand' Torah and Ancient Jewsih suymbols I could 'see' different languages. I felt vibrational energy and oneness. I felt God was speaking to me through Music. Going into busy places was too much for me as I felt everyone's fragments of conversation was messages from God speaking to me. And it actually made sense. Thoughts that I thought in my head seemed to play out in the universe. I could go on and on and on. I could 'see' people 'opening like flowers in front of me. Anything was too powerful. I had a lot of strong sexual energy (the Kundalini System is originally from Tantra I think). I had a funny meditation experience when I was n this Centre and I felt like this Golden buddha stature was licking me from the inside out, when we were trying to concentrate. I also remember crying to one of the leaders there, just saying 'I KNOW all this that Buddha and Christ were saying..but I don't know HOW I know' I felt like what people spent years to study and work at I was suddenly 'dropped into it'. I thought Chakra's and that were a load of bull. But here I was having the 1000 petalled lotus opening in my consciousness, reaching into past lives (that one happened when I was listening to Drake 'One Dance' - - I'm a very urban spiritualite ;)). I knew I was a little piece of the divine and just God-Godding and it was the most normal thing in the world. I also knew that it was my last life. I met all these people... the Budda with the loads of arms, dancing with ganesh. All colours were super bright depending on which Chakra was opening. Seeing my middle name everywhere....in beautiful pictures etc synchronicities. YOU CAN@T MAKE THIS UP (I asked God for a sign that this was real and that the UNiverse was supporting me through this)The dark sides too.... Seeing demonic presences etc My childhood trauma and scars were being 'seen' for God to 'heal'. Next day I see real scratches - this has happened a few times. I also had a near death experience where I was just taking a little nap...My life flashed before me...all the whole works, felt incredible love etc. was told to 'come back' I have NEVER spoken to anyone about this. I was such a skeptic about chakras, stuff like that, I thought God was wishful thinking - till the power came into me and I 'popped' into another level of consciousness for a bit. And never taken any medication there are two questions I wonder about if anyone might be able to help with

1) What have people DONE with the information they downloaded while they were in their altered state of consiousness. I don't feel like I've used this wonderful experience, I've just never talk about it. I felt 'called' or something. But then it kind of faded as that way of being doesn't 'fit'. I feel the Kundalini energy rising particularly after a very very low point.

2) Is there anything that helps to balance in a Natural Way - - I'm either very muted (some would call depressed) and then these highs happen

Any help and connection with anyone who shares similar experiences would be great. I live in Sheffield, UK.

THINGS I FOUND HELPFUL for anyone Stanislov Groff's writing about Spiritual Emergency -

I have had a very similar experience. This summer I went through a manic episode in which I studied everything “spiritual” including witchcraft numerology and new age spirituality. I grew up extremely connected to Jesus Christ. Looking back I was probably bipolar most of my life. All throughout college I did a bunch of drugs mainly psychedelics. I felt euphoric. I felt that we were all God and all “like Jesus”. So then I started reading the Bible again and completely did a 180. I thought that I was damned. Previously I felt that my “third eye” has opened, but then when condemned I thought I had the mark of the beast. It felt like demons were possessing me. I was super scared. I still struggle with feelings of condemnation and I no longer think I’m God. But I do find twinges of comfort in Jesus and I know for a fact he’s real and the only spiritual diety that I trust. I just want to know that I’m not going to spend an eternity burning. And I too hear God in my left ear. And he usually says I’m ok and he loves me. It’s hard bc I don’t know what’s real or not. But I do have faith in God.

I also have an intense fear of armeggedon or the end of the world and suffering. I was molested and abused as a child and would really hate to suffer anymore. I struggle with feelings of hopelessness for the future. But I know God wants me to trust him. And God will use everything for good.

I know this was a rambly mess. It’s comforting to know y’all have gone through very similar situations. Gods love to you all.

First, I want to say thank you for all. My story begins with my conversion to a born again Christianity. Three days prior to my manic episode, I was praying to God while wearing a t-shirt and underwear only at 4am and suddenly I start praying in tounges. Went subconscious and I was very loud to the point that I woke up my roommates. And they witness someone speaking in tounges and they couldn't even stop me since I WAS very powerful. That is on the day I had a training for my job then I went to Dallas from Washington DC. In the airlines, I started preaching the word of God despite knowing very little about the bible. AND, I started claiming myself as a born-again Christian. In the training place, all I was talking about was God to the point people got offended and I have to get called and explain what I was doing. One time I was called to the Resource Manager office and they told me that I am offended speaking the word of God. And all that I have done was "I took out different bills and open the back and asked them 'What is all the dollar bills have in common since I had 1$,5$,10$ bills?'" The resource manager was confused and she was like I don't know. Then I told her "All the bills said IN GOD WE TRUST" so if people carry cash and walk around and don't get offended, they shouldn't get offended when I call the word God. Then I added saying I also get offended when they talk about going to happy hour and drinking but I don't complain about it. And she just finaly said to not do it again and let me go. Then I had to go a karaoke session when I chose a random gospel rock music and just read through it until the line "Jesus Loves Me" come. But then I broke down and start praying to all my coworkers in English and tounges. People were scared and didn't expect that at all. Because I was unconscious again they directed me so I don't become a distraction to their fun time. When I finished praying, I walked outside I didn't even want to stay in the barn. Then a white 6'3" guy came to me and said, "dude, you could get fired for doing this." But then I asked him, "Are you a born again Christian." Thank God he said, "Yes, I am." All I told him is a simple thing, "Don't be afraid just go back." And, he did go back. The next day I was doing the same thing praying all night in tounges and praising the lord even having a close panic attack. Even when I was walking outside I felt like I WAS WALKING IN A GRAVE. I started distancing myself because I felt like nobody started to understand me or see the God that I see. I created a flyer about God with a bible verse, "For God so loved the world that HE sent his only begotten SON, whose ever believeth in HIM should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16 and another one started handling it and speaking to people in the way back to Washington DC. A lot of amazing things happen which I didn't wanna talk about. But after I get back to Washington DC, I couldn't control myself. I went super manic mode and even went outside barefoot and started talking people with energy and police came and the firefighter's car came all the time I was unconscious but treated as conscious. Even unconscious sometimes, I spoke about half God things and some crazy things. I even said, "I am awakened by the spirit of King David, King David back kneels down to Police Officers." Think about the reaction you would get as a black immigrant telling an officer to kneel down but what happens three days or almost five days is almost have barely slept all I want to do was defending the honor of God. I was very disappointed seeing churches using the word of God to make a profit. Seeing pastors and other people using the place of God to glorify themselves instead of God. And, I had no FEAR to speak against it even NOW. For me, it wasn't about being an orthodox, protestant, Catholicism or some other Christians, I wanted all Christians to come together and become Christ soldiers and turn the world to a better place. Anyways, I tried to create that illusion world and went into Mental Health Institute for 23 days. The first 4 days, I was subconscious. They needed almost 10 people to make a calm down to give me the medication because I used to tell them "God is my medicine and they had no right to give me medicine without my permission" and because of this I fought even protested inside the Mental Institute by myself. I also played a reverse psychologist on the Psychiatrist because I was convinced all they do is just give drugs not really worry about the patients. How's 15mins session help someone with a lot of traumas to understand them what they went through? And they charge us 150$ for us talking 15mins really??? Is this really helping any patients?? It was just pharmaceutical companies playing in people's lives while using the judiciary and other systems. Similar situations as Slavery but when someone talks about they will shut you off because of what they have. "The root of all evils is money" -- they just destroy our lives so they make money. They make me and break me to the point I want to kill myself because I felt hopeless because I saw all my hard work in school [my two degrees and premed] have no value. I was treated by a stupid DOCTOR who doesn't even care about people's emotions and treated worst than a therapy dog. I never felt disrespected like that in my life and I just got tired of protesting. I even protesting making a flyer from crayons because that's all we're allowed to have. First, I created the following posters "Is this CVS or Court time", "Doctor said it is TARGEt time, and I said "it's God time' ", and more. But they used to laugh at me and I felt even frustrated but God changed my heart and started changing the flyers, I draw a cross and just simply said "God is alive" and "In God We Trust". The reaction completely changed they started getting offended even the staff members and I was laughing when I was protesting letting them know I am still happy while God is with me. In addition, I started praying to patients where they started feeling better and getting out before me. The whole vibe changed. I remember spending almost the whole night trying to convince my roommate that "He is not God or Matthew" but it worked at the end he even said sorry and started to tell me about his life. And, hearing that even make me sad how we were treating this bad like a danger to ourselves and society while the victims were us. The media ties everything to the issue of Mental Health. The society says people with anxiety and depression is with lack of faith but didn't feel like the LACK OF SOCIETIES FAITH TO GOD is what causes people like me to lose control of themselves. They judge others without even know it but when I point their side the mention a Bible verse and said: "Judge you will not be judged." But forgets that God gives the right to judge any believer as long as I measured myself with that standard which means if I am not stealing that I am allowed to say "DON'T STEAL." Saying it in a good tone another topic. All I saw is like they are the right one. I see people who think who is a prophet doing prophecy like nothing. They prophecized almost every week and people go to the church to hear a prophecy - what a joke. People go to church and buy a history book - what a joke. People became blinded to see the truth especially those who don't seek the truth themselves. Played by people with egoistic mindset. When do we seek for a true teacher. Churches became a playing ground. People who made you laugh get invited but those with good content not. Churches became a place of entertainment rather than a place where you get spiritual growth. And some places, churches ran as an auction that the teacher even tells how much money a person should give. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. May God forgive us all.

Thank you for sharing your experience. I've had a hard time finding something just like this, but I knew (as confirmed by all these comments) that others must have had a similar spiritual connection to their manic bipolar episodes. I have had 5 major cycles now, from between the age of 26, and 34 (now.) The first was the most drawn out and most extreme in the emotions. First, I started having a kind of flow of information through my head, if I chose to grab things from this flow of information, it led to really cool trains of thought and ideas. I started to try to figure out the workings of the universe by looking at simple smaller things, like the way cells or atoms functioned. I began to become convinced that god, or aliens, or the government, or even a housemate that was very cryptic about his spiritual knowledge and having knowledge of magic and such, was doing this to me. At times the flow of info would get so intense I would beg to whatever forces were upon me to relent a bit. After a month or two of building up to this state, I then was unable to sleep for about 7 days, my stomach was locked up and eating was extremely difficult and painful, but I was consuming sugared kool-aid readily... not a healthy combination, but I really boosted out of this world lol... it's both hilarious and not. For one, i must say, if "god" whatever your understanding of that term is, is/was responsible for all the things that transpire in the amazing synchronicity that occurs during my episodes, than it is the most FUUUUNNY, playful, amazing thing I've ever encountered. I've experienced pretty much every emotion I have experienced over the rest of my life, but in hyper mode. Imagining great stories in my imagination of how I am a vital part of the universe, finally waking up to my purpose, and I'm going to bring it all whole again. When i'm manic, I see the holes in language and our relationships with each other, I see where we perceive this "side" or that "side" to nearly everything, when we all are somewhere in the middle of that. I see all the compromises and how ultimately they are much more than that for what's gained in the end. I start to go so far as to envision how things are progressing further down the road when things really start to become "one" again. Also, a vague inkling to why this is all happening in the first place. How or why something that was once "one," can metamorphosize into a more flexible "one." Anyway, i'm getting off into tangents... to round this comment up, each episode I go through, I get less scared of the very relatable "time to get crucified" portions of your episode you spoke about, as I fully believed at times that every soul on the planet was gonna leave me on this earth to self implode alone, because I had become dangerous... and a feeling like this had happened so many times before to my previous incarnations... like it was the crap position of the poor itsy bitsy spider trying to get up the water spout, and that these stories were something that everyone knew about and related to because they were immortals or something in a state of knowing all this stuff, and I alone was kept in ignorance. Well... i'm on a tangent again. Apologies. So each episode i get a better handle of what's going on... and my ability to filter the information flowing through my brain gets better. I'm less confused and misdirected. I tend to mostly take walks and listen to music till I (because i tend to go off my meds at times and I have another episode) start to get too extreme, and start messaging people with the cryptic "nonsense" that is going through my head. I'm so driven to have these experiences, but it is very tough of my family to see me that out of touch with reality as most people see it, and it's also very tough on my work to be hospitalized for anywhere from a month once, to a few days. None the less, I feel so empty when I come down back to medicated baseline. I wish there were places were we could just forego the medication and ride out our once in a while (for me) manic phases. I mostly function on a very mellow keel anyway, so being medicated all the time for my occasional mania seems like a crap way to go about it. Well, much love to anyone going through these episodes or loved ones that are trying to understand. Hang in there

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