Throughout my childhood and adolescent years, I was a serious classical musician who played the viola. Because I played well, no one knew that I struggled with depression. I cried uncontrollable tears while practicing, which impeded my capacity to improve on the instrument. My progress was slower than my musician colleagues’, causing me to feel utter fury, jealous that others could practice without such impairment.
It only got worse during my college years at a conservatory. I was surrounded by professional-caliber musicians slated for prestigious careers in top-notch orchestras and chamber ensembles. I wanted so much to work toward these goals myself, but couldn’t muster the energy. Hatred coursed through my veins, which I took as evidence that I was a dark and evil person.
To alleviate my musical grief, I joined a meditation group outside of the conservatory. It was called Sahaj Marg, a term that translates as “Easy Path.” The group was affiliated with a guru in Chennai, India named Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, affectionately referred to as “Chariji.” (He has since passed away.) Abhyasis (practicants) believed he was a living example of enlightenment and a guide for us to follow so that we, too, could become enlightened. He dictated that we meditate in a specific way that would allow his divine energy to flow through us, thereby making us lighter and more enlightened. This practice included daily meditations at home and group and individual meditation sessions with a preceptor (ordained leader).
I discovered I had a propensity for spiritual seeking, and so I dove headfirst into the practice. Music was no longer the prime focus in my life; instead, I desired enlightenment. Every Sunday, another abhyasi and I drove an hour and a half to attend a group meditation session with about 20 others. Every other week, I’d also have an individual meditation session after group meditation. I made friends, and my competitive nature at conservatory melted away. I also felt cured of depression.
After a year of meditating, I worked with a psychiatrist to get off of the antidepressant medications I’d been taking. It was near the end of the school year. I had a brief fling with a classmate and held hopes that it would become something more serious. Unfortunately, he was a meek dude who had a couple of bossy female friends, and he told me once that they did not like me. I figured it was just as well, because I was a dark and evil person. When we parted ways for the summer, I traveled to Texas to play in a six-week music festival. Memories of the fling burned in my mind, and he was all I could think of. I feared greatly that he “hated me” because of his friends’ influence. That made me hate myself.
After leaving Texas, I traveled to the south of India to meditate with the Master himself. With more than 50,000 abhyasis present, it was a surreal experience. The daytime air was hot, the sun shone more brightly than I was used to, the ground was made of dusty terra cotta-hued soil, and large, opaque crystals were freely strewn about. Nights were freezing. When Master led our meditation sessions, I felt swept away with the holy energy I absorbed from him.
Back at conservatory in the fall, I was reunited with the fling, but he rejected me. Yet romance no longer concerned me. I now believed I had absorbed magic powers from the Master in India. I felt them coursing through my body and then directed them into playing the viola. I knew this magical power made me the greatest violist ever, and I found I could practice for longer amounts of time. When my viola professor told me my playing was actually getting worse, I lashed out and told him he was a fraud. My feelings of hatred returned with a vengeance.
I continued to obsess over the magic energy, and by the time I returned home to New York for winter break, my behavior had become eccentric. I rubbed olive oil on my body to get more powers. I sensed that inanimate objects had living spirits and were communicating secret messages to me. Messages were everywhere, and the overstimulation stressed me to the point of physical exhaustion. I thought I was immune to heat and cold, so I wore a thin coat in the freezing weather. I sucked on lemons to keep warm. I started having nosebleeds when I meditated, and I thought my heart was crying. These experiences became overwhelming and one day I ended up bawling in a pizza restaurant. Someone must have called 911, because EMS workers suddenly showed up. They drove me to the nearest ER, and I was soon admitted into an inpatient psychiatric unit.
The doctors diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, and I was told to stop meditating. This felt like religious persecution at first, but the medications they prescribed got rid of my feeling of having magic powers. Instead, I felt sedated and flat. Upon discharge, I was too fragile to continue with school, so I left and returned home to live with my mother.
On Facebook, I saw former musician colleagues pursuing prodigious careers, buying houses, getting married, and starting families. I couldn’t do any of that. I rarely left the house due to social anxiety and a low tolerance for stress, which supposedly doomed me to a sub-standard existence. Yet the self-deprecating question nagged at me: Why did mental distress affect me and not others? Not my musician colleagues, not my meditation friends….why ME? There was no rational answer to this question, so I figured that I had a spiritual affliction. I was cursed.
After several months of staying home, I landed a part-time job at a music store giving private violin lessons to children. I enjoyed the cerebral approach of teaching and decided to pursue it further. The next fall, I enrolled in a music education program at a nearby college to become a certified K-12 public-school music teacher. I lightly befriended my classmates in “brass tech” and “woodwind tech,” four-week crash courses in trumpet, trombone, oboe, clarinet, and flute. We attended lectures on teaching methods and ensemble conducting.
During a dinner hour, I sat in the school cafeteria with my classmate James, someone about 12 years my senior. In getting to know him, I’d learned that he was a freelance music producer with a recording studio who sold his work to production companies. I shared some about my past as a violist, and then something unexpected occurred. We started talking about our spiritual journeys, how we each fell on the path as seekers. James told me that he was a reiki master and that he offered spiritual healings. A seed was planted within me. Even though my previous meditation practice did not work out, I still had spiritual longings and wanted to try again.
During the following winter semester of classes, I started visiting James at his home for weekly reiki sessions. I remember how frightened I was of that first session. As I lay on the table, I felt the old “magic energy” from college coursing through my body. I told James about it, and he directed energy into my body to heal it. The discomfort immediately disappeared, and it never came back.
Week after week I had sessions, and reiki became something safe and neutral in my life. Unlike religious or spiritual practices, reiki makes no demands. Reiki channels energy of a benign and benevolent source, intended to serve a healing purpose. I just had to lie on the table and soak up that healing energy. Pursuing spiritual enlightenment through receiving reiki led me to a realization:
I am looking for healing from mental illness. I am not an evil musician looking for powers.
It’s been 10 years since I had my first reiki session, and so much healing commenced thereafter. James and I have had numerous conversations, in which I have learned about my chakras and how to sense their presence in my body. I have come to understand chakras as seven energy centers in my body, each of which governs different aspects of my being. Healing my chakras allows me to feel less stuck in my life’s circumstances. I have more energy to pursue my goals and I have become more grounded, less depressed, and more clear-headed. I’ve become confident in my inner voice, and no longer feel inferior to others. I have transformed from being very introverted to more balanced between introversion and extroversion.
My schizophrenia has never been cured, nor do I expect it ever will be. Yet my positive traits developed through reiki have allowed me to navigate the repercussions of my illness skillfully. While hospitalized numerous times for weeks and months on end, I became physically self-aware of how different medications felt in my body. This body intelligence was cultivated through receiving reiki, where I feel my chakras being stimulated. If a medication didn’t feel right in its early stages, I confidently told my doctors about it. When they honored my requests, medications helped and I improved.
I now take effective medications that, along with reiki, give me that “healing” from schizophrenia that have desired for many years. My pursuit of healing proves to me that I am not an evil or dark person. I merely suffer from mental distress, and self-awareness enables me to walk the path of recovery.
I never returned to the Sahaj Marg meditation practice, but I have adopted my own set of spiritual practices that enrich my life. I keep countless crystals in my home, which I use for mindfulness purposes. I now perform reiki myself and use crystals to make the practice my own. In terms of my spiritual beliefs, I mostly don’t share them with other people. I don’t want to be seen as a kooky New Ager who is trying to “find her bliss.” My mental sufferings have put me on this path of life, and I am merely continuing on toward healing and recovery.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.