Copyright © 2019 Catalyst Connection

Pioneering Integrative Mental Health in Asia

OUR FOUNDER'S CRISIS-TRANSFORMATION STORY 

 

The Priming

 

In 2006, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression after the birth of my first daughter. I remember during the long-drawn childbirth process filled with several minor complications, there had been an extremely vivid *non-ordinary experience. At the peak of my excruciating birthing pains in the labour ward, the room suddenly transformed into a galaxy of stars. I was floating about, light as a feather and the pain seemed to have disappeared from my body. I felt such immeasurable bliss that I wished it to last forever. Moments later, I felt something prodding my body. When I opened my eyes, I saw the nurse beside me. The only thing I uttered was, "Am I dead?" The nurse said no, and congratulated me for my beautiful bundle of joy. After that day, I did not think much about the experience and it went into the deep recesses of my memory as I was kept very busy with a newborn and a new life as a mother. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During my second pregnancy in 2009, I was facing substantial stress at work and signs of prenatal depression raised its roots. In both instances, I sought psychiatric help as I did not know what else to do. I was prescribed anti-depressants which I was assured would not interfere with my nursing and pregnancy. However, I was not a fully compliant patient and stopped the medication after a few days, figuring that any synthetic drugs that I put into my body was harmful to a large extent. I had also wanted to try overcoming depression on my own since I was a professional counsellor.

In 2011, when my second girl was barely 18 months old, I underwent a tremendously stressful period in my life. It led to a series of non-ordinary experiences that spanned over almost two weeks. The most intense episode led me into A&E where I was attended to by a psychiatrist. He warded me immediately and injected me with such a strong sedation that I woke up only two days later. 

My intense non-ordinary experience was seen medically to be a psychotic episode. And after reviewing my previous depressive episodes during my pre- and post-partum days, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder - a mood disorder characterized by episodes of depression and mania. The biggest bombshell was that bipolar disorder is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured. And I had to be on long-term medication to manage its symptoms. 

 

 

 

 

Thereafter, I was put on a cocktail of medication – anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilisers. The side effects were overwhelming. I was drowsy all the time and slept much of my days away. Those times I was awake, I was like a walking zombie. My brain was foggy and I barely functioned, in slow motion. I could not engage in a proper conversation beyond 10 minutes. I had no energy to do anything beyond basic hygiene and feeding. Even watching TV or reading the news were challenging as I could not focus nor absorb any information.

 

At the same time, I refused to be imprisoned by this life sentence of mental illness. 

 

The non-ordinary experiences which I had in those two weeks before hospitalization had been so real to me, admittedly some had spiritual undertones. For the first time ever in my life, I felt a true connectedness and Oneness with the Universe, an overwhelming sense of love and compassion. As such, I did not believe that I had a mental illness. I was sure I was not sick in the head. Sickness does not come with such positive feelings and sensations.

 

With this strong conviction, I asked my psychiatrist for a referral, “Is there someone I could consult and who can offer a non-medical perspective to my condition? Maybe a psychologist or someone educated in this area who can help me understand what happened to me.” 

 

I needed to find meaning to my non-ordinary experiences.

 

His reply to me was, “Go and seek out your religious leaders.” 

 

I was totally taken aback at his response. Being a free-thinker, I had no religious leaders to seek advice from. During the intense episode which led me to the A&E, a family member had brought me to religious leaders who turned us away, asking us to seek psychiatric assistance. 

 

And now, my psychiatrist was advising me to seek out religion. What the…. I felt like a ball being kicked around. So who in the world would know what was going on with me???

The Passing

 

That particular consultation with my psychiatrist basically kick-started my journey. To seek out the answers to universal questions - “Why is this happening to me?”, “What am I supposed to do with my life now?”, “What is the meaning and purpose of my existence?”.

 

Along this arduous journey from 2011 to 2016, more life-changing events happened that left me challenged, beaten, trialed and tested. I suffered massive losses.

 

I lost my jobs, my friends, my entire life savings, my spouse and my family. 

 

I had never felt so alone and isolated ever in my life. 

 

The whole world had persecuted and deserted me. Even my family, the people who were closest to me could not understand what happened. I was made to feel like I was the greatest sinner in the world.

 

And the worst thing of all, I did not know what happened to myself either.

 

I was lost in the deep abyss. 

 

Lost my identity, my goals, my values, my belief system. 

 

Lost my soul - everything that made me human. 

 

Totally emptied out from within. 

 

I had thoughts of ending my life.... 

 

And I did.

 

But…

 

The death was not physical. 

 

No, I did not jump. I did not walk or drive into traffic. I did not gas, hang nor slash myself. I did not overdose on drugs.

 

But I died.

 

It was a psychological death.

 

The old me died.

 

It was a death of the ego. 

The Rebirth

 

Amidst my struggles and search for the meaning of life, I chanced upon Dr Emma Bragdon’s book “The Call of Spiritual Emergency” in 2013. The book totally changed my life. For when I was done with it, I finally understood what I went through. It provided me with an entirely different perspective to the non-ordinary experiences I had. It provided the answers that my psychiatrist whom I had been seeing for years could not give. It affirmed that I am NOT mentally ill.

By the time I finished reading the book, I had gained so much insight into my life. Through all the painful, life-changing and at times non-ordinary experiences, I discovered the real meaning of my psychosis. 

 

It triggered my spiritual awakening. Going within into the deepest core of my being, I re-evaluated my life, my self-identity and discovered the answers to many universal existential questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I? 

Why did all these bad things happen to me? 

How did I end up on this path in my life? 

Why did I not pursue the education I wanted? 

Why did I pursue this career?

Why did I get married so young? 

Why did I marry the man I did? 

Why did I have children? 

What caused my marriage to break down?

Is this how I want to lead the rest of my life? 

Am I good at anything? 

What are my flaws? 

What are my sins? 

What made me who I am? 

What am I meant to do with my life? 

What’s my life purpose? 

 

By the time I ploughed through all these difficult questions over quite a few months, I felt such a tremendous sense of liberation. All the blood, sweat and tears. Every drop was accounted for. All the mistakes, losses, pain and suffering. Each one has meaning. And in the process of this journey, I realized I had managed to slowly heal myself from within. I even managed to repair my relationships with my parents and children.

As a result of this transformation, I set out on a quest to seek out Dr Emma Bragdon, PhD, in the United States. For her book had shed light and paved the way for me in my spiritual emergence journey. I HAD to see her and learn from her in person. So this was how I started my training and certification as a Spiritual Emergence Coach by Dr Emma Bragdon, Executive Director of the non-profit organisation, Integrative Mental Health for You, based in Vermont, USA.

 

There are currently only 77 Spiritual Emergence Coaches worldwide, with the majority of them located in the US and Australia. I’m deeply honoured to be the 1st and (currently) only one in Asia.

The Revelation

 

Though I had been in the public education and health sector for the past 20 years, my professional role had always been helping and serving others. And I had worked with numerous people with various mental health issues. I realized that if I had been so lost and disempowered in my mental health crisis as a result of the current biomedical, psychiatric model of mental health care, what about the many other mental health patients who have also lost their personal power, and dignity and as a result, resigned to a life of lesser. Alone and isolated, disconnected from co-workers, friends and loved ones. All because we have been labelled as sick in the head and will never amount to much. Don't get me started on the slew of social, economical, political and environmental issues.

Anyway, so this was how I found my life purpose. I was meant to live through all the struggles and failures, pain and suffering. In order for me to share my life story. To inspire, heal, liberate and empower others who are caught in mental health crises or psycho-spiritual awakenings.

 

It was an absolute transformation. 

 

A rebirth. 

 

New life. 

 

New me.

 

My life story is a testimony of how a mental health crisis is in reality, the unfolding of a series of non-ordinary states of consciousness. This process is typical in spiritual emergence, which is a personal evolutionary journey. A journey so transformational that when allowed to unfold, and with the appropriate support, allowed to fully integrate into one's day to day living, a Person-in-Emergence (PIE) has the innate ability to 

  • heal from deep within

  • be liberated to live true to oneself, and

  • be empowered to lead a quality life of immense meaning and purpose