TW / trauma, suicide
I think it’s important to tell my story in regard to this. Meditation is something that I advocate for as something that can be incredibly useful, BUT I need you to know that it almost killed me. This isn’t hyperbole, I nearly died due to being retraumatised for a period of three months after I was prescribed “mindfulness” after contacting critical health services.
For a long time I thought this was an Autistic Burnout thing, as it happened during that time – I contacted critical mental health services because I was starting to rapidly break down mentally and I had no idea why – then they prescribed meditation, what resulted from this was horrific.
Meditation Risks – Traumatic Pasts Can Be Revealed
A lot of science has come out around this, there are substantial risks in making people focus on their inner world. I had no memory of my childhood, at least I thought, but I have restored a lot of it now – and most of this happened in a 24 hour a day, seven day a week flood constantly for three months.
At first meditation seemed to help – I was less anxious, my depression was under control – I felt better. Then something just started coming apart inside my head. I kept having flashbacks during meditation, I was having vivid nightmares constantly, and soon I would end up staring into a mirror saying “you are a piece of shit” over and over for hours till my wife found me.
What had happened was that all the compartmentalisation I did to survive everything bad that had happened to me, was breached in a way that is hard to describe. Everything around me was triggering memories from my past – horrible things that happened to me, or when I was young, horrible things I had done through naivety. It was absolutely brutal.
When I said I was struggling, they told me to meditate more. This accelerated issues I was having. I then had to be pumped full of anti-psychotics and benzodiazepines just to stabilise me, however the second they wore off it all came flooding back again – worse still is that it seemed to just queue the torment to playback faster.
I ended up attempting suicide as a result of this experience – the first time in my life I had acted on suicide ideation – I got lucky because my method was bad, but I need you to know the seriousness of the risks here.
After I stabilised, a few months later I found a book randomly as I was looking through the library. The first page in the first chapter detailed exactly what happened to me:
If you want to take a free webinar on the risks of mindfulness meditation – David Treleaven the author of the book ‘Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness’ offers that here.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is a mindfulness practitioner – and the awareness of this has now spread into things like ACT Therapy, where a book is coming out on this soon.
My mindfulness meditation practice
Based on the above before you start reading this section I need you to know:
I would not recommend self-practiced mindfulness meditation to anyone who may not remember their childhood, and might have trauma.
I ended up returning to it after reading the book by David Treleaven. I had more understanding of how to practice, when not to do it, and what to do if I experience retraumatising effects.
The application I use and will advocate for if you would like to try is Balance App. The reason I prefer this one is because it currently has a free year (as at 25/10/2021), and also uses prompts to customise sessions based on your feedback.
There are a few things you need to know about using Balance App:
- Generally you will be terrible at it as a neurodivergent person.
- Some days will feel utterly pointless
- Visualisation meditation as someone with Aphantasia (no minds eye) was the most pointless and non-helpful exercise.
- Stillness meditation is not recommended if you are ADHD/Autistic. This was combined with visualisation and ended up causing a lot of physical pain for me.
- It can take months to see benefits.
- It shouldn’t be done as a beginner when you are in an anxious state – I believe personally – or unguided by a proper trauma informed trainer.
You might think I am a bit masochistic for returning to meditation considering it almost killed me. So why meditate:
- Neuroplasticity – Meditation can help to make the brain more malleable for change – this has been demonstrated numerous times in science. Having the ability to adapt your mind to more healthy ways of thinking is an incredible tool.
- Ego dissolution – One of the benefits for me of meditation when done for long enough is that eventually you can access a state known as ego dissolution. This is an experience that is hard to define – it’s incredibly spiritual. The effect has been compared to ‘ego death’ that occurs at high doses of LSD (I would not recommend anyone do this without proper supervision). You feel like nothing, and everything all at once – connected to everything in the entire universe – it’s incomparable to anything else I’ve ever experienced – there is no ‘I’ when this happens, the self disappears.
- Positive benefits – being able to restore to a state of calm more readily is the main benefit for me, and I do think it’s played a substantial role in me becoming the more stable person I am today.
Specific recommendations for Balance App
Go through the foundations modules – start small and build up the amount of time you spend. I am now at 20 minutes per session in the Advanced Modules (on day 9/10 of the first advanced module).
Try to practice as much as possible. Failing to practice everyday is fine. IGNORE THE STREAK FEATURE IF YOU HAVE PERFECTIONISM ISSUES. I hate that these apps have these with no way to disable them as they can cause a lot of self-judgement for missing a day – If I had not worked on my perfectionism issues a lot I probably would have dumped this app the first time I failed a streak.
If you have Aphantasia I do not recommend the Visualisation module (Foundations Module IV), and I absolutely wouldn’t recommend the lessons Foundations Module IV where they tell you to practice being still. I hated this with a passion and hurt afterwards.
The ‘breath’ single is amazing for calming breath techniques – it covers the four main ones and uses incredibly helpful animations – even if you don’t decide to meditate these are really awesome.
You don’t ever need to be good at meditation for it to start working – it’s not a competition – it’s a practice at being ok with being present.
Benefits of meditation I have noticed
I have had a lot of positive benefits catching myself in stressful situations.
It’s built up an ability to fix posture issues I have through awareness training.
I can more readily identify sources of sensory pain and have taken steps to reduce a lot of sensory overwhelm that my environment was causing without me realising.
Since starting I have been in full remission of Crohn’s disease. (I think this comes from the reduced stress that my environment was causing as well as dealing with a lot of my trauma either through self-directed processing or with my therapist.)
I catch nearly all my rejection sensitivity before it happens and diffuse it before it does – this is incredible for my quality of life.
I have far more control over my emotions and I can experience them and let them go faster thanks to labelling.
I am less judgemental.
Accessing traumatic memories is actually important for processing I personally believe – and I think that meditation gives access to these – being able to handle having trauma with an ability to process it properly is a different skillset though.
I am more present during coaching.
Ego dissolution is amazing when it happens – it’s rare that it does but I am getting closer and closer to being able to trigger this in longer standalone sessions I do – some of these are guided outside of Balance App.
My Progress Over Time
I will link a few stats of my progression here so you can see my path: