Ask Deepak: The Difference Between Mental Illness and Enlightenment
By Deepak Chopra
May 12, 2010
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: When I was 18 years old, I had my first deeply spiritual experience that led me to a psychiatric hospital. They told me I was schizophrenic. I had other involuntary admissions after very spiritual experiences, and my diagnoses is schizo affective bipolar disorder. I was young and now wish I did not tell the doctors of my spiritual encounter. I have a hard time rising above the stigma of mental illness.
I am 31 now, and the last couple years I've been reading about enlightenment. My experience was no different: I felt extreme bliss, every nerve ending pulsed in my body. I experience so many coincidences beyond any reasonable explanation, but my location was in the West and not the East, and this has affected my whole life. Is there a fine line between mental illness and enlightenment?
— Michael W., Columbus, Ohio
No, there isn't a fine line between enlightenment and mental disorders. What you are dealing with isn't esoteric or mystical; yet it isn't—strictly speaking—illness, either. Many mental hospitals will not permit Bibles in the wards because it is so common for the mentally ill to fixate on their inner illuminations. Such fixations are a frequent aspect of manic states, paranoia and schizophrenic breaks.
You are right, in a way, that if you had been born in the East, your predicament would be viewed differently. You might have been labeled "God mad," which sounds more tolerant. But in India, at least, the God mad are let loose on the streets and lead quite aimless and chaotic lives on the fringes of society.
I am sympathetic with your desire to view your illuminated states as spiritual rather than psychiatric. But you fail to mention the side of your condition that has brought you suffering. It makes me sad to tell you this, but mania doesn't cure depression. No matter how high you get, no matter how close to God and free of this earth, your flights are going to end in crashes—as I'm sure they already have. Manic states convince you that you have no problems, but that is an illusion. You need to take care of your condition medically.
When you find yourself in an elevated state, may I suggest you write down your experiences in a journal? Later, when you come back down to earth, read what you have written. If it still makes sense to you and feels meaningful, continue to journal and deepen your understanding. But if your journal entries look unrealistic, grandiose or garbled, they may indicate your ecstasy is mixed with a good deal of agony. I wish you well.