A European women, when she was 28 years old, experienced adverse psychological effects after attending an intensive Vipassana retreat.
In my late twenties, I was a yoga teacher. I lived and taught across the world living a vibrant and exciting life that I had chosen and built. In December 2014, because I was advised by many people in my yoga circles to do so, I attended a Vipassana Meditation retreat. It’s a silent retreat that last for 11 days. Attendees are not allowed to talk, make eye contact or touch each other. Attendees meditate about 10 hours a day on a very strict schedule. The first few days were hard but I was prepared for it (at least I thought I was) since I had been practicing mindfulness with a trained psychotherapist for two years. Unfortunately, on the 7th day of the retreat I had an incredibly powerful panic attack that left me feeling like I had lost my sense of self. This feeling stuck to the point that I wasn’t able to recognize myself in a mirror. I lost appetite, stopped eating. I asked for help but the teachers told me to keep going, “this too shall pass”; as it turned out it took two years to pass! Somehow I managed to finish the retreat.
When I came back home, I still couldn’t eat, I had daily panic attacks, I was feeling estranged and started to have psychosis. I had to stop working. I stopped seeing my friends. My mother finally took me to the doctor and I was referred to a psychiatrist who found the right medication. After a year and a half on them, I was able to work again and feel like myself.
The road to recover from this experience was long. I had to let go of all my old mental structures and beliefs that made me so happy in the past. I had to accept to take medications and to find a new meaning for life.
And I can now genuinely see what I thought I was able to to grasp before because I was meditating : Life itself is incredibly magic and there is nothing to add to it.
I haven’t meditated since that day.