Is a Mental Breakdown Similar to a Psychedelic Trip?


In 1993, and again in 2013, I had a mental and emotional breakdown.

The experience was frightening and debilitating and it led me to question both the reality of my thoughts and my experiences. What I thought was true became something that I questioned on many levels.

My experience of recreational drugs has been limited to only alcohol, perhaps a couple of dozen joints (early 90’s) and one very small trip with mushrooms. The latter experience was merely a test with a group of friends, as to whether our find had indeed been what we thought they were. With all of the experiences of recreational drugs, alcohol has been most commonly used of the three and definitely the most enjoyed.

I don’t like to lose control. Therefore, any experience with mind-altering drugs has been taken badly and the experience has been somewhat unpleasant.

In my journey since 2013, I have read widely and listened intently to a number of different psychological and spiritual authors and writers. The information and knowledge that has been absorbed has offered me some insight into my own experience of mental suffering, and it has widened my view of what the mind and body is capable of enduring.

In all of the resources, there is an underlying belief that what we see isn’t necessarily the whole truth of our existence, and that what we see and feel is most likely only part of a wider and deeper level of available experience. In other words, there is potentially another realm of experience that could be tapped into that on a day-to-day level we are not aware of.

In my last breakdown, I was exposed to a whole new world of pain and discomfort, both on a physical and mental level. My world, as I knew it, crumbled around me, and I was left with a deep sense of no self because who I thought I was had been was stripped away and I was left with a very weak and somewhat broken sense of identity. The self had dissolved away, and I was left raw, exposed and vulnerable.

In a recent “It’s All Happening” podcast by Zack Leary, I was listening to him read from the work of a writer whose subject was psychology and psychedelic therapy. They were talking about the use of psychedelics in the clinical setting to help alleviate a broad range of psychological trauma. This ranged from PTSD to anxiety as well as a great many other psychological traumas.

What was clear was that there was evidence to suggest that psychedelics can help alleviate the symptoms of many of today’s modern psychological ailments. What was discussed was the notion that psychedelics, in the stripping away of a current reality and the opening to a new possible reality, led the individuals involved to see a different side to their current existence.

Reality therefore would appear neither fixed nor concrete, and in fact, it is pliable and indeed variable.

My own experience of a mental breakdown, if we were to take the example of the psychedelic effect, could be described as very similar. The falling away of a fixed and believed reality and the presentation of a new possible reality would suggest that the sense of who I identified as was solely a construct of my own mind. What I saw and thought to be true was indeed an unstable and false sense of reality.

It took the emotional breakdown to trigger the deconstruction of myself, and brought about an emotional change that has led me to where I am today. In the same way, a psychedelic could have a similar change on the reality of an individual.

It is quite possible to have a bad trip on a psychedelic, and it is possible to have a bad trip if you imbibe emotional issues and don’t allow what comes up to wash over and through you.

Knowing that I like control, and knowing how a strong sense of self can lend rigidity to one’s ego, it’s quite easy to see that any process of ego-dissolving could cause a bad trip to occur.

We all have strong ego identities that we align with, and I, for one, have used my ego as a harbor to offer me safety and protection. Over time, however, that sense of identity became so rigid and inflexible that any pushing against it became a threat to it, in such a way that too much pressure would cause a reed to bend and snap.

The ego is threatened by any questioning of its authority and finds any challenging of its reality uncomfortable. Psychedelics, by their very action, challenge the ego and a strong sense of what is reality. My breakdown did the same, in that it challenged and questioned the very core of who I thought I was, and in turn, questioned what I was as my reality.

A psychedelic experience and my mental breakdown are very similar in the effect they had upon my reality. They had similarities, from what I can see, and they both challenged my sense of
what was real and what was not. In a trip, you are asked the question, “Is this really real, or is this an illusion?” We are also asked to challenge a sense of our identity within the experience itself.

The experience of a breakdown touches every aspect of your personal and interpersonal awareness, and softens the ego to make room for change. You are asked to look at everything around you, and to observe what is happening, with open eyes. However, in an emotionally challenging situation, it is often virtually impossible to get some perspective due to the body’s heightened emotional stress state.

Your body is awash with chemicals and neurological misfiring that cause uncomfortable bodily sensations to occur. Often these are not actually real, and therefore, because they can seemingly come from nowhere, and are often embellished by the mind, a breakdown may be experienced like a bad trip.

In this sense, your reality becomes unreal, and is a product of a chemical inducement that is somewhat emotionally destabilizing.

If you therefore take the standpoint that the breakdown/bad trip are a result of an unwelcome and unexpected dissolving of your reality and also the challenging of your strongly held ego body, then I believe it is possible to turn a bad experience on its head.

Firstly, if we take the standpoint that everything around us is fixed and real, then there is a danger that any challenge of that reality becomes an opportunity for emotional trauma to occur. If, however, we change our position and look at it from a different perspective, we can accept the dissolving of self.

If you take the standpoint that our reality and our experience of life is variable and subject to change, then we are in a much better position to accept the variable and changeable nature of reality. In other words when change occurs, be it from our actions or it is forced upon us, we can learn to sit with it because we know it won’t last.

Secondly, we are incredibly adaptive entities, and our ability to be able to adapt to the world around us is well-established. However, as we have evolved over the millennia, we have also become more reliant on the mind and the logical function of the brain. We have lost a certain degree of flexibility and adaptability to the world around us.

We have lost contact with the very aspect of creation (natural selection, Divine, other) that made us. We are part of the natural world, and as such, connected to things that we may not really know or feel because we have lost contact. If we pause and look at what is around us, we notice an undeniable change and adaptation process and play. Nature demonstrates that nothing is permanent, stable, and inflexible.

Everything is in a state of change, and therefore, it is not only impermanent, it is also adaptive to change. That includes you. The friction that occurs in any emotional bad trip is that you are trying to hold on to what you know and you don’t settle into that changing and potentially adaptive process.

Inflexibility, non-adaptability, and a strong grip on perceived reality causes both psychological, physical and emotional breakdown, and it is in that unnecessary strong grip of the ego that a bad trip/experience will occur.

Finally, we are able to be able to weather event the greatest storm of trauma. We have within us a deep reserve that keeps us on the right path. It isn’t solid and rigid, it is flexible, adaptive and
absorbent. It is your own true nature.

This is not like the ego, which is brittle and inflexible. Instead, it is a safe harbor to retreat to when the storm is in full force, a place that allows you to refuel and restock so you could set sail again when the storm has passed by.

It also gives you a clear sense of what is real and true. It is not subject to false thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is what enables you to feel what is right, true and real for you. In a trip, you can fall back on it when you are spinning out. When you are emotionally challenged, and feel the biological chemistry of your body battling with you, you can sit with your thoughts, knowing “This too will pass.”

In other words, if you have a bad trip or emotional trauma, let go, let it be, and let the experience occur fully. With open eyes, an open heart, and a deep acceptance that what will be will be, let it come and go. Be safe in the knowledge that it too will be impermanent, it will be subject to change, and the trip — any trip — will pass. Your own true nature will be regardless of what happens, and you’ll be safely guided home.

So, is a mental breakdown similar to a psychedelic trip? Yes, I believe so, and through it, just like any journey to an uncharted place, we can learn a great deal about ourselves and the world around us.


Jonathan Midwood is a practicing Buddhist, mediation practitioner, and spiritual seeker. After recovering from an episode of anxiety and depression, he found that by nurturing presence and his own awareness, he could develop well-being and personal growth. This understanding of the self helped him ignite his soul’s deep longing for everything to be real and alive. The insight gained from deep self-reflection helped him to highlight and then nurture the idea that individuals’ ability to become all they can be is only a small step away. Jonathan teaches that our own true nature can be tapped into, and the soul’s power used to achieve inner and outer peace. In a world where there is uncertainty and instability, there is a safe place that we can dwell in, and from that position, start to heal the world, one breath at a time. Visit him at Head to Heart Network or on Facebook.


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