My experience happened when I was 33, a month or two after the birth of my youngest child.
I am 66 now, so I have a long view on its initial effects, its long-term effects, and its purpose. The experience was a kind of swing between poles of experience over the course of about a week.
It started with a vague sense that the world did not look quite solid, that I could almost see it vibrating, see the atoms colliding and moving, as if nothing was really as it seemed, but all things were in motion and in a process of constant change. This was followed by a sense of all natural things having a consciousness, as if trees and grass and rocks were not just alive but aware.
After a day or two of this sense of consciousness existing in all things and all things being not-solid, I became aware of disembodied consciousnesses. It began with a sense that my father, who had died of lung cancer when I was 21, had a message for me. He wanted me to tell my mother to stop smoking. This gave way to the sense of a disembodied consciousness that announced itself by the name of Theliel.
Theliel said he was a Greek scribe from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II. He said he had been captured during war and forced to serve the Assyrians as a scribe. The conversations with my father and Theliel were by way of automatic writing, something I had done as an adolescent but had not had any interest in since then.
I also had two ‘visions’ or visual hallucinations during this time, like little movie clips in my field of vision. One was of a large open book written in script that went from right to left. The other was of a man throwing himself off the roof of a tower. Oddly, I had also had ‘visions’ like this when I was an adolescent, of what seemed to be snippets of a past life.
Theliel said that he was waiting for me to write, and that he was assigned to me because he was a suicide. He had a choice of being incarnated again, or of working to stop someone else from committing suicide. I was not thinking of committing suicide, so all this seemed really out there.
The whole thing drove me to my Abnormal Psychology textbook from sophomore year in college to see if I could figure out what was wrong with me. I was pretty certain I was losing my mind, but in what way? I couldn’t find anything that fit except maybe ‘acute psychotic episode,’ but if I was lucid enough to try to diagnose myself, how psychotic was I, really?
I called my mother and gave her the message from my dad, then told her the rest of it, too. She took it at face value (my mother always dabbled in weird things) and told me I should quit talking to this Theliel immediately because people who had guides like this could lose their minds without proper training. So, I called a priest (I was going through some things with the Catholic Church at the time, at the request of my husband), and he said I was talking to a demon.
So, I got scared and things got worse. I began to feel like I was being followed around by this guy and I couldn’t shake him. My husband found my automatic writing and wanted to check me into a hospital, which scared me even more since he had great insurance, and I figured I’d never see my kids again if that happened. By the next night, I was terrified.
I went to bed, hoping to feel better in the morning, but I was tormented by voices and the sense that I was only a thin layer away from hell. It was horrible—dark, stuffy, enclosed—and the voices, which sounded like they came from a pit, were raspy and mocking, and called me by name. I have never been more frightened in my life.
Spontaneously, I called out to God, reciting a part of the Catholic mass: Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
Instantly, there was a sound and a feeling like a whoosh of air, straight up my spine and out the top of my head into a brilliant light. The light was made of incredible love, love unlike anything I had ever experienced or could imagine, and all the knowledge there was. It was eternal, nonlocal, and more real than the reality we live in. The experience could have lasted a minute or hours; time had no meaning whatsoever.
An important component of the experience was that it was not really translatable to this reality. I am using words here to describe it, but they should not be taken as an accurate description—just the most bare-bones rendering of something and somewhere beyond our understanding. I existed in the light as myself, but also as part of the light itself.
Once I returned to my body, I slept soundly for the first time in a week. When I awoke the next morning, I felt fine. No aberrant perceptions, no lurking Greek scribes pushing me to write and not kill myself, just my normal life.
I did find myself wondering what had happened to me and what was expected. I was a young mother of two small children and a new baby, not the sort of person who should be having experiences like that. But things happened fast afterward, so I didn’t have to wonder very long.
I received a brochure about a graduate program at the school where I got my BA in psychology. It was an interdisciplinary master’s degree, designed for students who wanted to study something specific across at least two disciplines. It seemed a perfect way to look into what happened to me and how it fit into Western culture, assuming it was not pathological.
Even though I struggled to finish my BA because of crippling panic attacks, people remembered me and I was admitted to the master’s program. At the same time, my panic returned, so I started psychotherapy. The panic got so bad, it felt hallucinatory. I could hardly tell where I was when it hit. But I kept at my thesis, which was titled, “Sex, Magic, and Transformation: Three Patterns of Gendered Polarity and Disintegration in the Modern West.” What a mouthful.
Anyway, I kept at it. My husband divorced me, and I got a job and an apartment. We shared custody of the children.
The next three years were brutal. I was diagnosed with PTSD and the panic was attached to dissociated feelings and events from my past flooding back into my present. Therapy was excruciating, and my course of study was challenging. Looking back, I honestly think that without the experience of the light to hold on to, I absolutely would have killed myself. Writing about the experience, and trying to pin it to a Western narrative, also helped.
I got all A’s and graduated with honors, but I was so wrung out, I barely cared. One of my professors offered me an adjunct job teaching in Women’s Studies, which I tried out for a year and a half before deciding I was in no shape to find a PhD program, and I let the teaching job go.
The years following the experience and the master’s thesis were hard ones emotionally. I pulled away from my original family and continued in therapy. Healing was long and difficult. I had had a very difficult childhood and adolescence, marked by violence, rape, sexual abuse, and what people today call sex-trafficking. It took me years to get out, and I’d dissociated much of the emotion and events. Getting that back was not fun, even though it was necessary to healing.
During this time, I also experienced some of the weirder side effects mentioned in your after-effects questions. I went through six or seven hair dryers and coffee makers per year, and I had other odd electrical problems. This faded over the course of three or four years.
I also seemed to have fairly accurate clairvoyance and an affinity for the dead and the about-to-be-born. To this day I have some abilities in this area, but I don’t advertise this or try to get money from it; it just is part of who I am.
I am 66 now, and I have now and then wondered if I have failed—if I was supposed to become a healer or do some other thing I never understood I was meant to do. But with three long courses of psychotherapy under my belt, I take a different view of my experience. I know many NDE experiencers go on to achieve great things, but I believe my experience was about healing—I asked for healing and I got it. I didn’t ask to become a big deal, just to heal. And I have.
The hardest part of healing was accepting that God would care about me that much. That was so hard. But it was also a help because, if God could care about me, who was I to not care about me?
My thesis was not satisfying—it just kept me busy while I was in great pain. Today, what I am left with is clairvoyance, a sense of the dead and some ability to communicate with the dead, and my writing, which I still enjoy and occasionally publish. When I was writing my thesis, person after person said, “I wish you’d write about what happened to you in ordinary language, not as an academic, but as a person.” I may still do that. There are so many books like that though.
I’ve never gotten an explanation of what happened from any professional person that was satisfying. I’ve been told it was probably postpartum psychosis. I’ve been told it was just hallucinations and delusions and had no meaning. The most honest answer I’ve ever gotten was, “I don’t know.” Most recently, my therapist said it sounds very much like a shamanic experience and that in many settings it would be accepted as such, without ridicule.
What I think is that it was exactly what it seemed to be. I really don’t think I could have healed from what was hurting me without that experience. I am encouraged that so many people have had such experiences. Maybe human beings will survive after all.