Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “going crazy after a bad trip.” I’ve received a number of emails in which people bring this up, so I wanted to address it in detail as well as the general topic of fear. Having intense fear after a bad trip is incredibly common. If you’re afraid of being schizophrenic, dying, having panic attacks, flashbacks, or having to relive your bad trip, you’re not alone.
When I was entrenched in trying to heal myself from my difficult trip, I was constantly afraid of dying. This fear quite literally controlled my life every single day. It was when I finally learned to manage this fear that I truly began to heal!
First, I’ll discuss fear in general, and then later in the post, I’ll cover fear of going crazy in more detail.
About fear (your worst enemy)
In every spiritual system that I’ve ever come across, there is a moment in which the supreme being says, “Do not be afraid.” Why is it that, regardless of spiritual system, our creators, guides, and spiritual teachers feel compelled to warn us against fear?
In another context, I’ve heard that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. The more I think about this idea, the more I know it’s the absolute truth. This is because love is an expansive feeling that breaks down barriers and allows you to connect, feel safe, and grow. Fear, on the other hand, puts up barriers. It causes you to shrink away, protect yourself, and shut down.
When working to heal from a difficult psychedelic trip, fear is your worst enemy because it causes you to shut down. It causes all progress to come to a screeching halt. In this case, you’re shutting yourself down to your own heart, mind, and emotions. You’re letting your discomfort and fear get in the way of your personal development and growth as a person. It’s time to stop that! The only way that you’ll truly get past this is to put fear aside and deal with it head-on.
Many of us were motivated to take psychedelics for personal or spiritual growth. If you were given a bad trip, it may feel like you were given a huge, unfair slap on the wrist for desiring to grow as a person. What if this difficult trip and its aftermath was actually exactly what you needed to go through to grow as a person? For me, it quite certainly was. I believe that it is for you too!
Let’s take a look at several fears that are common after a bad trip:
Afraid of dying after a bad trip
Fear of death is one of the most common and debilitating experiences after a bad trip. When you’re constantly afraid of dying, you’re no longer living. This was my daily reality for months: I was always in the shadow of some impending heart attack even though I was (and am) fit and healthy, with a good diet and great vitals. My food choices became entirely controlled by the idea that I would have an allergic reaction that would cause my throat to close. I went to doctors, changed my eating habits, and even got an Epi pen despite the fact that I had never had anything close to that kind of reaction in my life. Nothing about this was logical – fear rarely is.
In my opinion, fear of death during and after a trip is so common because the transitory nature of life is one of the main lessons of psychedelics. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, there is no denying that nothing in this world is permanent. Just as things finish beginning, they start ending. Just as things finish growing, they start declining. Psychedelics break down our notions of materiality and what is concrete or permanent. While this is an extraordinarily valuable lesson, it is very hard to stomach for most people.
In order to get past this fear, you have to confront what it is about death that scares you so much. Unfortunately, the majority of our questions about death will never be answered. This isn’t about concrete answers. Instead, it’s about finding a personal philosophy that you can be emotionally okay with. It’s about working past the emotional hang-ups that are preventing you from living your life while you are here on earth.
Afraid of being schizophrenic after a bad trip
First things first, if I had a million dollars, I would bet you a million dollars that you are not schizophrenic. I believe that schizophrenia is loosely defined in our cultural consciousness as “one of the worst things that can happen to you.” But at the end of the day, it is just an arbitrary name for some psychological phenomena.
If you’re struggling with the aftermath of a bad trip, resist the urge to cling to an arbitrary psychiatrist-ish diagnosis. Realize that you are going through something that is more emotionally intense than anything you’ve ever experienced before. That is cause enough for the new anxiety and emotional instability you feel. You don’t need a diagnosis.
It’s important to realize that psychedelics connect us more closely to our subconscious minds. If you feel like your thoughts are “out of control” now, realize that you may just be more aware of or in-touch with your subconscious. Rather than fear this change, you need to work to harness this deeper connection to your inner self. For example:
I’ve been a creative all my life. Ever since I was a young child, I made up stories, imaginative games, drew pictures, and made things. Now, I work as a designer, and I make art on the side. Very often, random images of rooms, furniture and fabric designs, and art pieces will pop into my head. I don’t know where they come from; they just come. Does this mean I’m schizophrenic? Maybe some random psychiatrist would say I am, but why do I care what he thinks? This is just how my mind works, and I’m thankful for it.
For all musicians in the world who write their own music or improvise/jam: where does the music come from? Are you schizo? No, you’re a musician.
For all writers in the world: where do the stories come from?
For all thinkers and casual philosophers: where do the ideas come from?
If you get yourself all wigged out and afraid, you could very easily start to believe that you’re schizo. I promise you aren’t, but you have to decide that for yourself. Until you’re ready to believe it internally, no one else’s words will give you the peace of mind that you aren’t schizo.
Afraid of going crazy after a bad trip
I promise that you are not going crazy.
What does it mean to “go crazy”? I find this hard to define, and I struggle with the notion of even defining it because I don’t like to put psychological labels on people when I can never be inside their head. Like being schizo, I think this is loosely defined by society as, “one of the worst and most embarrassing/shameful things that can happen.” I think that closest I’m able to get to defining this is when a person no longer has the capacity to help themselves. I personally believe that no one is a “lost cause.” Many people may seem to be, but this is simply because they are not yet ready to help themselves – not because they have lost the capacity to do so.
By my definition, you are definitely not crazy. You’re out here on the internet actively trying to help yourself through your problems. You are in no way a “lost cause,” and you’re going to get better.
When I think about this topic, I have this odd sense of regret about the society we’re living in. It seems like we’ve been taught to be so afraid of “being crazy” that we’d rather push our emotions up under the rug for years than confront the idea that we might not be 100% psychologically normal. Who the hell is 100% psychologically normal? And even if someone was, how on earth would they know since they could never be inside another person’s mind?
Everyone has problems that need working out. Everyone has emotions they’re not totally comfortable with. It’s likely that this trip has made you very uncomfortable because it’s forcing you to deal with your problems. Right now, this may feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to you, but once you’re through it, I think you’ll see it as one of the best.
Where did the idea of “going crazy” come from?
I believe that a lot of our collective fear of going crazy after a psychedelic trip comes from 20th century media stories that have spilled over into actual people’s belief systems about psychedelics. There are plenty of people in this world who have no experience with psychedelics outside of specials on 60 Minutes yet wholeheartedly believe that if you take acid once, you’ll go so crazy that you jump out of windows and, if you do survive, you’ll be completely useless for the rest of your life because of constant flashbacks. Long story short, take acid once, and you’ll be crazy forever. This is simply not true. It is a scare-story that’s been adopted as truth by the vast majority of people who have never experienced these substances themselves.
Before having a negative experience with psychedelics, you may’ve believed that those ideas and stories were completely false. (If you believed they were true, why on earth did you take psychedelics?) But now, you’re starting to wonder if they were right all along. Questions creep in: Am I actually going crazy? Will I have flashbacks? Am I schizophrenic now?
The answer is NO. No, no, and no.
Having intense emotions that you haven’t yet experienced in your life does not mean that you’re going crazy. Feeling less emotionally stable than you used to does not mean that you’re going crazy. Feeling like you’re less in control of your thoughts and emotions does not mean you’re going crazy. These things simply “mean” that you’ve been stirred up by an emotionally intense, traumatic experience, and now you’ve got some things you need to sort out.
I often compare going through a difficult trip to going through some other kind of jarring, emotionally traumatic experience such as losing a loved one or getting in a car wreck. If you had just lost a deeply important person in your life, such as a wife or parent, you would undoubtably be experiencing far more intense emotions than you ever had before. You would undoubtably feel unstable, shaken up, and less in control of your thoughts and feelings. But you wouldn’t worry that you were schizo or “going crazy.”
It’s societally normal to be an emotional wreck after losing an intimate loved one, but there are no widely accepted norms for what’s supposed to happen after a difficult psychedelic trip. People don’t talk about this stuff.
The fact of the matter you are not crazy. You won’t go crazy. You will get through this, but you have to believe that. You can have a thousand different people or mental health professionals tell you that you’re going to be fine and that you’re not schizo, but what they tell you won’t make one bit of difference until you decide to believe it. It has to come from your own heart and mind, or else it won’t stick.
Afraid of going crazy after a bad trip: how to begin working through this
Start by answering the following questions. (I would highly suggest writing these answers – you’ll get more out of it).
- To me, what does it mean to “go crazy”? Where did I get this definition?
- Have I ever known someone who had “gone crazy”? What made them crazy?
- What about me/my mind/my emotions is making me worried about going crazy?
- Why do I feel the need to label or diagnose myself?
Next, over the next few days, whenever you start to worry about “going crazy,” answer the question below.
- What was I doing or thinking about when I started to worry that I was “going crazy”? Why does that trigger my fear?
I would recommend keeping a notebook or note on your phone with the answers to this question so that you can start creating a record. The point is to look for patterns in your fears. For example, you always start to feel crazy when you notice that your emotions are much more intense than normal. In this situation, what you are really fearing is your intense emotions, probably because they are foreign to you due to a lifetime of being emotionally shut down. This would mean that it’s time to start looking more deeply into your emotions and unpacking them rather than avoiding them. This is one of the best things you could every do for yourself.
Another example. In my personal journey, my fear of dying would always hit when I laid down to go to sleep. This was often the first time during the day that my mind was idle long enough to start worrying. For this situation, I would recommend spending more time throughout the day with an idle mind. That way, the fears can start to come up in a manageable way rather than turning into a panic episode. The idea is always to find out what prompts your fear/panic and preempt it by allowing it to surface in manageable doses that allow you to process what’s going on.
No matter what your fear is, the most important thing you can do is find some way to overcome it. Fear serves a vital role in survival, but in matters of the heart, it is one of the most limiting, stunting feelings. You can use your fear for good: as a compass to show you what you need to work on. But, if you let your fear control you and hold you back, you simply won’t progress.
I know firsthand that what I’m saying is hard – I won’t deny that for a second. But I also know that you and your emotional health are more than worth it. If you won’t be strong for you, who else can you be strong for?
I know you can get through this!