Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mental Illness and NDEs

QUESTION 1: "I had all the beautiful usual 'symptoms' and the continuing absolute awareness of 'truth,' but I also had one I've never seen retold - when I was back in my body after the emergency caesarian in which I stopped breathing for 45 minutes and was stone cold gone. When I came back, for weeks my body felt like someone had draped a heavy skeleton over me. I was hunched over with the weight of it and had to learn to move with it again. I shuffled rather than walked, turned like a robot, rather than a human. Every joint was soooooooo hard to manipulate, and it seemed like such a complicated process. To get a wrist to move in order to work fingers was such a conscious effort. They creaked and grated, bone against bone, very unpleasant, but not painful. It was like my mind was processing the movement of bone, sinew, tissue, muscle, joints - literally as if someone had draped a body over me. I had to figure out how to work it, like a puppeteer being inside a mannequin. It felt very cumbersome and very unevolved. My initial delight years after when I discovered other people had experienced the tunnel and the light of pure love has always niggled that no one else seems to report this dysfunction of the body and soul on rejoining. It's funny, even though I had had a caesarian, it didn't seem to be that area that grated - moving a finger was a slightly comical process. My story is, of course, much bigger, but I wonder if you've ever heard of this strange misfit approach on reintegration after a near-death experience?" --

P.M.H. ATWATER'S REPLY: "Having problems getting used to the body after "reentry," sometimes struggling to move body parts, is a fairly common complaint. But I've never heard of a situation quite like you described here where being back in your body was like having a heavy skeleton draped over the top of you. I can appreciate how odd that must have felt.

"What you hear the most often is experiencers saying that they find their bodies most uncomfortable afterwards, that they are heavy, slow-moving, and cumbersome. Remember, when you were on the "other side" of death, your body was spirit-like, perhaps gaseous or filmy or a mere speck of light. Returning to the physical and having to reinhabit what you left can be a jolt, a most uncomfortable one. After my second near-death experience, for instance, I simply could not relate to my physical body as mine. I felt it surely must belong to someone else as I had no memory of or interest in whoever might have lived there before or how it functioned. It took me months of concerted effort to realize and accept that I was no longer "over there" and that this "thing" I was wearing really was mine and I'd better get used to it. I talk about what I went through with this issue in the book Future Memory (Chapter 11).

"I truly feel near-death experiencers are more challenged in this regard than are those who have what are called out-of-body experiences. Yes, out-of-body experiences are a frequent component to near-death states; yet the phenomenon of near-death itself is much more intense and involved than the other and has far-reaching physiological and psychological aftereffects. Out-of-body experiences as an isolated event do not compare. Some may argue with me on this point, still, I used to frequently take trips without my body when younger (we called it astral traveling then) and taught the skill to hundreds of others for years. My experiences and those of others were indeed intense and fully involved. It is from this background that I am able to make the statement I just did.

"Getting used to your body again after a near-death experience can be not only challenging but difficult. That is why it is so important for significant others and for health-care givers to touch an individual whom they suspect is having one, and with their fingers gently trace that person's body as you speak to him or her. This mode of touching helps to reacquaint the experiencer with his or her body. An important first step in the integration process. -- PMH

QUESTION 2: "I have read a lot of information about NDEs and the afterlife on your website and other good sites such as But there is one important issue I have not been able to find information about anywhere: the effect of mental illness on what happens to people when they die.

"It is commonly said that the type of NDE is often the result of the person's state of mind. For example: a person with a lot of negative emotions might have a hellish NDE. Does this mean that the mentally ill, such as people with chronic depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc., are more likely to have an unpleasant experience, either in NDEs or after death? Have you done any research about this question, or do you know if this has been studied by someone else and where I can find information about it?

"How much of a person's specific personality traits continue beyond death? For example: if a person has had depression since childhood, which is beyond their control and runs in the family, let's say, does that person continue to feel depressed in the afterlife; or is the problem cured when they die like the way a blind person regains their sight? If it is true that mental illness causes a bad afterlife experience, then why would any soul ever agree to incarnate as a person with genetic or environmental predispositions to become mentally ill? Also, what about people who were not mentally ill until they have a stroke or some brain damage, and that changes their personality against their will: Is it one's personality at the time of death that continues, or is it more important how a person lived their life and the good deeds they did? Could a person die and find out that they suddenly have a very different personality than they did on earth, because their personality traits were conditioned by the health or sickness of the brain, and the brain is now dead? Thanks for any information you can provide." -- Eric

P.M.H. ATWATER'S REPLY: "Eric, you're asking many questions that cannot really be answered. However, I can say the following. Some of those who are mentally ill do indeed have near-death experiences, and they seem clear and coherent about what happened to them, afterwards. In other words, their scenarios are not that different from those who exhibit a sound mind to begin with. Those whom I have had sessions with (extreme depression and schizophrenia), seemed very much improved afterward - as if their near-death experience had healing capabilities and helped them in significant ways (to think more clearly, be less emotional and frightened, less stressed, more fully comprehending their life and life's choices, be more responsible). One of my cases with a woman who had multiple personalities is recorded in my book The New Children and Near-Death Experiences (Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT 2003). The case of Frank Henniker would also fit in this category (pages 147-149 -- these pages are the same for the other case I just mentioned).

"What you noted as typical connecting a person's mental state with the type of scenario they had is not necessarily true, and I talk about this in all my books. The connection is not that straight-forward. I urge you to read the four-types of near-death experiences I discovered in my work, and what I found in the way of a psychological profile that seems to undergird them - identify at least to a point who has what. If you pursue this, you will note that it's not what the person "believes," but, rather, what has been deeply integrated within them, what has been suppressed or repressed, what is at the deepest core of being ... that is what they meet in death. Because we're talking here about the deeper issues of one's being, we are focusing then beyond, far beyond, what a person professes, their personality, what they think. Most people, for instance, have no clear notion of what they "really" believe, what's at the deeper core of their being. You have to be reflective and willing to instigate the inner journey, and do some real "house cleaning" deep within to know what's there. Our deeper nature does not show up in speech nor is it expressed in most people's belief systems.

"In talking about death itself and after death, there is a large body of material that addresses this. From this source, it is said that a person's basic traits follow him or her after death. Example: if you were an alcoholic before you died, you will still have that craving or addiction to alcohol after death - until you "wake up" and realize you can dissolve or release that addiction - you don't need to keep it. The idea of troubled souls still being troubled after death has a long history - explaining most hauntings and ghosts. If you read my book, We Live Forever: The Real Truth About Death (A.R.E. Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 2004), you will learn as I did about levels to the "Other Side." They are like a "layer cake" of various dimensions and levels where we go - none of these "heavens" and "hells" are an end-point. We can progress and go on. We are not confined or condemned to any level. We just think we are. Once we "wake up," our choices, what we learn, take us elsewhere.

"I don't know if any of this really answers your question, but, at least, it should give you pause and inspire you to do some more reading and/or expose yourself to other traditions of experiences." --

Many blessings,

P. M. H. Atwater, L.H.D.

ANNOUNCEMENT: "One of the most amazing presentations I witnessed at the big IANDS Near-Death Conference held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, this September, was the talk and video given by Wally Johnston about the case of Joanie Thurston. Why she is alive today only God knows. She is a living miracle. Although far from being in good health, she is still able to get around some and was able to participate via the video by introducing her story. Wally did the rest.

Lest you think that such a presentation was boring or the kind you've heard a "million" times before, let me assure you that because of the way it was handled, the car crash, the way Joanie was found by emergency crews, the blow-by-blow description of her rescue and surgeries, near-death episode, and aftermath, it is among the most fascinating, thrilling, and deeply moving I have seen. When it was over, I went up to Wally and literally begged him to make the presentation into a DVD, so that others could benefit from its message and from Joanie's story. Upon his return to Oregon he sold Joanie on the idea, and, now, both her book and the DVD are available.

I am happy to announce that "Possible Fatal (the book)l" and "And You Still Don't Get It!" (the DVD)" are available for $13.00 each (price includes shipping and handling). Send your check or money order to Acorn Endeavors, P. O. Box 301056, Portland, OR 97294; or order from ; e-mail .

Here's a brief promo from her DVD that was an outgrowth of the presentation Wally facilitated at the IANDS conference, entitled "Message and Meaning: Using the Near-Death Experience as a Tool for Living."

"At the age of three, Joanie Thurston experienced a terrifying ordeal. With nobody to listen to her feelings, she buried them in her own private cemetery. For 49 years she did the same with many other traumas until 4:10 a.m. on May 13, 1997, when she fell asleep at the wheel, hit a light pole and died. Her body was crushed, her heart was torn and had to be sewn. Then it stopped, but the doctor massaged it for 20 minutes until it started again. She was told to return and tell others of her experiences. This DVD explains the Message(s) and Meaning(s) Joanie acquired from her miraculous NDE and from the writing of her book."

Not only are Joanie's DVD and book unusual and of special interest to the general public, I highly recommend them for anyone in the medical community, rescue squads, school teachers and professors, and for churches. The way the material is presented is unique!" -- PMH