Monday, 5 March 2018

My Mental Breakdown in Cambodia

Dear Reader,

I have not written here in awhile, and there is a good reason for that!  

I had a severe mental breakdown in late January, and, as a result, I lost faith in my ability to communicate appropriately.  The most destructive part of my breakdown was in what I said to others while it was happening, and it is only gradually that I have felt a normal ability to be discriminating about my speech return to me.

I want to give those who don't know what happened to me a clearer picture, and to express feelings of gratitude to those who rescued me.

I will not go into details or name any characters in this story, other than giving some people who were there for me in my worst moments the thanks they deserve.

Here is my story.


I left for a two week vacation to Cambodia in mid-late January.  

By that time, a critical mass of stress had built within me.  At a conscious level, I acknowledged that my circumstances were out of my control and so had to be placed in God's hands.  I had been wounded in an area of my life where I had only recently learned to renew my faith in God.  I had thought that God was answering my prayers in this area, but this had all come crashing down on me.

I was praying and practicing good daily habits.  I was pursuing what was good to the very best of my ability.  However, there was an underlying conflict between my circumstances and my beliefs about God.  I would put it this way.   As of yet, I did not have the courage to acknowledge that my renewed faith was not in God himself, but in an idea of God that had just been proved false by my circumstances.  So, deep down, what I was trying to do was to wrestle down my dragons on behalf of this dying idea of God that I was holding onto. 

This is what I brought with me to Cambodia.


Before I arrived, my mind had already begun to race out of control.  Soon my mood also began swinging between the basement and the heavens.  This oscillation appeared to correspond to my thoughts, as well as physical symptoms I was experiencing.  Then I began seeing things that weren't there.  Eventually, my view of reality totally disintegrated, so that I had no idea what in my experience was a part of the objective world and what was in my head.

This continued for a week and a half.

During this time, I experienced at least one undeniable miracle, which is that I found a practical application to studying Metaphysics.  I think this training allowed me to hold my perceptions and interpretations of reality at arms length, and to continually test my delusions as I encountered new experiences and interacted with people around me.

For about a week, I had primarily theological interpretations of my experience.  For example (and yes, there were more), I thought God was revealing himself in an extraordinary way, or that I had passed through God's judgment and begun to enter a heavenly state.  As these drastic delusions were eroded, I continually distinguished between my particular theological interpretations of reality and the idea that somehow God was at work.

If I did not make this distinction, I think I would have lost my faith.  Either that, or remained in a state of deep delusion.


After about a week, people at MCC in South Korea and Cambodia realized that something had gone terribly wrong with me.  Despite my protests, the decision was made to send me home.  I was safely accompanied back to Canada.  

This happened at the end of January.

There are several people who deserve all the gratitude I can give in return for the help they gave me.  They are all significant reasons why I am doing as well as I am now.  These are Donna and Chris, my MCC representative in South Korea, Jacob and Annalisa, from MCC's office in Cambodia, Solmin, a friend from Korea, and especially Sovannara, a friend from Cambodia who used his training volunteering at Menno Home in Abbotsford to look after me during my breakdown.

Since I returned home, I have been looked after by Sophie, Wade, and Robyn from MCC.  I have also received encouragement from my friends Dante and Mina at Dandelion, as well as Dr. Insoo Kim, Dandelion's founder and leader, who, as he has just reminded me, continues to pray for me without forgetting, and looks forward to my return.

Finally, I would like to express my regret and embarrassment at how I spoke to many people during my breakdown.  I have thought about how uncomfortable and disturbing a lot of this speech was to many of you.  The tone of superiority with which such ridiculous or horrible things were said only made things worse.  I have no idea how to move past interactions like that.  Please know I regret my words and that I apologize for the damage that they did.


I am writing this from my home in Canada.  I have been wrestling with all the emotions that go along with an experience like this.  I have received encouragement and support from MCC, my church, my friends, my family, and my community back in South Korea.

Please pray for me, as a decision about whether I am fit enough to return to the Dandelion community will be made very soon.




Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest, the peace which is not of this world is hidden.

In Adam's name I say to you, "Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected.

Henri J.M. Nouwen

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