[stextbox id=”info”]This is part of my series about my own ghostly encounters. I invite you to share your own stories as a guest blogger or in comments![/stextbox]
The timbre of my ghost stories change after age 20. For the most part, once I got myself screened for schizophrenia in my early twenties, I began to deal with my encounters differently. I have in the past done myself a bit of a disservice by telling non-believers that I am reacting to a “hallucination.” I figured that most people would realize that I was sugar-coating what to me is an objective experience to a person who finds things outside of a very set paradigm upsetting. I forget how literal-minded these individuals can at times be. Sometimes, also, in strange light or when I’m distracted my brain will parse an object strangely – I’ll mistake a garbage can lid for cat, etc. Sometimes, however, it’s a spirit emulating something innocuous. Fans of Valerie Worth will know about a poem she wrote about this particular experience. I often explain these things as “hallucinations” when I’m dealing with mixed company (by which I mean magic minded and/or magic opposed.) I have also used the term to describe these odd parsing experiences, even though they also are not. And no, I don’t have a brain tumor, either.
My only insanity according to the professionals I see when I can afford to is the crazy necessary to participate in North American consensual reality – i.e. the illogical things we do just because it’s our culture. As a sane person, I’m open about getting therapy from time to time to help myself deal with my very normal, sane reactions to really crappy stuff that happens when surrounded by people that don’t tend to their inner lives very well. Mental health is physical health, and stuff takes place along a spectrum – if you have a cold all the time, there’s a problem, but an off day here or there happens to absolutely everyone.
When I see something moving against the shadows or a pull of TV static or a full-grown cowboy that no one else around me does, it’s not a hallucination – the retinal activity in my eyes when I see a ghost is completely different from when a person hallucinates. I really think what happens with me isn’t psychic, it’s physical, the same peculiar environmental attention that lets me find Waldo or the deer that always hide in the woods. Now if only I could get it to work on finding typos…
Also, I can’t hear ghosts directly. I’m ghost-deaf. I get impressions, stories not from my own repertoire, but I couldn’t pin down a voice. Most schizophrenics have auditory hallucination first, and it’s a definite sound. While I can get stories and so on, there’s no physical sound going on, and often I just ignore what I might “hear” in my mind because I can’t distinguish what’s the other entity and what’s me sufficiently to count it as objective experience. Also, the dead can lie. Unbelievable sob stories, you can take them with you.
Also, ghosts don’t behave like hallucinations do, from what I’ve read about actual hallucinations. Hallucinations and auditory hallucination voices generally make little sense, have no narrative, or comment on what you’re doing – ghosts make as much sense as they can given they’re the disembodied dead, always have a coherent narrative that has nothing to do with me, and ghosts are as one might expect, quite absorbed with themselves and their stories. Rarely have I had a ghost have a comment on what I’m saying unless of course it’s on the unhappy end of a banishing effort. And as I’m technically deaf to that level or dimension, it’s not like I could make out their opinion anyway.
Also, while I’ve never ever encountered this mythical ectoplasm of the 19th century spiritualists and related con-artists, I do get a physical sense. I can touch ghosts. One part of the room will seem to have a big ball of TV static moving around, and I can walk up, put my hand on the static, and feel movement beneath my hand. While feeling up ghosts is just as rude as feeling up living people, if it’s in my home – where ghosts are banned unless I specifically invite them – I consider it fair game. Also, I committed this faux pas many times, so I’m putting it out there: ask before you touch.
The discussion about the line between psychism and schizophrenia has gone on for centuries, going back to Joan of Arc. Yet within the Pagan community it’s taboo, and we need to get past that. Now that medicine has started finding more about the chemistry of mental illness on a microbe level, the line is becoming a lot clearer.
This of course does nothing to account for making bad decisions, but it’s nice to have science sort out the difference between a treatable illness and an undocumentable condition.