The scariest courses you can study at university | Student

For my Soulbank readers, I am pleased to report the creation of my new research and investigation project, the “International Society for Paranormal Research”, or the ISPR. Soulbank will continue to be the official blog site for this society, and I will soon start up the social media machine.

The ISPR was born out of a deep, existential crisis. Allow me to elaborate. As many of you know, I was very active in the Southern California paranormal ‘scene’, for lack of a better word, that used to meet fairly regularly on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. There were a great number of “ghost hunting” groups at the time (2008 to 2013 or so), and the popularity of the paranormal shows on television was at an all-time high. It was during this time that I started the Paranormal Housewives (still ongoing–check out paranormalhousewives.com and our FB page), an all-female group of investigators with a very diverse background, brought together by a common interest in all things mysterious and unexplained. We helped families with hauntings, we investigated countless sites of historical and paranormal interest, and we landed on television more than once. We appeared on the Ricky Lake show (https://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/the-ricki-lake-show/episode-38-season-1/a-ricki-halloween/381207/), Ghost Adventures before we formed the group (https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/ghost-adventures/episodes/linda-vista-hospital), we recorded a sizzle reel for our own reality show and were “shopped” to multiple networks, we gave countless interviews, appeared on the local news, landed an article in the Los Angeles Times (https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-cpt-1028-paranormal-20111027-story.html) and other newspapers, and so on and so forth. In other words, we were almost famous.

It was the “almost” that was our near undoing. High hopes for a reality show were dashed. The requests for interviews and television appearances faded, along with the popularity of the entire genre of the paranormal. Teams dissolved all around the state. We stopped meeting at the Queen Mary. With the pandemic, it no longer made sense to get together in enclosed spaces and huddle together seeking spirits. There were other issues, as well: teams are hard to maintain. Establishing common goals and guidelines was difficult; expectations, hopes, and dreams were not always easy to reconcile. And then, of course, there was the thorny issue of the “evidence”. It wasn’t clear that we had convinced anyone about the existence of the afterlife, in spite of the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours we spent reviewing our audio for EVP. We sifted through video, audio, photographs, and documented our impressions and experiences as we all discovered newly acquired clairvoyant and psychic skills. I wrote hundreds of pages about our experiences, presented our data, and waited for the public to be as excited as we were. That rarely, if ever, happened. I used to post our best EVP begging for public commentary, and nobody listened or commented. That used to keep me up at night. My disappointment convinced me to give up. However . . .

Paranormal research is a passion. You don’t engage in it to convince skeptics, to be on television, to make a ton of money, to find fame online, or to rub elbows with the VIP of the paranormal community; but I am proud of what the Paranormal Housewives accomplished, and it was often thrilling and exciting, especially because it seemed that the general public was truly fascinated by what we did. It wasn’t the public that lost interest; the media did. I’m not sure we knew how to recover from that. The truth is, paranormal research of any kind–whether the classic “ghost hunting” version, the traditional seance and medium modality, or the intellectual investigations of the Society for Psychical Research, is often work done alone, without accolades, without fame, without media interest. What I finally understood is this: that is just fine. I don’t care if the general public doesn’t review my ‘data’, or whether or not anyone in the entertainment industry finds my work interesting enough to create a show around. I don’t mind that most of the time, an investigation might simply be three or four people with a shared need to explore the non-material worlds that surround us.

What do I care about? The community of people who find this work fascinating, compelling, and endlessly mysterious. I care about the investigative process, the sifting of data, the interpretation of audio, video, the information from our various devices, and our experiences. I care about our impressions, our feelings, our instincts, as much as I care about the hard evidence; it’s all part of creating a larger picture, a weaving together of different strands of information that leads to conclusions and to truths that are larger than anything the laboratory can prove. I care about research, about our forefathers and mothers who engaged in this work; I care about our history, our collective past, and how we wish to create the future as investigators. This is about the search; our common desire as paranormal researchers to go beyond the superficially obvious and to penetrate the veil. There are far more questions than we have answers for. This journey will take our entire lifetime, and perhaps far more than one.

Now I can introduce the International Society for Paranormal Research. Our mission statement:

The ISPR is an open organization dedicated to investigating and presenting evidence for all aspects of the “paranormal”, including, but not limited to: all manifestations of human consciousness in post-material form; alleged hauntings of homes and sites; poltergeist activity; the work of mediums, psychics, clairvoyants and empaths; anomalous experiences that include UFO activity or any other unusual or unprecedented event, sighting, or manifestation. We are:

  • Open to all amateur and professional investigators who wish to contribute their data and conclusions for review;
  • A forum for investigators and researchers to share their research and data, but also a site for meaningful conversations among investigators regarding methodology, personal experiences, concerns, and questions;
  • International in scope, since we are all interconnected more now than ever, and paranormal phenomena is not restricted to one, particular country;
  • Non profit, with no financial or professional interests that would interfere with our primary mission;
  • Not a ‘team’ of investigators, but may announce investigations and/or invite participants.

Are you interested in working with me on this project? I will announce here the social media sites and the eventual website for the ISPR. Let me know if you have evidence that you would like to share with us. I am excited to get back into the game and start the search again.

As always,

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

A New Philosophy of Life and Death - New Acropolis Library

This year started with death: Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people crashed in the hills of the Santa Monica mountains in January of 2020, instantly losing their lives. Then, of course, Covid-19 came along and rapidly escalated the death count for this year, reaching numbers that left us numb; numbers climbing faster now than ever before. I don’t want to list all the people who died this year; it would be impossible, with Covid deaths at nearly 2 million world-wide, and the list of Important People and Celebrities who passed is much longer than most years. And, of course, there was George Floyd; Breonna Taylor; and so many more that shone a light on the sheer brutality of racism in the U.S. Death was the most important character of the year, the player who brutally stole the show and revealed depressing truths about who is dispensable in this country: “essential workers”, who some Americans call “illegals”; black men and women; poor people; the mentally ill; the homeless; and the marginalized of all stripes.

Lest you think that it was just this year that brought death, in 2018 nearly 7500 people died every day in the United States. One person dies in this country every 12 seconds. This year, that might be one person every 10 seconds; or 8; I don’t know. Then this big, nasty fact hits us in the face: we are going to die, and we do not know when, and we do not know how. Obvious, right? Perhaps not so much for the United States, where we like to pretend that we will live forever as attractive, young, powerful individuals who will never experience any serious tragedy. Our cultural narrative around death indoctrinates us that death is a failure, a complete loss of humanity and individuality, and a blow to our collective need to be eternally productive and happy.

Not all deaths are equal. If you are famous, rich, and/or influential, your death is the ultimate catastrophe. If you are struggling to make ends meet, undocumented, or simply invisible to the dominant culture, your death is a blip on the screen. Nobody will notice, and nobody will care outside of your family circle. Death points out inequality like nothing else; in that sense, death paves the way for social transformation. Death serves its purpose in the culture: to shock us into action, to force us to see injustice and inequality where we could or did not before, and to motivate social behaviors designed to protect each other (masks, social distancing).

As odd as it may seem, on a “spiritual” level death and life are not opposites–one does not ‘end’ or negate the other. I learned this living in Granada. It was not just the weight of thousands of years of history and the influence of the Catholic religion, or the fact that you could walk into any church and see saint’s bones carefully placed in a reliquary, but it was a pervasive feeling that death was woven into the everyday experiences of the people and the cultures that they inherited. Death is viewed by Christians and Muslims as a transformative force that leads to another life; there is no permanence in death, and no reason to cower or run in fear from something that is already a part of us. As Julian Scott points out in his review of Thebes,

“Life and death, like all opposites, are simply two sides of the same coin. As J.A. Livraga says in his book Thebes, in reality there is “only One Life, which glides along on its two feet, life and death.” Sometimes life is manifest, visible. At other times it is unmanifest, invisible. A tangible image of this in Nature is the tree. During summer it is full of leaves, flowers and fruits; in winter, it is bare of all those attributes and appears to be dead; but we know from experience that it will come to life again in spring.

So with the human being: we are born, we grow and appear to die. But perhaps, following natural law, we do not really die. Perhaps our consciousness merely transfers to an inner plane, remains in that state for a ‘winter’ period and then returns to life in a new spring. This teaching of an abiding soul which incarnates and ‘dis-incarnates’ myriads of times in search of experience and perfection is virtually universal. It is not confined to Eastern philosophy, but was also held by Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus and many others in the West.” (https://library.acropolis.org/a-new-philosophy-of-life-and-death-2/)

I started this post with death as a wake-up call for societies in crisis, but I wish to conclude it with the thought that physical death leads to more life as a natural consequence of the belief–shared nearly universally–that the body is the vehicle of the soul, and as such, physical existence is not to be revered or held onto with terror and fear. As with everything in nature, life is a cycle that repeats, renews, and transforms–endlessly. As such, you will experience yourself as an eternal self in a myriad of ways. This is an affirmation that comes with scientific backing, but more than that, it comes with millennia of human experience and knowledge. Our Enlightenment heritage in the West is responsible for our cultural beliefs that the body is the sum of our existence, and we die completely in the absence of the material. However, this belief is unique in human history–in no other culture or time period did most people think this way. Materialism has not explained consciousness, so it cannot, therefore, render an opinion on our existence beyond the body.

More from Julian Scott:

“The foundation of this new philosophy would be that we give priority to spirit over matter and see the body as the vehicle of the soul. As a result, the purpose of life would not simply be to live as long as possible in the maximum state of comfort, but to make sure the soul has the experiences it needs in order to perfect itself.

There is a natural tendency in the mortal personality to avoid risk and stay within its comfort zone. The new philosophy of life would imply living life to the full – not in the sense of indulging all our desires, but in the sense of doing whatever it takes to express our soul-nature in this world, realizing our potential, contributing to society and living with joy. It implies a philosophy of risk, not foolhardiness, but going beyond our comfort zone in order to expand the limits of our being to the infinite.

A new philosophy of death would be based on a natural understanding of death as the portal to a different level of reality, which many ancient cultures called the ‘world of the gods’. Not to be afraid of that invisible and – to all accounts – ‘higher’  dimension, but also to accept it and look forward to it joyfully, in the same way that we look forward to tomorrow with optimism and serenity, even if we don’t know exactly what tomorrow will bring. But we do know that it will bring opportunities and experiences.”

Those who succumbed to Covid, to police brutality, or to tragic accidents, reveal something about ourselves, our culture, our beliefs and our priorities; we may not like what is exposed. But on an individual level, death did not end the glorious possibilities for Breonna, or George, or the many, many, people who gave up their lives to a virus. All of us soldier on and will wake from that slumber we call death prepared to face another day.

It is my understanding–and this is material for a different post–that the afterlife, reincarnation, and multiple dimensions of personal existence, happen at once. Awareness chooses an experience and sticks with it, but all other aspects of us are available to our understanding if we want to truly understand. Most of us don’t want to know how the clock works, preferring to simply know what time it is. Come with me if you want to explore more deeply.

In love, friendship, and health,

Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Why We Are Sad

Sacred sadness Photograph by Stephanie Johnson

If you love an addict or an alcoholic, you probably struggle with sadness. Maybe your sadness has spiraled into depression, or anxiety, or some combination of emotions that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. If so, I feel your pain. I have an alcoholic in my extended family, and she breaks my heart. She has broken my heart for so long, that I can’t remember what it feels like to be comfortable, happy, and at peace with her.

The people we grow up with–parents, grandparents, close family friends, aunts and uncles, whoever they might be–are tasked with this role: take care of the kids. We all expected this from the people who spent the most time with us, the ones who accepted the responsibility. When you grow up with an alcoholic or an addict, you learn the hard way that those expectations were simply not realistic. The Responsible Ones couldn’t be responsible. The Caretakers could not be caring. The Adults simply could not behave in the world as grown ups. So many of us ended up with big, angry, traumatized children raising us, or helping to raise us. What does that do to the adult child of the alcoholic?

If you’re in Al-Anon, then you’ve memorized the Laundry List. I won’t go over that here. Instead, I want to talk about a particular way I was affected. I was not the kid who acted out and got into trouble; I was the one who tried to be perfect; the high achiever, the ‘beyond-all-reproach’ child who thought that if she was very, very, good, then the Adults would not ignore her, get wasted and terrify her, insult her, or make her feel like deep down, she wasn’t as great as everyone thought she was. Not as smart, not as pretty, not as competent, not as good as she believed herself to be. Of course, children–even adult children–are vulnerable to those messages. Even though we KNOW that the source of all this negativity and criticism, all this neglect and contempt, is a traumatized, addicted adult who cannot manage their emotions, we still feel like we did something wrong, or, that there is something we can do right to change this situation, even if the ‘situation’ has been rolling on for decades.

The Perfect Child dies hard. We engage in twisted thinking on such a deep level that we don’t always see it. For example, the Good Kid decides that she will save everyone she can, as a way to compensate for the fact that nobody saved her. We start Community Service groups, attend churches (in my case, far too many), we donate, recycle, sponsor kids in Venezuela, adopt strays, and most of all, we try to save the alcoholics from themselves and each other. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with selfless acts meant to honestly help others; but, we sacrifice too much of our souls for others’ benefit; we fall prey to magical thinking. We think that our selfless acts, our constant vigilance, our dedication to buffering each other from pain and grief, will somehow save us from our creeping and constant depression. In fact, that depression is created by the belief that we can make the world safe for the suffering; that we can save ourselves from what already happened by falling on our sword for the addicts in our lives.

I used to imagine all the negative consequences of not washing out a bottle of ranch and placing it in the recycle bin. If I simply threw it away, I envisioned poisoning a pile of trash, killing birds, ruining the planet, and being directly responsible for global warming. It doesn’t make sense to write it down. If I didn’t call my addict every day, I saw her falling apart, destroyed by my lack of caring, creating havoc for others in the household, and ultimately falling to her death in an alcoholic stupor because I neglected her. I created rituals around “saving” people, plants, animals, you name it. It was my job to make sure everything was right with the world. It was up to me to keep my pumpkin vine from succumbing to the rabbits (I failed) and to make sure each and every student I worked with was happy, fulfilled, and following their dreams (I really failed). If someone was being hunted by ICE, it was up to me to do something to stop it (I failed).

I failed so often–even in the role as Parent, where I was going to be perfect to make up for my imperfect upbringing–that I spiraled into some pretty intense self loathing. But I learned something. Something important. I can’t save anyone. I can’t save plants, people, the planet, or the most vulnerable. By trying to save everyone and everything else, I was really trying to save myself, because I felt unloved, neglected, and invisible. It did not work, because to save yourself, you have to understand that you CANNOT SAVE OTHERS.

You can help others; you can offer your love, your support, your financial assistance, your spiritual guidance, your affection, and your friendship. But you cannot save anyone; not your parents; not your kids, not your partner; not anyone. And that’s OK. You’re not a bad person when you finally give up on that impossible quest. You can continue to help. THAT IS ENOUGH. And sometimes, your help is not wanted. That is OK. Sometimes, your help will be rejected. That is OK. Keep trying, but don’t think you can save the world.

Jesus came to save the world, and guess what? He left us with the instruction to “work out your own salvation”. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12). I’m not a preacher nor a Jesus freak, but hey, if the Man himself tells us to work out our own salvation, then perhaps we should listen.

Adult children of alcoholics and addicts believe that if we could simply change the nature of evil, eradicate the pain and suffering of others, then we will stop hurting so much. We hurt as deeply as we do because we overestimate our powers to change what we have no control over; the truth is, those that hurt us were not thinking about us. They were playing out their particular psycho drama, and we walked into their line of fire. We were innocent victims of damaged people. It was never about us; it was always about them. Knowing that, we can start the process of letting go of our unwitting abusers; they knew not what they were doing. Once we let them go, we can let go of our need to please, impress, and most of all, save. If our mistreatment was never about anything we said or did, then what happened to us was not our fault. They did not, could not, save us from their addiction. The trick is to understand that we were always already saved by a power far greater than our parents, our caretakers, our families. We were not taken care of those tasked with that job; but it’s over. We survived.

We can leave the heavy lifting to the Universe, and allow ourselves to simply live; to be happy; to love each other. Salvation exists; but it doesn’t hurt. Salvation is unchaining ourselves from guilt and sadness and having the courage to embrace all of reality with joy.

real-life halloween horrors

Dr Neil Dagnall said:  “This study shows there is an association between belief in the paranormal, lack of control and anxiety. We have observed that magical thinking is likely to occur when individuals believe they lack control over external events.

“One reason for this could be that paranormal beliefs represent an attempt to establish control and reduce anxiety – in this context, mental toughness shows a person has control and reduces anxiety and should be associated with lower levels of paranormal belief.” (https://www.mmu.ac.uk/hpsc/news-and-media/rke/story/?id=7559)

Anxiety has followed me for most of my life. As an adult, I have struggled with it mightily, trying everything from medication to therapy to alternative treatments in a futile attempt to banish it. My latest “tactic” is accepting it for what it is: a finely-tuned adaptive trait that sometimes creates psychic pain. My anxiety allows me to notice too much; that can include my own thoughts, which can quickly become distorted by fear. In the wild, I might have survived while the rest of my tribe perished. I don’t eat food that is slightly off, and I spare myself the convulsive illnesses that others fall prey to; I notice a snake in a hole before anyone else has any clue that it’s there; I know when someone is plotting something and might be a danger to me or someone close to me, and I protect myself. I can sense an angry dog before it appears around a corner; I know that a car is racing around a curve moments before it does. The list goes on and on.

In the realm of the paranormal, my acute sensitivities are both a blessing and a curse. The article quoted above is yet another abortive attempt to understand highly sensitive people with a marked tendency towards anxiety. This article and many others in the discipline of psychology attempt to understand me in ways that simply don’t take into account the reality that I experience. The idea that “paranormal beliefs represent an attempt to establish control and reduce anxiety” is exactly misguided.

Paranormal investigations are anxiety producing. They teach you that you have no control over the spirit world, or however you might with to designate the unseen realms where consciousness continues to communicate with those who seek its manifestations. My motivations were not to reduce my anxiety or to gain control, but to understand anomalous experiences that I had experienced my entire life. Perhaps wanting to understand is an attempt to gain control, but in that case, every time we wish to know something can be pathologized as a desire to gain mastery over chaos. To be human is to want to know, to seek to solve mysteries, to figure out reality to the extent that we can.

The first time I captured an EVP on my recorder at an abandoned psychiatric hospital, the last thing I felt was control or mastery over fear. I felt overwhelmed by the bizarre voice that sang childish tunes in a place where no children had been present for decades. Very quickly, it became clear to me the limits of my understanding. Reality became more warped, more unfathomable, and far more complex and multilayered than anything I had previously surmised. In fact, if anxiety is produced by change, the intrusion of the unknown, and a loss of control over and comprehension of reality, then what I had stumbled into was the perfect recipe for anxiety. It was not unusual for me to have panic attacks when the atmosphere thickened, and I sensed a presence–or many of them–without any real idea what or who it was.

Fear turns you into a hyper-attuned radar for frequencies outside of your normal range; you feel energies and sense changes in the environment on an instinctual level. It’s not a snake in a hole, but a sense that something or someone has entered your space. The animal brain kicks into high gear: What is it? Where is it? What does it want? And, most importantly, is it a threat to me or my tribe? Here’s the problem: you simply cannot answer those questions; and because the answers are elusive, your heart rate rises, your breathing becomes shallow, you feel a flood of adrenaline, and you have to force yourself to stay in that area, to not run. There is no control here, no mastery of anything; you want to know what is in your space, but you cannot, because all you can do is catch a voice, see a shadow, get a fleeting glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye or feel the touch of something on your lower back, only to see later that you have received three, distinct scratches. You are attacked without being able to discern the predator. It can be terrifying beyond measure.

This brings me to the “mental toughness” addressed in this study. If the premise is faulty, then so is this conclusion: namely, that the more toughness you develop, the more you will feel in control, the less anxious you will be, and *voila*, you will cease engaging in “magical thinking” and the paranormal. In addition to insulting–equating belief in the paranormal with “magical thinking”–this statement seems like magical thinking to me. We are not in control. Even a minimal incursion into the worlds that open up when you explore consciousness will show you that control is an illusion. I would love to believe that I control my destiny, my reality, my surroundings, my circumstances, and those around me–but that is a far greater delusion than “belief” in the paranormal.

Those who seriously study the paranormal are not doing so due to “belief” in an ideology or philosophy that supports such things as the existence of non-material aspects of reality, but rather we study these phenomena because we have, generally speaking, experiences that are non ordinary in nature and cannot be explained by our dominant epistemology: materialism. If you grow up perceiving aspects of the world that others do not perceive, you want to know what you are experiencing. You want to know if there are others like you. You learn that science can’t explain everything; you learn that psychology has its limits, its biases, and its ideologies that blind it to the breadth and depth of human experiences. Science turns people like me with extraordinary sensitivities into studies in self-delusion and pathology. That does a tremendous disservice to intricate mysteries of the unknown. It’s gaslighting.

So. If I believed, however erroneously, that I am in control (of what?), I would stop all this anxiety-fueled investigation of the unknown. I would be a good materialist, a strong, mentally tough woman without all of the nonsense. Seems to me that our culture has such a good grasp of ultimate reality and everything that inhabits the multiverse that I do not need to explore anymore. I need to stop the search, or risk trivialization of my person. Sounds like ontological fascism, or an epistemology of the dominant culture.

If that is the trade off–feeling “out of control” and anxious when the world reveals itself as utterly strange sometimes–I will take it over a false sense of security and a belief that academia and materialism can save me from myself.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

This was one of my favorite photos. We were in the oldest church in Los Angeles, near Calle Olvera. Miguel’s face became a skull–I had never before and never since been able to reproduce this effect.
The PWH, around eight years ago. We were so young; so excited to be investigating!

We started our journey in June, 2011. We had so much fun. We went on so many investigations that I’ve lost count; we have hundreds, if not thousands, of EVP, all of them little snippets of what we believed were amazing voices from the beyond. We thought our recordings, our data, would change the world. We were going to prove life after death. It all seems so innocent now, something we did when we were young. I don’t feel young or innocent now. I don’t think we, or I, can change the world. I couldn’t even change anyone’s mind. My big paranormal quest fizzled out, and the ‘real’ world beat me down. But perhaps the other ladies found inspiration elsewhere–I hope so. I really don’t know. We are still together, but it’s 2020, so we are also apart.

But it wasn’t simply that our dreams of making a significant and lasting impact didn’t go as planned; through our research, our blogs, and our interviews and media appearances, we discovered some hard truths. People cared more about entertainment than education; most people had already made up their minds regarding what they are willing to accept as evidence, and that is based on their preconceived notions of reality, something that we could not change. I found that the spirit world wasn’t ‘fun’ when your back was scratched, your beliefs shattered, your emotions unleashed and your fear spiked to unmanageable levels. That was the strangest realization for me: our experiences were exciting and addicting when we were not convinced that what we were seeking existed. As soon as it became abundantly clear that consciousness could manifest itself in myriad ways, the fun vanished. What we were looking for was real; and I realized that the more I sought to understand spirit, the less sense I could make of it all.

Marsha and Kimberly, concentrating on something from the beyond

I didn’t believe in demons, and then I walked straight into a house where the owner was possessed; I watched my mind struggle to retain control of logic and critical thinking in the face of overwhelming evidence of the presence of evil. Paranormal investigations affected all of us in different ways; but I think it’s safe to say that as a group, we hit a wall with the spirit world. I became overwhelmed by it all the more that I connected with something that I didn’t understand; Marsha pushed herself further into meditation and personal experiences; Erin just wanted to enjoy herself like we used to, but she was surrounded by the rest of us who were struggling in different ways. Jennifer found herself unable to emotionally connect the way she used to; and Kimberly wanted the data to be scientific and unassailable, and wasn’t finding our data convincing.

Rancho Camulos . . .

We drifted. Our searches led us in different directions. I had started out wanting to be scientific in my approach, and I ended up as something of a medium; I didn’t expect that, and my new-found enthusiasm for impressions and visions embarrassed most of our team. It seemed that we were torn apart by our own success at finding what we were looking for, or by not finding what we wanted or expected. I think we all had some expectation about how our explorations would go and what we would find–and after years of going deep into abandoned buildings, we ended up deep in our own psyches, realizing that we were just as engaged in self exploration as we were spirit seeking. And maybe the ladies won’t agree with that . . . I don’t mean to speak for us all.

Kimberly and Jennifer

My spiritual quest became personal, and I separated myself from the whole concept of communal ‘ghost hunting’. I dove deeply into reincarnation, mediumship, alterations in consciousness, intense meditations, and spiritual awakenings that left me humbled and overwhelmed. During that process, I lost the team. We were, we are, friends; we’ve been through too much as a team to lose that connection completely. Of course, this terrible year hasn’t helped at all; it’s simply reinforced our separation, our isolation. But beyond the horrors of 2020, there is this sense of loss that I feel; a loss that centers around having a common purpose with a group of people who, in the beginning, just wanted to contact the dead. Writing that, I wonder why we wanted to do that in the first place . . .

We were all very different people from the beginning. Connecting with spirit, or consciousness without material form, or ghosts, shadow people, entities without bodies, or whatever the hell is out there that communicated with us, was our common passion. We all knew that non-material beings existed, and we wanted them to communicate with us. Perhaps we all feared death on some level; we all had dealt with serious illnesses and knew that life was fragile, at least material life. We wanted some consolation, perhaps, some evidence that all would not be lost after our deaths. We wanted, maybe, to feel hope that we would have more than just this one opportunity at existence. We also wanted to understand our anomalous experiences, our ghost contacts, our memories of other lives, all the weird phenomena that followed us all for most of our lives.

Me, scared.

Our differences, however, became more marked over time. We formed alliances with each other that shifted and caused pain, even if we didn’t intend for that to happen. We would get annoyed with each other’s eccentricities or newfound spiritual passions that seemed to have little to do with our original goals. Or, we would simply gossip about each other or feel justified in striking out on our own, because we couldn’t agree on what to do next, or how to do it, or even what we were looking for. There were political divisions, emotional divisions, and the sense that we had changed.

Marsha, Erin, and Jennifer

I still struggle with this change. I know that I was part of the problem–I delved so deeply into my research and my spiritual experiences that I no longer cared to ask questions to invisible entities in abandoned buildings. I was tired of ‘them’, whoever they were, doing nothing but leaving one-word responses on my recorder, giving me migraines, making me sick, and never, never, never, identifying themselves. It felt like a game that something was playing with all of us, and that game did not go anywhere. I didn’t know what else to ask, what else to do, because mostly, I didn’t know what I wanted to discover. What closure was I seeking? Perhaps, I should have simply loved my parasisters without taking it all so seriously. Perhaps, the spirits I should have sought were in us.

What’s next? What can happen now, or after this miserable year has dragged itself to the grave? What should happen now? Is there any reasonable way to go back to old-fashioned investigating? I wonder if there is any way to return to the old days, knowing that it leads nowhere, really, in terms of spiritual discovery. Or perhaps I am wrong; it’s possible that something extraordinary could still happen, even though I no longer need any proof of life after death. I don’t think any of us have any doubt about that any more. I don’t know if I am looking for anything anymore; or, maybe, I’m just afraid of what IS out there.

That’s probably the most honest answer. I am afraid of the energies that linger in places they shouldn’t be. I will never understand what is out there; never. It’s hubris to think that any of us will ‘figure it out’. We can’t; we won’t. Any attempt to further investigate fragments of disembodied consciousness can only lead back to ourselves and our interpretations of reality. That’s the ‘paranormal’ game: to reveal you to yourself, and to divide you from those who don’t agree with your version of paranormality.

And that leaves you very much alone with your experiences and your theories. It concerns me that a team could be driven apart by the very forces that we once sought to ‘understand’ and explain. And yes, of course, there were more issues that divided us than the paranormal. The realities of this world and our individual lives and families pushed us apart. During this year of total trauma and division, we are further apart than ever. I don’t want this, really. I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts and emotions and ideas. I used to share those things. And now, I don’t.

Erin in slow shutter speed

Ultimately, I hope that we find our way again, even if that journey back to each other looks different now than it used to. Maybe, it’s not about the object of our search; perhaps that doesn’t matter so much. Maybe, it’s about a group of people with little in common, that probably would never have been friends outside of our common interest in the paranormal, finding inspiration in a common passion that involves exploring dark and disturbing places filled with mystery. Did we REALLY want to find all the answers, or was the real joy in the search itself? Of course, it was about looking and not finding. Once you answer all your questions, is there anything to do after that? The fun we had was running around places we weren’t supposed to be attempting to accomplish the impossible. It was never about proving anything to anyone, or landing a big show on SyFy. We lost our way, like so many other groups did; but I think we can find it again by giving up the need to be right and the pretense of proving something we already know: we are eternal beings that will have many forms in the future–but the Paranormal Housewives only have this life. We shouldn’t let that go.

Sunset in Idy

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Spiritual Crisis - Pilgrimage in Glastonbury
It’s gonna hurt

It’s November 7th, 2020. For many of us, it’s a new day; a new President promises a return to sanity and allows us the audacity of hope. For many, many others, the loss of Trump (and no, this is not a ‘political’ post, so please don’t leave) is a devastating portent of chaos and uncertainty, a signal that the old world of white privilege, law and order, and traditional values is waning. For both world views, there is a spiritual crisis either to recover from or to enter into.

What, exactly, is a spiritual crisis or emergency? For me, it went like this: I lost faith first in institutions during the Great Recession. We lost our house to a bank that no longer exists, with a loan that is now illegal. We trusted banks and representatives of financial institutions to make sure we would be OK. In fact, those institutions were literally banking on our failure. After that, I lost faith in our country and in the concept that we all, fundamentally, wanted the same thing and shared the same, basic values. I learned that we did not; my progressive, academic background was alien to almost half of the country. My first inkling of what was coming happened in August, 2016. We were friends with our real estate agent, and I assumed that we occupied the same territory on human rights issues–I didn’t imagine for a second that our agent would wish to discuss his beliefs with us, and that it would leave me reeling, sick.

“If a gay person came into my cake shop and wanted two brides or grooms on the top, I would refuse to sell that cake to them. It’s my right. Those are not my values, and I have to right to refuse them service”. It felt like I had been hit in the stomach. When I recovered, I informed him that I have dear family members who are gay, and that I can’t imagine why he would tell me something so awful, so inhumane, so . . . regressive. But he was not finished. Knowing that I was a Spanish teacher, he wanted me to hear his views on immigration. “Illegals need to be sent home. Mexicans need to stay in Mexico”. At a certain point, I felt stunned into inaction and passivity. I should have terminated him as our agent, but the deal was done. We had signed the papers. He knew that we couldn’t fire him now.

Slowly but surely, family members and old friends started to parrot the same lines, or versions thereof. Every time, I would tremble in shock and outrage, refusing to believe what I was hearing. A student at my college–an older man, who had serious issues with my authority in the classroom–told me that I was hysterical over the election, and that I needed to seek professional help to “get over it”. People popped up in my life with hostile views; it was all fear-based, anger-fueled resentment or outright hatred they expressed, and I figured out that the world was either off its axis, or I had simply misunderstood and misread a vast number of people around me. The latter was, of course, the truth. I did not understand how deeply these views were hidden and unexpressed until someone came along to legitimize them.

I retreated. I did not fight. I became sick and afraid. Panic, anxiety and depression weighed me down. In 2017, God stepped in, or the Universe, or Cosmic Consciousness, or whatever name you wish to give to the force that drives existence, to the Mystery. After a series of traumas at work, a death in the family, and increasing tension everywhere around me, I came home one day and felt very strange. I tried to go to church, I tried to follow my routine, but something was happening to me that I could not understand. I had to pull over to the side of the road because memories were flooding my mind and pushing at my psyche. These memories, however, were not from this lifetime. I relived my death, my final moments, as someone else. I looked in the mirror and saw someone else’s face. I remembered my life as a teenager in San Francisco who died after her pimp filled her veins with too much heroin. I felt that death; I experienced my death in real time on the side of the road. And yet, I was still here.

What followed was a year and a half of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical implosion. All my beliefs were tested; my pain, my traumas, my worst fears, were all exposed and revealed to all. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. My brain melted and reformed again and again. I was destroyed and rebuilt more times than I could count. I was brought so low that I considered driving off a cliff or stabbing myself with a kitchen knife. I felt ecstasy at times so overwhelming that I thought I might dissolve into the Light. It was so intense that I feared for my sanity, my very existence.

I survived, clearly. I learned that the world is going to hurt you, beyond what you can imagine, but that this world is only one of an infinite number; that this life is but one in an infinite series. You will always come back to a new challenge; always. We must keep in perspective the outrages and horrors of experience, because we have to learn to endure. We have to learn to help others endure, as well. Even if the person you reach out to believes that immigrants are dangerous or that our cities will implode because “they” (people of color, almost always) are violent and terrifying, we still have to try to bridge the enormous gaps that keep us tied up in our small worlds of fear. In the end, so much of what has driven us is simply fear. We believe that we will be destroyed by forces beyond our control. Historically marginalized people–including women–have excellent reasons for believing that a fearful, White, traditionalist society will seek their repression, at best, and their annihilation, at worst.

And perhaps it’s OK to be really, really, angry about that and decide that reconciliation is not possible nor desirable. I understand the calls to revolution; I do. However, I also understand that we have to learn how to manage the reality of human emotion and how it drives us to irrational acts and violent displays of anger and fear. I would not tell anyone what to do now, nor how to react, nor especially how to feel.

All I can tell you is this: You will be back again and again to confront these forces that drive human behavior. Whatever world you come back into, there is suffering, outrage, horror, and fear. But, there is also love, hope, redemption and grace. Far be it from me to tell you why we are here, or why we will be here again. As I see it, it’s to continually engage with the human condition, to wage battle for good, even if what that looks like is not the same for everyone. What is truly good, what is honestly a move towards what you understand as God or a move away from that, will become clear by the results of your actions. Fear will trap you, keep you distant from the ones you love, sicken you, and hurt the world, no matter how right you know you are.

I am guilty of living my life in fear and desperation. It has tied my stomach in knots, hurt every muscle in my body, robbed me of sleep, sunk me into depression, and hurt those I loved and those who might have benefited from my presence in their lives.

This year, and next year, and all the years after that–until Kirsten is replaced with another version of herself–I vow to fight the fear and take action, even if people don’t understand it, don’t like it, or resist it. I have to live an authentic life, one that God has called me to live again and again by showing me that I cannot be destroyed. Since I cannot be destroyed, there is no reason for hiding, for cowering, for raging alone in my house at thousands of injustices. I will not apologize for who I am, what I believe, and what form my actions must take. The only promise I can make is to do no harm to others; as much as that is possible. I have to do something.

A word of advice: don’t try to stop the pain of a spiritual crisis. Let it burn, let it overwhelm, allow it to push you to the breaking point. Allow yourself to fall apart, to break, and to question everything you held dear. You will recover yourself–remember that your transformation is a function of your willingness to walk a dark path. For awhile. The Light is always there, even if you can’t see it sometimes.

I have to do something for the world beyond my own deconstruction. Maybe writing this is a beginning.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Chilling Photos of Abandoned Mental Asylums Across Italy | The ...
(from The Weather Channel)

The following story is from my book, True and Imagined Stories of the Paranormal: Can You Tell the Difference? Every now and then, I plan to upload to this site a selection of true and imagined stories of the paranormal, and the readers will decide whether or not the events described happened in reality or only in my creative imagination. By “true,” I mean that I have as faithfully as possible recreated events that actually happened to me or come from a reliable and vetted source. Stories that I created may have true elements or make reference to some true events, but are mostly fictional in nature. The purpose of the book is to show the reader what characterizes real experiences, versus the stereotypes and assumptions about what the paranormal is: false stories will be entertaining, yet misleading.

Here is the first story. Did this really happen? You tell me!

“We had entered the old State Hospital countless times before; sometimes, we trespassed. Other times, as my lawyer husband admonished me, it was blatant breaking and entering, a far more serious infraction. On this particular evening, a side door to one of the enormous wings was open. There was no sign telling us not to enter; there was no picking of locks; there was nothing to do but push the door open and feel that cool air envelop us with the peculiar odor of the old hospital: slightly antiseptic with undertones of dust, mold and animal feces. It was the smell that defined the place; should I live a 150 years, I would never forget that odd combination of old hospital and decay.

Marcy, Kathy and I were seasoned investigators at this point in our lives. We had dedicated the last 12 years to the dogged pursuit of ghosts, demons, shadow people, spirits of unknown provenance, and anything else that tapped on walls, knocked things over, or whispered strange words into our recorders. These hallways, nurses stations, common areas, patient rooms and storage areas were so familiar as to be like a second home of sorts, and yet, there was never a moment where I wasn’t aware of the presence of something, watching us, following our movements, aware of our wanderings and whispered conversations.

We ended up in a very dark hallway in the middle of a large unit. I was never sure which unit served what purpose. Some of them had multiple uses over the decades, and others had never strayed from their original function as giant warehouses for the insane, the disabled, the outcasts, the drug addicts, or even the unfortunate immigrant or divorcee whose husband had declared her neurotic. The units that had been abandoned when the hospital closed in 1997 were the most ‘atmospheric’, retaining a heaviness and despair from hundreds, if not thousands, of confused, unhappy, frightened patients, many of whom are still wandering the streets of the local communities. There were many deaths in those buildings. There was state sanctioned torture in the name of psychiatry. And yes, there were people happy to be there that were protected and well treated. It was a complex mixture of emotions that left its mark in the very walls of the units, a permanent recording of human trauma and fear that replays itself endlessly. I don’t think peace or happiness are trapped in homes or buildings; those emotions go with you to the next life.

In the middle of this dismally dark hallway, Marcy stops and sets up various devices. The devices record anomalies, strange words, and changes in EMF and temperature. This is to be expected, of course, in a place like this. As a group, however, we have grown weary of our typical questions (‘can you hear me?’ ‘What year is it’?) and requests (‘tap three times if you can see me’, ‘knock on the walls,’ ‘make a noise so that we know where you are’), so we decide that we are going to take a different approach. Marcy asks it the thing in the hallway would like to play a game. This always makes me nervous, because I rarely sense the presence of children, and she frequently does. Not only does this mean we are attuned to different energies, it implies for me that she is opening up her tender heart to a child spirit that, for me, is a dirty, crazy old man who feels an attraction to her that is not at all innocent. I am scared, and Marcy is excited. I ‘see’ this energy in the hallway as someone who is toying with us. Yes, he taps on the walls, and yes, he has made some indistinct noise that raises my blood pressure; but, I don’t think that this is cooperation or sincere interest. This is his opportunity to lure us into an unhealthy interaction that will make me sick later. “Let’s play hide and seek!” Marcy cries out into the black hallway; “I’m going to hide and you’re going to find me!” Or, “you’re going to hide, and I’m going to find you!” I wasn’t paying much attention to the specifics of the rules, because the game unnerved me.

So Marcy hides behind a wall near a nurses’ station. She counts to ten. All I am aware of is my nausea and my fear, because it feels more and more obvious to me that this entity, this energy, or whatever it is, will not play any game without exacting a price. Shortly after Marcy says “ten,” there is an astonishingly clear noise: it’s a shower curtain being pulled aside on a metal bar. I know that sound, because we had been in one of the old, turquoise bathrooms before we started to investigate. The bathtub–suspiciously clean after all these decades–had a metal bar around the top where the shower curtain hung from shower curtain roller rings. They looked like this:

The curtain itself was open when we first entered the bathroom. After we heard the distinctive noise of the shower curtain opening–which is the noise that the roller rings make when moving across a metal shower rod–we ran back to that bathroom in a state of total shock, only to notice that the shower curtain was now drawn around the bathtub. Someone had moved it. Someone was hiding from Marcy, just as she had requested.

After the initial excitement wore off, we of course wanted to replay the recording of the voice. We heard it, clear as day. And then, something happened that I find mysterious, a quite frequent phenomenon: when we attempted to clip and send the file with the sound, we could no longer clearly hear it. We assume that it’s about compressing the file and sending it to an email address that degrades the quality of the audio. However, there is something more at work here. Countless EVP (electronic voice phenomena) degrades over time even when you listen to the same clip on the same computer using the same software. A voice that the entire team heard clearly the first few times it is played begins a slow and inexorable transformation over time until doubt creeps in about its veracity or intelligibility, and even the best EVP can end up as mere question marks.

We exited the building and wandered around the overgrown courtyards, following the trails of decay and entropy. I had that feeling again that we had been manipulated or simply drained by something that was intelligent enough to play a game. I felt that he was an older man who was stuck in Camarillo for crimes of a sexual, deviant nature. He was not someone who could be rehabilitated or released. He was thrilled that three women were paying attention to him and affording him the opportunity to interact with us, and yet his intention was dark. What would he have done in this afterlife state, this life of a fragmented consciousness, this self expression as instinct and pure id? All he could do, I think, was to trick us and invade our awareness, knowing as he did that we wanted contact, any contact. Once he was in our minds, in our consciousness, he could play there.

Ghosts require energy and an audience that is eager to connect. No matter who they are, they can suck the life force right out of you, as if you were a living battery. I’m not sure that Marcy agreed with me regarding the identity of this entity, and Kathy liked to keep a critical distance from such inquiries and identifications, because once you formulate an image of who is responsible for noises and feelings, you have strayed into the territory of mediums and channelers, and Kathy is comfortable with neither. It is probably folly to attempt to identify the spirit that has entered your space, unless you have a strong, instinctual response to their energy. I have certain physical responses to children, to teenagers, to men and women, and especially to creepy sociopaths. I can sense that presence from a mile away in either the living or the dead.

The next day, I had a headache, extreme fatigue, and slight vertigo. I was just sick enough to know that I had run into someone from whom I would have run like mad, had I met him in the flesh. This observation always begs the question: why do we want contact with someone in spirit who we would avoid at all costs in the flesh? Of course, one often doesn’t know who you have come into contact with until it’s too late, after you’ve engaged him. It’s a little like carrying on an intimate conversation with someone in a dark room who can disguise their voice and speaks in riddles. It’s a dangerous practice, one fueled by endless curiosity and the thrill of the hunt.

The problem with that is that we–the ones who seek out such contact–are the ones who are captured in the end. We end up in cages of confusion and partial answers, speculations and strange emotions, wondering if someone we couldn’t see might have taken up residence in an abandoned and dark corner of our souls.”

Was this a story based on true events? Or is this a cleverly crafted ghost story designed to sound true? You be the judge.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

What does science say about 'paranormal' sleep experiences ...

Every now and then, I like to dust off my critical mind and find an article that–yet again!–seeks to describe all paranormal phenomena as a by product of brain functions, ‘stress’, or some other physical or psychological glitch in the system. The latest assault on the paranormal comes from this source, which you are welcome to read in its entirety should you feel inspired: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201507/why-some-people-see-ghosts-and-other-apparitions

Here is a quote that I find interesting yet dismaying: “A recent study by Kirsten Barnes and Nicholas Gibson (2013) explored the differences between individuals who have never had a paranormal experience and those who have. They confirmed that experiences of supernatural phenomena are most likely to occur in threatening or ambiguous environments, and they also found that those who had paranormal experiences scored higher on scales measuring empathy and a tendency to become deeply absorbed in one’s own subjective experience.”

One of the most common assumptions of scientists and psychologists when dealing with anomalous experiences is that the environment or the brain itself PRODUCES the paranormal experience. There are so many variations on this assumption: blind spots create the effect of seeing something out of the corner of your eye; variations in the electromagnetic field produce the feeling of a presence or being watched; variations in infrasound create feelings of doom or dread; sleep paralysis and the hypnagogic state bring our dreams into reality; or environmental contaminants make us hallucinate. The article under discussion here states that both stressful and boring environments create the necessary conditions for the brain to hallucinate ghosts. If you are a sensitive person, an empath, or simply prone to self analysis, your brain will supply you with visions. The problem with this hypothesis should be fairly clear, but allow me to break down my objections:

  1. Instead of assuming that conditions and brain states CREATE the paranormal experience, it is more likely that the proper CONDITIONS lead to the ability to perceive non-ordinary realities and presences. You can study the brains of meditators and mystics and exclaim that the changes you see in their brains have created their visions, or you can conclude that the changes in their brains are the result of sustained and focused connection with “God” or the world of spirit. The brain changes are the result of their spiritual practices, not the cause.
  2. The same can be said for people who enter trance states, ingest psychedelic substances, engage in intense religious rituals, or in any other way alter their consciousness with the express intent to contact the world of spirit. Yes, the brain changes in response to the substance, activity or intention of the participant in any kind of ritual, because the brain is accommodating and facilitating the connection, not creating it.
  3. This does not mean that you can’t genuinely hallucinate while under the influence of drugs, carbon monoxide, or some other physical agent. What’s the difference? In genuine cases of spiritual contact, there is logic, emotional impact, a sense of the divine, a coherent story, or the fulfillment of one’s deepest intentions. There is, in other words, a sense of the holy or sacred that accompanies one’s vision, a transcendence that serves to elevate the experience to another level of reality and often ends up changing the life of the person who has witnessed or sensed the presence. I have, unfortunately, endured an episode of carbon monoxide poisoning when I was a teenager in Spain–I woke up disoriented, confused, and seeing strange things. I knew immediately that this was not ‘paranormal’, but something that was sickening me in body and mind. I have also had multiple surgeries where I struggled through the effects of anesthesia and other drugs, and it was always clear that those effects were not at all supernatural due to their chaotic and irrational nature. There is simply no way to compare the effects of drugs and poison to a true, spiritual experience that leaves you in awe.
  4. And, finally, to reduce spiritual experiences to brain effects or environmental stresses completely ignores centuries of human experiences of the holy and the uncanny. If you reduce the power of religion to, for example, the stress Jesus felt while wandering through the desert, you have denied the most powerful aspect of humanity: our ability to connect to higher realities and transmit those messages to others.

Our brains serve as a sort of ‘reducing valve’ for an overwhelming amount of information that we cannot possibly process in its entirety. This quote from Aldous Huxley is quite famous in certain spiritual circles:

“Each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. […]

But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.” https://www.ianmack.com/aldous-huxley-dont-mistake-the-trickle-for-ultimate-reality/

And yes, Huxley wrote this after his experiments with mescaline; and yet, think about it: there is infinitely more information ‘out there’ than we are able to process. If some event, circumstance, drug, or stressor hampers the brain’s ability to filter out the greater reality, extra information can sneak past the gates and flood us with ‘paranormal’ experiences: messages from the gods or from God, spirit contact, or the ability to perceive what is normally blocked from view. How do we know what is ‘real’ and what is the result of a brain on overload? “By their fruits you shall know them”: this refers to false prophets, but it could easily refer to false messages or hallucinations. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit; likewise, true spiritual contact, ‘real’ paranormal experiences, are life changing and profound.

I have not mentioned the fact that documented and verifiable paranormal experiences are abundant and well researched. The Society for Psychical Research, for example, has published volumes of excellent evidence for the existence of ‘ghosts’, telepathy, near death experiences, mediumship, out of body experiences, and so much more. The SPR has been around since 1882 and included some of the most prominent and respected scientists of their time. Their work continues today. Gary Schwartz in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona has carried out fascinating experiments in afterlife communication. I could go on and on, but the point is: before one decides what is ‘science’ and what is not, you must do your research. There are centuries of evidence that spiritual energy is real and communicates with us on a regular basis. You don’t need to be an empath to receive these communications, but you do need to allow that such experiences are possible; if you block the full range of human consciousness with your materialism in the name of science, you lose the most profound aspect of our humanity: our connection to spirit.

The end of the article offers advice for the psychologist faced with the patient reporting paranormal contact:

“There are really only three possibilities:

  1. The event really happened, just as the person has reported.
  2. The person believes that the event has really happened, but it has not.
  3. The person is fabricating a story for some reason.”

I am not entirely sure how the psychologist would know that the event has not really happened, in the case of the second scenario. I would recommend option number 1, assuming that there is no serious mental illness present (although, some argue that schizophrenia, for example, is simply a case of a reducing valve that does not work well and allows too much information in without context or intention).

In the end, we simply cannot assume that we have access to the full display of reality that the Universe contains. Some of our brains are more plastic, more open, than others, for a multitude of reasons. Why not treat those people for whom the larger realities intrude as wise instead of crazy? Why not see what doors open for psychology and science when this extra information flows through freely, without judgment or skepticism? And, of course, why not educate yourselves in the rich history of the ‘paranormal’ and realize that the science is, actually, already settled?

—Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - HelpGuide.org

I thought I might share what I have to do to stay sane. Not to be a paragon of mental health, but to simply exist without running to the psychiatrist for medication (and I might still consider medication. I have no conflict with that for anyone that needs it).

I take 100 mg. of Theanine in the morning, along with various supplements for digestion and general nutrition. I must walk briskly for 40 minutes, twice a day. Every day. I cannot have caffeine after 1:00 in the afternoon. I take a nap for a least an hour; that is non-negotiable. I have a light dinner, walk some more, and watch non-violent television. I can’t watch stimulating programs or anything with upsetting content. I have to do stretching, yoga for stress, and meditate for at least 1/2 every, single day. In between all of those activities, I read books on mental health–lots and lots of them–underlining strategies for managing anxiety, stress, and depression. I follow the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) protocol as much as possible, as it works for me better than anything else (please consider reading up on it if you deal with mental health issues, or even if you don’t and simply want to be psychologically healthier). I take another 100 mg. of Theanine at night to help me sleep. If things are really rough, I ask my husband for a massage.

I generally wake up two hours after I fall asleep, and again around 3:00 or 4:00 am. I don’t get upset or angry that I can’t stay asleep; I get up and walk around, listen to the night birds, and return to bed when I start feeling sleepy. I almost never sleep through the night.

I am managing Generalized Anxiety Disorder, mild to moderate depression, and Panic Disorder. The panic attacks that come at night can kick of esophageal spasms so intense that they mimic a heart attack. If I didn’t know what they were, I would immediately go to the ER. I have had moments of derealization where the world seems unfamiliar and strange, a place I don’t recognize. My stress levels are considered by my doctors to be ‘severe’ and ‘extreme’. Spasms of the stomach and esophagus are the result of unusually advanced states of anxiety. It’s been almost two weeks since my last attack, and I am very grateful for that; but I work hard to keep those episodes at bay.

The news is filled with Covid horror stories, and well-meaning friends and family occasionally send me terrifying “true stories” about someone who experienced awful side effects from the virus, or someone who lost more than half of their family to the disease. The fear-based narrative has become like pornography–we know that it’s bad for us, that we shouldn’t look at it, but we are compelled to due to the intense reactions we feel in our body. Fear is a form of arousal, after all, just not a pleasant one.

Selling and promoting fear may strike some as profitable or beneficial for public health, but for people like me who suffer from crippling anxiety, it is an act of emotional violence. The “second pandemic” will be the mental health fallout of Covid-19, and at least some of that could have been prevented with a consistent, calm message to the public that someone was in charge. Fear-based reporting does not convince Covid deniers to change; the irresponsible people throwing parties and tossing about conspiracy theories will not read the heartbreaking and horrifying accounts of Covid chaos that the news uses to stoke panic. If they do, it won’t matter. They will not change their opinions or suddenly decide to wear a mask.

But people like me read these stories; people with an overdeveloped sense of danger and a big imagination for disaster. There are a lot of us out there, struggling in silence with our own morbid thoughts and gnawing fears. I remember my father telling me stories of brain eating amoebas and viruses that would make you bleed to death through every orifice. He collected the most horrifying stories he could find and used to tell my sister and me all about them, delighting in the fear and upset that he provoked. I don’t know why he told those stories; I suspect it was about feeling in control. He could create emotions in others and perhaps work through his own in a psychodrama that ended up fomenting in me a kind of permanent dread.

Don’t share anecdotes about the deadly unpredictability of Covid-19 with your friends, families or coworkers who struggle with anxiety, especially under the guise of ‘helping’ us understand the severity of the situation. You probably know already that we ‘get’ that, and–I suspect–sharing highly distressing narratives of medical horrors is not about educating or informing us, but about the power one feels when you receive a response; especially if that response confirms that your well-intended warning created such fear that it took an entire day to recover from it.

We watch scary movies because humans love to be terrified when they know that after two hours or so, everything will go back to normal and the ‘fight or flight’ instinct evaporates. But for many of us, the scary movie never ends. There is no reprieve after two hours, and we can’t turn off the awful stories. They run through our heads like an endless loop. We want to run, and there is nowhere to go. We want to hide, yet never find a safe place. We want to fight, but there is no visible enemy to defeat. Panic and anxiety that never end create health risks that nobody seems to appreciate; but I know that I am far likelier to die from incessant stress than from Covid-19. Let’s take care of each other in ways that extend beyond wearing a mask or refusing to socialize. Reach out in a compassionate way to someone who is suffering.

Thank you for listening. As always.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Dear Trump Supporter,

I asked psychologists to analyze Trump supporters. This is what I …

You are in my family. You are two of my friends. And, after the events of the last few months, it is time for us to part ways. If you can’t see the damage that your beliefs and world view have caused, if you can’t see how others suffer due directly to your biases, fears, and misplaced anger, then I have to let you go. For my sake, yes; but also for the country that we could be–one not founded on prejudice, suspicion, and rampant ego, but one that protects and promotes freedom, equality, human rights, and equal access to justice, education, and economic opportunity. Your culture seethes with barely repressed violence and righteous anger and thrives on demonizing the other.

Why are you the way you are? I agree with the Washington Post article that boils it down to this:

We like people who talk big.

We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren’t.

And we don’t like people who don’t look like us.


For my family and friends who still believe that Trump’s world view and approach to leadership is appealing and comfortable, and ‘right’, somehow, I say this: get used to the fact that lethal viruses like Covid-19 and racism are not simple, easy to solve problems. Trump can’t act his way out of these twin challenges to our country–to all countries, in greater or lesser degree. But I digress; nothing I say here will convince my family and friends who believe in Trump and his brand of conservatism. Nothing. I don’t ‘talk big’ enough to drown out Trump’s incessant blustering. I can’t offer any assurances that what threatens our lives and our collective, moral health can be solved quickly or easily. Most of all, I can’t get you all to agree that racism or sexism or violence against immigrants or any number of other human rights issues are important at all. In the best case scenario, you understand that these are important social and cultural issues, but you reject anything that seems like a complex or nuanced solution. Worst case scenario, you are simply protecting your privilege with all your might, and anything that threatens your comfort and security must be rejected, distanced, fought, ridiculed, or ignored.

I used to think that Trump’s narcissism was part of the problem that everyone could agree on; I mean, seriously, who can’t tell by now that this man is pathologically self involved? We know that he lies and distorts reality to suit him and his followers’ world views; we know that he is willing to do or say anything to maintain the ideologies of white supremacy and domination. My mistake was thinking that his supporters had a problem with white supremacy and pathological narcissism; on the contrary, many of them love Trump FOR THOSE VERY REASONS. When he bragged about sexual assault, I thought that was a problem for his fans; but no, they secretly (and not so secretly) LOVED the fact that he’s a “man’s man” who engages in “locker room talk” and knows how to grab pussy without getting into trouble. None of this was problematic. It made him even more desirable, because he gave permission to the abusers, the white supremacists, the conspiracy theorists, and haters of all stripes who were just waiting for their opportunity to express their hostilities and intimate prejudices. My families and friends who love Trump love his “big personality” because they are infatuated with the idea that he can say out loud what they only dare to think or whisper among themselves; now, they can display their most regressive and paranoid instincts and find support in the White House.

But when Trump supporters start posting photos of their feet on someone’s neck in a twisted reference to George Floyd’s death, or when they blame a 75-year-old man for “aggravating the police” and causing his own injuries, or when they mock and ridicule women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct or far worse, rape, or when they justify their xenophobia with rampant conspiracy theories about the “Chinese virus”, or simply when they deem offensive photos of kids holding signs that say “End Racism”, then it’s time for me to stop looking for common ground, to stop seeking consensus and cooperation, and to give up begging for some basic, human decency and compassion.

It’s time to protest now. It’s time to put an end to this. It’s time to give them the choice: evolve, or fade out along with your president’s chances of re-election in November. I’m tired; I’m done; you can either come to me now, or you can stay away and let us do the work of fixing what you have broken.

—Kirsten A. Thorne