How Ghosts Made Me Brave
A look back at how my paranormal pals helped me quash anxiety.
Closing my eyes, taking deep breaths and concentrating incredibly hard I “called” my ghost friends to be by my side. Visualising a parting in the clouds and a beam of light, they materialised whenever I needed them. I’d tell them my secrets, ask for advice or just hang out. I was somewhere between the ages of eight and 10 and my parents were worried about me.
One moment during this time sticks in my memory. My mum was innocently making her way to sit next to me on a beanbag. I gasped and shouted “No! My kitten’s sitting there!”. She frowned at the empty space and took it as a cue to ask me if everything was OK and were the arguments taking place between my brother and them worrying me? After saying “no” and walking away, ghost kitten in tow, I felt a wash of shame and embarrassment come over me.
I think even then I knew that the tortoiseshell kitten I saw so clearly in my mind wasn’t really a ghost I’d called from ‘above’, but an imaginary pet I could nurture. Suffice to say my living pet cats, who I could have just as easily nurtured, sniffed and walked away wounded.
Imaginary friends or pets, I’ve since learnt, are very common.
A 2004 study suggests that by the age of seven, 37% of kids create imaginary friends of all shapes, sizes and species. The fact that mine were ghosts hinted at mine and my friends’ brief fascination with ouija boards and the paranormal.
I had a fear lingering in the back of my mind about death, you see. The thought that when we die — poof, the lights go out and that’s it — was too much for my tender mind to grapple. I wasn’t buying the idea of heaven, hell and some bearded white guy calling the shots either. I wanted to believe in something, anything that wasn’t… darkness. So ghosts seemed like a logical compromise.
I think I also liked the idea of calling familiar faces. Calling my grandad for example when I wanted to remember what it was like sitting on his lap as we reclined in his chair taking a nap together was a comfort.
So after playing with ouija boards so much our teachers had to call an assembly (oops) a couple of friends and I decided we didn’t need ouija boards to make contact. If we just thought hard enough we could call our ghost friends instantly. Some, as I mentioned, were familiar, others were new faces, and there were a lot of animals. I could have opened a ghost zoo.
Having them by my side helped me push the fear I had around death to the depths of my subconscious. How could death be nothing but darkness if they were here to tell me otherwise? They eased the constant headaches I got and made me feel… special.
I certainly wasn’t special in any other way.
I wasn’t a popular child or one that excelled academically. But having this secret, having these ghostly companions by my side gave me power.
When I researched imaginary friends, I was heartened to learn that kids who conjure up pals like this aren’t ‘troubled’ or ‘lonely’ as many parents understandably think. Studies show in fact that these children tend to have richer and fuller vocabularies, get along better with classmates and are more likely to grow up to be creative adults. Though of course, researchers also note that imaginary friends can be a source of comfort when a child is experiencing difficulties.
For me, I believe it was a mix of the two. I’ve always loved stories and had a vivid imagination so it’s not surprising I created imaginary friends. That same imagination now drives my writing career. Them being ghosts however, I believe stems from a deep seated need to believe death wasn’t the end. A need to quash anxiety.
These days I get by without ghosts by my side. The anxiety that was bubbling to the surface then has taken different forms over the years, but now my tools to tackle it are more practical than paranormal. Having said that, I do continue to believe in some sort of afterlife.
Whether I have dreams of loved ones long dead or suddenly catch their scent on the air, I like to think they visit from time to time. Reminding me perhaps to take life with both hands and without fear. Reminding me to be brave.
Read more about me and my work at Blue Jay of Happiness.