10 July 2016

The Psychiatric Patient Who Was Visited By Ghosts

“Is it true, Dr. Stern, that itchy skin may be the result of stress?”

“Jack, I think it best that we focus on your belief that you are seeing and speaking with ghosts.”


“Okay but it’s not, as you call it, a belief, it's a fact. Look doctor, I know it sounds strange and I wouldn’t have believed such a thing possible as recently as last month, but I know with all certainty that I am talking to the ghosts of friends and relatives who have been dead for as long as a dozen years. It’s a fact. Not a belief.”

Jack was exasperated. He didn’t see the point in discussing his recent visitations if his psychiatrist doubted him, just as everyone else did.

For his part Dr. Stern was beginning to have serious doubts as to the sanity of his patient and was pondering, among other things, a change in medications.

Jack looked out the window. The view from the window was totally obscured by a massive tree. This was the first psychiatrist office Jack had been in -- and he’d been in many --  that had a window with any sort of view at all, if one considered the branches of a tree a view. Still Jack looked at the branches. He very much thought that he’d like to climb the tree. As a youth he was forever climbing trees and having a grand time doing it. If it was fun then, well why shouldn’t it be now, Jack wondered.

Dr. Stern noted that Jack’s attention was directed toward the window. The psychiatrist cursed himself for forgetting to draw the curtains before the session (it was his first of the day). It was hardly the type of mistake one would expect from a doctor with his many years experience. Dr. Stern had been treating patients for almost 30 years. In that time he’d had many different types of patients. Some had serious problems. Most were just dealing with anxiety or mild depression or a phobia. He’d lost one patient to a suicide and a few had been institutionalized for short times. The overwhelming majority, however, led normal lives and had benefitted from their time with Dr. Stern. Yet he’d never had a patient quite like Jack,  man who came in for treatment for panic attacks and depression and was now claiming to see and talk to ghosts. Ghosts that looked perfectly human.

“Who has ‘visited’ you since our last session, Jack?”

Jack heard the question as if far from away. He felt like he was in a dream hearing someone who was awake speak to him. The patient finally turned his gaze away from the tree and back to his doctor.

“My brother, Bob came yesterday. As big as life. He looked just like he did in his mid 20s when he really had the world by the tail. Bob was going places and doing things and was quite the cocksman. Yessiree those were Bob’s salad days. It wasn’t until his 30s that Bob really hit the skids. He looked fine when I saw him yesterday. Healthy and sharp too. Really articulate.”

“What was your conversation like?”

“Oh we just talked about life in general. You know the funny way things turn out and how plans never seem to pan out and how people change and you can never predict the future.”

“Did you or Bob do most of the talking?

“Oh it was even Steven. That’s usually the way it was when Bob and I talked before he died, expect towards the end when he wasn’t his old self and wasn’t much for talking. But like I said, Bob yesterday was in his prime.”

“Why do you suppose Bob made this appearance in your life?”

“Just to chat, I think. There was really nothing specific.”

“But surely someone coming from the afterlife to visit a living relative must have a purpose.” Dr. Stern realized that he was essentially humoring his patient but it was in the pursuit of a bigger truth.

“Yeah, I see your point.” Jack started to say more but couldn’t find the words or even the thought. He felt stuck. Like God had hit the pause button on him.

“Previously your father and two of your friends and a cousin have spoken to you. All deceased. Why now? Why are the dead talking to you, do you think?”

“Maybe because I’ve been having trouble. You know the things I’m seeing you for. Maybe they want to help in some way.” Jack was impressed. Dr. Stern had snapped him right out of his momentary frozen state and got him talking and thinking. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s it. It’s maybe like I’ve sent some distress vibe to heaven or wherever dead people reside and they’ve picked it up and have come to help.”

Dr. Stern could tell this was beginning to be one of those times when he helped a patient make a breakthrough. He just had to stick with it and guide the conversation. Fortunately this was a forte of his. The psychiatrist was a humble man with no ego to speak of but he took pride in the service he gave his patients. Jack was a particular challenge but he felt confident.

Jack had stopped talking. He looked into his lap trying to sort out his thoughts.

“Go on, Jack, continue. What’s on your mind?”

“I was just thinking….Why me? I mean there are a lot of people with problems and a lot of them are worse off than me. So how do I rate this special sort of service?”

“Well, what do you think? Maybe you deserve something special. Maybe life has been kind of hard for you these past few years, especially with the attacks and the depression. Aren’t you deserving of special attention?”

“I don’t buy it, doc. There are so many people worse off than me. I just don’t — ya know sometimes I think I’ve imagined the ghosts, I know that’s what you and a lot of other people think. I mean I realize that it all sounds so crazy. But they are as real as this chair I’m sitting in. We really are having conversations, I mean they’re talking to me. I know it.”

“Why do you suppose that sometimes you doubt your own experiences and think that perhaps you’ve imagined them?”


“I guess because I’m trying to force logic and the normal, conventional interpretation of reality into something so extraordinary. I’m doubting the miracle because our culture has real strictures about such things. You’re not supposed to see UFOs either. The weird thing is that believers in astrology are accepted. But if you say you’re seeing the ghosts of friends and relatives it’s a real no-no. People don’t wanna hear about it. Oh some do but they’re the minority and tend to be people on the fringe of society like drug users or ex hippies or the psychotic. I actually kind of wish I hadn’t seen and talked to these ghosts. I’m carrying around a truth that is well outside the norm and like I said people don’t wanna hear about. It’s just that simple. I can talk to you about it but even you must have doubts about my story.” Jack slumped in his chair, sighed and took a sip of water. He looked away hoping that Dr. Stern would soon fill the silence. He didn’t.

Dr. Stern knew when to interject a question or a comment. It was an instinct he’d developed after decades of psychiatry. This was not a time to say anything. His patient had in effect challenged him by stating a belief that the doctor did not believe his accounts of speaking to the deceased. The fact was that Dr. Stern had formed no opinion on the matter as a doctor. He wanted to see how it all played out with Jack. It was important, he knew, to let his patient talk about it as much as possible.

Jack hated the silences in therapy. They made him uncomfortable and felt like a waste of time. He always knew that it was on him to continue talking. That was always the message of the silences.

Finally, “I suppose I shouldn’t worry about what others think of my visitors. I mean why the hell should I care? They’re just talking to me anyway and they only ever come around when I’m alone. And it could be that no one else could hear or see them if they were around. Oh you know this is interesting my father visited me on the weekend. He actually told me that — and this is typical dad — he appreciated how I had mourned his death. It was, he said, an appropriate level and amount of time to grieve. Then he said I ought to stop eating so many potato chips, which I thought was kind of weird. But we mostly talked about when I played baseball as a kid and how he used to be so proud of me and the way I hustled and was such a good teammate. It was nice, actually.”

“Did you say anything to him?”

“Not a lot. I didn’t say anything about the grieving stuff, that was too weird. I did defend my chip consumption. I mean, come on, I don’t eat that much. I also told him how much I appreciated him making time to come to all my ball games and encouraging me. We talked a little about our dog Jacey who we had for like 10 years. Then he was gone.”

“It sounds like you had a nice chat. A little reminiscing and some fatherly advice, however unwanted. How did you feel after?”

“Anytime a dead person visits me I’m a little freaked out for awhile. But then I accept the fact of it and go over the conversation we had and then move on with my day. The thing is though that I don't really feel so comforted by their visits. It's just too weird, too out there. I'm already dealing with panic and depression, this seems to be just piling it on. If these ghosts have come to help me I don't know that it's working."

"But earlier you said this was, I believe the words were, 'a special service' and that they were answering a distress signal." Dr. Stern was concerned that Jack was contradicting himself.

"Yeah I see what you mean. Well I guess the thing is that they mean well and I should take heart from their visits. I do enjoy it and I don't enjoy it. It's weird. If it keeps going on maybe I'll just learn to be happy about it."

"But remember you've had no panic attacks since they started visiting."

"But isn't that just the meds working?"

"Perhaps. Is the depression any less severe?"

"Nah, it's pretty much the same. Should we change or up my meds?"

"Let's give them more time to work. We'll see in a week or two."

"Okay, I guess everything just takes time."

"Speaking of time, ours is up. Next week, same time?"

"Yup." Jack stood up to go. He'd never been satisfied with his visits to psychiatrists, although in the long term he saw their benefits. This had been another okay session. Jack was kind of glad that he didn't mention seeing angels. Maybe next session.

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