I have a shameful secret: a dependency of sorts. Only a few friends in my closest inner circle know -- the ones I genuinely trust not to scoff, scold, or snicker me out of the room. It's a habit I only stoop low enough to engage in a few times per year, usually when I’m going through some kind of personal upset or transition -- breakup, job woe, existential free-fall, you get the picture.
My dirty secret? I go to psychics. Some I see in person, some -- the ones who live in far-off hippie-crunchy havens like Bakersfield or Boulder or Sedona -- only over the phone.
As far as addictions go, I’m aware that mine isn’t particularly debaucherous. (As a well-rounded and complicated modern 36-year-old woman, I’ve dabbled in other addictions, too, so I consider myself well informed about the misery and helplessness that a serious "habit" can entail.) My psychic Thing is far from glamorous, and though it's a frivolous expense, it doesn't cost me more than a few hundred dollars a year. So why have I felt compelled to keep mum until now? Because it’s totally embarrassing.
See, I shouldn’t need psychics in the first place. Born and raised in Washington, DC, I went to college in Massachusetts and lived in NYC for 5 years after college -- in other words, I’m East Coast-flavored, through and through. Hence, I talk fast, possess a colorful collection of neuroses, and am admittedly a bit jaded (especially in the romantic realm). I’m also sarcastic and cynical to the point of extreme pessimism. Having struggled with clinical depression since high school, my view of the world -- and my place in it -- has always been rather dark, despite my occasional, half-hearted attempts to “think positively,” “stay open-minded,” and “trust in the Universe” (gag).
This all goes to show that I’m possibly the last person you’d look at and think, "Oh, she totally seeks answers and validation from crazy people paid to lie to her." But, having visited at least 10 psychics in the last 10 years, I guess I am that person. Despite having underwhelming-to-mixed experiences with most of the clairvoyants I’ve met, something keeps drawing me back to them as a source of comfort and hope. (And I’m not alone -- according to 2012 research from the Pew Center, 15 percent of my fellow Americans have consulted a psychic, too).
So what do I get from these psychics, anyway? Part of the allure, for me, is the idea of a stranger giving me something I can’t often find anywhere else: simple reassurance. I’ve been in therapy since I was 15, but all these years of ceaseless, cyclical talk-talk-talking about my broken brain and my attempts to create a non-broken life haven’t gotten me very far when it comes to actual happiness or self-esteem. All that navel-gazing self-indulgence can feel good, in a way, like picking a scab or plucking an errant hair, and I value my therapists’ insight and support. But sometimes I need something quicker, cleaner, easier -- like someone to just tell me it’s all going to be OK.
I go to psychics with my cynically half-open mind and hope to hear certain pleasing things (you know, like “true love is around the corner” or “tomorrow you’ll land a six-figure book deal”). I go to them craving shots of hope. I go for reminders -- even if they’re bullshit -- that happy, unexpected, inexplicable things can and will happen, even for me. I go to them for answers I'm too afraid to seek out myself. Maybe that’s lame; maybe it makes me a sucker. But if it helps, every once in a while, to bring me just a tiny bit of serenity or a fleeting sense of confirmation that I Am OK, that It’s All OK, and that my life will end up More Than OK, I’ll take it -- even if it comes from the mouth of a charlatan.
That said, I don’t think all seers are scammers, or else I wouldn’t keep using them. Although a few of my psychic sessions were total throwaways (like my 60 minutes with Carol, a 40-something NYC psychic with a severe brown bob who wrote books about the afterlife and charged $300 per hour to ask me a long string of probing questions before doling out bad advice I never took), some of them … weren’t. I can count the “good” ones on one hand, but those few positive sessions have stayed with me, teasing and tempting me into the “maybe?” camp.
For instance, in my early twenties, two different New York psychics I saw at different times -- the cheesy walk-in kind with neon “Palm Reading” signs -- told me I would eventually have twin sons. (At the time, I didn’t want or plan to have children, so this prediction wasn’t appealing to me. But the fact that both women had the same unlikely vision of my future was impressive.)
And Raymond, a middle-aged NYC psychic who did lots of "automatic writing" and lived in a cramped, library-like West Village apartment, got at least some of it right when he told me I was a writer who would one day end up working in media. And just last year, within the first few seconds of my phone session with Louise -- an L.A. psychic I’d heard about through a glowing recommendation from a co-worker -- she impressed me by immediately announcing that I was considering a big move (at the time, I was mulling over moving back to New York from my adopted home of San Francisco).
Of course, not all -- or most -- of my psychic experiences have been positive. Who could forget Jenna, a Santa Monica-based nutjob who told me she regularly received wisdom directly from the long-dead mouths of Kurt Cobain and Jesus? Or the psychic I saw last summer, who told me I’d definitely be in a serious relationship by the holidays (I wasn’t) and that I should hop the next plane and move to Texas (I didn’t).
Despite all my questionable psychic connections, I don’t think all clairvoyants are frauds -- not intentionally, anyway. I think most mean well and care about their clients; some have a knack for profound intuition, and most probably believe wholeheartedly in their own purported powers. Does believing your own hype make it real? If I think, over and over, “I don’t have depression” or “the world is safe, bountiful, and light,” does that suddenly, magically make it so? Though Oprah et al might chant a resounding “yes,” for me, the jury is still out. But I'll let you know for sure after I check in with my psychic.