I have been going back and forth with how to begin blogging all of these stories. Today, I decided that the best way to introduce these narratives to you is first by sharing some of the common psychological symptoms that the children presented with during my sessions. Then, I will tell you a name that I coined to describe these children several years ago. I took a lot of time, at least a year, to come up with a name that seemed to capture a visual for how these children felt as they described their experiences. Understand that the name is not due to their psychological disturbances, nor is it listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual – Fifth Edition (DSM-V). This is a name that came to me one day after thinking about a how a child described to me what he actually saw around me at the time that I treated him. By the way, this child was very important in changing my heart toward sharing these stories.
Finding a name for these children was imperative to me because I did not want to keep calling these children, “Kids who can see ghosts.” The thought of ghosts scares some people. Others will judge these children and believe that they are “crazy” if I constantly reference them as kids who can see ghosts. The name that I gave to them makes people curious; they want to hear their stories, and it protects them a bit from other professionals who do not understand. It made me feel more compassion. Giving these children a name made their stories personal to me. I was always invested in the welfare of children; and these children were suffering emotionally from their experiences, plus loneliness and sometimes isolation. I will not say to you that I completely understood their plight, but overtime I did begin to believe that there was some truth to their capabilities.
In other times, I had to share feedback with other professionals who also worked with these children. I remember one incident when I told the experiences of a child to state case worker who then claimed that I was lying. Still makes me laugh. Afterwards, I quickly learned that I was unable to tell everyone about these experiences with children. I only shared these stories with those who knew me personally, professionals who worked with me for a long time, and my graduate students. The majority of people that I have told over the years love these stories, especially graduate students, when I tell them if I am teaching around Halloween lol! As if I have the time and the creative skills to fabricate childhood ghost stories, or psychological symptoms in relation to those stories. Needless to say, that case worker felt foolish by the time I was done ripping her about her responsibility to the child. In looking back, that is just one reason why I cannot imagine how these kids felt if no one believed them.
I have so many stories about how other professionals treated these kids once they shared their feelings and stories. The verbal mistreatment used to blow me away. Even if the kids were untruthful, the first thing that we should do is to make them feel as if we believed them which was what I did. I started to put the pieces together because there were too many kids sharing the same stories; with the same symptoms, and without knowing one another. These kids deserved a name. I looked in dictionaries, (old school I know), Wikipedia, spoke with parents, and asked colleagues and close friends how the name sounded and if it seemed to described these kids. Then, something happened: I recalled the story of the child mentioned above, and he said to me one day...
“There are grey clouds on the steps. You need to stay away Dr. Lisa.”
Although you will understand what that quote means in later blogs, please know that it was very important to me. For now, let’s focus on the symptoms of these children, and the name that I chose to describe them, “Nebulous Children.” Each child’s symptoms connected and over time, I became fascinated by these children because I started to question the reasons that I kept encountering them in treatment. Learning about diagnoses as I grew in the field of psychology, made me very restrictive with regard to how I approached diagnosis and treating children. If their symptoms fit into a category of diagnoses, that was the answer. Until I started interacting with a variety of children, especially Nebulous Children, I continued to treat them by the book because that is what I was initially taught to do in treatment. However, these children did not fit. They saw spirits or ghosts, and I did not learn about that at all.
As you read through these blogs, you will begin to understand why I call these children and adolescents, Nebulous. According to Merriam-Webster online, the word nebulous means ebulous. Ebulous derives from the Latin word nebulosus, meaning "misty," which in turn comes from nebula, meaning "mist," "fog," or "cloud." In the 18th century, Merriam-Webster reports that English speakers borrowed the word "nebula" and gave it a somewhat more specific meaning than the Latin version. In English, "nebula" refers to a cloud of gas or dust in deep space, or in less technical contexts, simply to a galaxy. "Nebulous" itself, when it doesn't have interstellar implications, usually means "cloudy" or "foggy" in a figurative sense. Merriam-Webster goes on to state that one's memory of a long-past event, for example, will often be nebulous; a teenager might give a nebulous recounting of an evening's events upon coming home; or a politician might make a campaign promise but give only a nebulous description of how he or she would fulfill it. The Nebulous Children that I have worked with did describe at times, seeing a “mist,” “fog,” or “cloud” which usually meant that they were either seeing dark angels or something sinister.
Why do these children peak my interest? Well, it’s because their stories and symptoms were the same despite my location, place of employment, race, ethnicity, and/or background. Their symptoms were also void of academic achievement, residential placement, or guardians/parents. The only real difference was in regard to age. Older children, of course, were able to describe what they saw much better than younger children. For example, older children would call dark colored ghosts “black angles” or “demons.” Younger children, however, would tell me “black,” “smoky,” “clouds,” or the “scary ones.” When I was unclear as to what the younger children meant, I would ask them to draw me a picture. Typically, the pictures were drawn as black blobs or just black scribble scrabble. The younger children would be a lot more fearful of their visions more than the older kids who would present with different symptoms. Below are the typical symptoms that would start to alert me that something outside of mental health may be occurring. This is not an exhaustive list however, the symptoms below give you an idea of what I would hear from them.
Symptoms of Young Children:
• Sleeping with the nightlight on
• Afraid of closets
• Will not enter closets
• Visualizing something being in the closet
• Afraid of going under the bed
• Pointing to things in the room
• Talking to visions in the room
• Laughing in conversation with visions
• Discussing ghosts with parents
• Sharing information about ghosts with me
Symptoms of Older Children
• Conversations about ghosts
• Sharing visions and stories of ghosts
• Descriptions of ghosts
• Functioning well in school
• Describing reality within expectancy versus visual experiences
• Understanding fears
• Need to remove the visions from their lives
• Feeling isolated due to no one believing them
• Need to learn how to control the ability to see ghosts
• Adamant about not being “crazy”
Symptoms of the Guardians/Parents
• Concerns about their children’s visions
• Seeking help to rid their kids from this “gift”
• Some could see spirits themselves
• Want to learn to teach kids to control their gifts
• Frightened at times
• Allowed children to sleep with them
• Slept in children’s rooms
• Described spirits around the home
• Shared spirits around me or the buildings where I worked
For some children, I was able to treat them. Others, not so much due to their visions. Unfortunately, there is no specific research that I can share in these blogs to recommend scientifically-based treatments. Parental reports of improved emotional stability was my goal for each child. Although I am open to researching these children, this blog will be comprised of documented case studies that describe the challenges that this population of children face at home and sometimes at school. As I met more Nebulous Children, I realized that I needed to work with them with an open-mind, meaning, I was no longer working with children solely based upon book knowledge.