If you are worried that you may be possessed, relax. Demons or evil spirits have never been proven to exist.

There are many items in the news and on cable television about exorcism and demonic possession in America. In 2013, a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor declared that practicing yoga leads to demonic possession.  Also, a 2 year old child in Virginia was killed during an exorcism ritual performed by her father.

If you are wondering if you are possessed, then you can relax. You are not possessed. How can you be sure of this?  Because there has been no scientific proof that evil spirits like demons or loas exist.  You can’t be possessed by something that does not exist, although you can be fooled into thinking that you are possessed.

Debunking the Myth of Possession

But what about eyewitness stories of demon possession?  They describe stereotypical things seen in movies and television shows — really cold rooms, weird voices, strange rashes and cuts that are sometimes in the shapes of words, a lot of swearing, sometimes clairvoyance or even telekinesis. The stories themselves are suspect due to the tellers’ ignorance and ability to be deluded.

Another problem is communal reinforcement. If everyone in a community believes I demon possession and tell you that you are possessed, you may start spitting acting demon possessed.  You then get a lot of attention and sometimes praise for being “brave” enough to get an exorcism.  You also often have to pay a lot for the privilege of getting an exorcism.  A good example of community reinforcement is seen at where Cindy writes a pastor about proof of demon possession.

So, What’s Going On Here?

You can, however, become OBSESSED, which may make you think that you are POSSESSED. This obsession can be of a religious mania, an obsession with a single person who you wish you were, or even a death wish. There are many reasons for these obsessions, including physical reasons which can be treated by a medical professional. If you’re family keeps telling you that you have had a sudden change of behavior, or hear voices telling you to do things good or bad or think that you are a demon, then you really need to go to the hospital.

There is no shame in going to the hospital or seeing a psychiatrist if you suspect you might be obsessed. Obsession is often a physical symptom of a physical problem. You’d go get medical if you broke your leg, wouldn’t you?  Obsession or possession is a physical break of another kind that needs medical attention.

In one sense, it’s a lot less scary being possessed than obsessed.  You have no control at all when you are possessed.  Control of your own health, life and thoughts can be a very scary thing, indeed. Learning to conquer those fears is all a natural part of the maturation process. You can take comfort in knowing that, in some degree or other, we all go through feeling as if we are possessed by something outside of ourselves.

Demons, evil spirits, loas or whatever you want to call them, only have a power to posses you if you believe in them. The best way to defend yourself from them is simply not to believe in their existence. You have far more serious things in life to be concerned about.

Don't feel guilty about wanting to commit suicide

What is he thinking about?

Guided imagery or creative visualization is a drug-free way to lower stress levels.

Use your imagination to help you calm down and lower stress levels.  Guided imagery, also called creative visualization, is a way to ease your stress without resorting to drugs.  There are many online resources to help you with particular meditations or guided imagery sessions.  Please do not use this article in the place of a medical health professional’s diagnosis.

Stress might at times seem like a purely mental and emotional problem, but it sure leads to physical problems such as high blood pressure, tension headaches, insomnia and digestive embarrassments.  More and more, doctors are saying that reducing stress is a key leg in triangle to keep you healthy (the other two legs being regular exercise and eating sensibly.)  A fun way to reduce stress is with guided imagery, as recommended in January 2008 issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

What Is It?

Guided imagery , when you get right down to it, is nothing more than the power of your imagination.  Another similar term for guided imagery is creative visualization.  However, sometimes our imaginations run away with our common sense.  Guided imagery — like meditation — helps us to channel imagination into helping us heal or to reduce stress.

If your imagination keeps running away on you, then you are probably adding more stress onto yourself that you need to.  This is why some people prefer to use guided imagery instruction tapes, CDs or downloads rather than just do it all themselves.  This way, they don’t have to keep wondering if they are reducing stress with guided imagery correctly.  Worrying about whether you are doing a task right or wrong can be another form of stress you really can do without.

Similar To Guided Meditation

If you have some trouble finding the guided imagery resources you like, then try searching under “guided meditation” instead.  The principles and techniques are very similar.   There is usually more variety in guided meditation products to choose from, as well.  Some will have a spiritual bent, and some won’t.

One place to search for guided meditations — including a potato chip meditation — is at Beliefnet .  (One tip — be sure your pop-up blocker is on before going there!  That will DEFINATELY save you some stress.)

Some Guided Imagery Themes

Have you ever heard of the psychological term, “Are you in your happy place?”  This is where you wish you were rather than where you are currently.  This could be in a hot aromatherapy bath, at a sun drenched beach or in a field with laughing horses (see image above).  Whatever your happy place is, picture it in your mind vividly.  Usually the thought of it will trigger you to breathe deeper and thus relax more with practice.

Another theme is to think of Good Guys vs. Bad Guys.  You picture your stress triggers as Bad Guys — whether they look human, monstrous or like an amoeba — and then have them defeated, arrested or incinerated by Good Guys.  Over time and with practice, just the thought of your Good Guys beating Bad Guys can subconsciously trigger you to relax.

For reducing stress with guided imagery, take a few minutes to contemplate either your happy place, a Good Guy defeating Bad Guy scenario or whatever works for you.  All you need is a few minutes a day.  Breathe deeply and try not to think about anything else.  It’s like watching a movie in your mind’s eye.  Over time, your brain makes the association with your memory of the image with breathing deeply and relaxing.

Guided imagery is not to be used in place of prescribed medications, but can be safely used with conventional treatments. There are no known bad side effects in reducing your stress with guided imagery.

There certainly are a lot of self-help books out there, written by a lot of so-called experts on stress management and life coaching. Which one of the recent avalanche is worth your money?

None of ‘em. The only self-help book worth your money isn’t even a self-help book. It’s usually sold under psychology. It’s “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy” (1946) written by Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997), a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Now, honestly — who do you think knows more about getting through stressful times — someone who lived through Auschwitz, or someone who chats with Oprah?

Other self-help books are nice and they can give you ideas or a good laugh, but you can get them for free in a library. This is the only one I recommend actually buying.

Brace Yourself

This isn’t “Chicken Soup of the Soul.” The book has a very grim beginning and a somber tone throughout. Frankl doesn’t dwell on the horrors he witnessed, although what he does mention can be nightmare-inducing. However, he never gets maudlin or even self-pitying. “Bad things happen and that’s the way things are,” is more the tone of voice you’ll find in “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

But if you can find a meaning for your life, it makes getting through the bad times that much easier. Frankl’s meaning was to survive long enough to write a book. He would eventually start the logotherapy movement in psychology, which teaches that the quest to find their own meaning to their lives is the prime driving force behind a person’s actions.

Personal Reaction

I find the book even more comforting than many modern self-help or positive thinking books. I have been through too much

in my personal life to pay much attention to “rah-rah” books (as I call them).  I’ve been robbed, cheated, beaten up and had my home flooded out and then burnt down in the course of my life.  I have endogenous recurring depression.  And I firmly believe I did wish these things upon myself.  These events just happened.  No one’s to blame.  But I am to blame if I keep wallowing in self-pity.

For example, I really didn’t want to get out of bed today.  But I have to go to work.  The meaning is to get money for food.  It might not be a really deep meaning, but it’s meaning enough.

You will find your own meaning when going through incredibly stressful situations.  For example, perhaps you’re stuck in a dead-end retail job (which has also happened to me).  It’s the best job you can find.  You hate it, but you’ve got to bring home a paycheck.  Your meaning is to bring food home to your family.  That’s a noble goal.  You have to focus on that in order to keep from going starkers, sometimes.

And it certainly helps to breathe deeply in these stressful situations.  “Man’s Search for Meaning” helps remind me to keep breathing deeply when life sucks.

_A_Girl_suffering_form_anxietyHealth anxiety is better known as its former name, hypochondria.  This is a persistent and unwarranted fear of getting a serious health problem like cancer.  This is also one of the most common anxiety disorders in the general population.  According to Professor Tyrer, head of the mental health at the Imperial College London, at least 1% of the UK’s population suffer from health anxiety.

Causes of Health Anxiety

Mental health professionals are not sure why some people develop health anxiety and some do not.  Some people may have witnessed a lingering death of a loved one and fear that the same thing will happen to them.  Others may develop health anxiety as part of another mental illness.

The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse for the medical profession.  Patients can quickly look up symptoms to see if they are serious enough to go to a doctor.  However, they may also leap to conclusions and ask for more appointments, tests and diagnostic imaging than they really need.  The Internet may be one reason why mental health professionals are reporting more cases of health anxiety than ever.

Symptoms of Health Anxiety

It can be difficult for doctors and therapists to diagnose health anxiety because the symptoms are different for each sufferer.  It also can hard to distinguish unfounded worried from real worries.  For example, a person who suffers from migraines may naturally worry if he or she has a brain tumor.  But someone with health anxiety will keep asking for more tests even after the first one or two tests clearly show that a brain tumor is not present.

People with health anxiety need constant reassurance that they do not have a potentially deadly or crippling condition.  Signs that you or a loved one may have health anxiety include:

  • Spending more and more time online looking up medical information
  • Refusing to go to outings with family or friends in case they are sick
  • Going to more doctors and looking for more doctors to go to
  • Talking more and more about your symptoms
  • An inability to be calmed by a diagnostic test showing that they are okay

Treatments for Health Anxiety

The good news about health anxiety is that it is treatable.  There is no one right way to treat hypochondria for everyone.  Patients may need a combination of treatments in order to get back to living a more normal life.  Some patients may be suffering with other anxiety conditions as well as health anxiety.

Treatment is often a combination of drugs and cognitive behavior therapy.  Drugs may be taken for the rest of the patient’s life or for a short time only, depending on the patient’s individual circumstance.  Drugs given for health anxiety include:

  • SSRI antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers, a type of high blood pressure medication

Patients also do well to write about their anxieties in a special journal.  This helps to relieve stress.  It can also be shared with doctors and therapists.

Links for More Information

_A_470_1458438Walk through the fire, through the dust and ashes

while the building crashes…show no sign of fear (Peter Gabriel)
On August 6, 2005, my home in England was burnt down. There are days I actually wake up and forget this minor fact. Seeing my home be digested by flames – including a nearly completed manuscript inside – was not the worst part.

No — the worst part was having to try to live as normal a life as possible while trying to forget that someone set my home on fire. Sometimes I wish I could wear a big sign that says “Home burnt down – Cut me some slack.” It’s been over six years since the fire. My life has improved dramatically and I should be over this by now. And yet I’m not over it. I probably won’t be for a long time.

In various moments of my new life, things happen that trigger the memories of that fire, such as seeing news about a fire on television. Panic attacks built up many times depending on how busy the local arsonists are. I heard a Julian House homeless shelter worker in Bath, England tell me how to deal with panic attacks but it wasn’t until the last few years did I follow his advice.

Oh No, Not Again!

This is the reason why we have panic attacks. We fear that the past will repeat itself. This is a normal instinctive response, but if you let it stay too long, you get so stressed that you can get ill. Also, you can make some very strange choices. I get so panicked; I dive under the covers and won’t come out for hours.

I have these strange arguments with the air about “Haven’t I used up my portion of bad luck yet?” However, the air has yet to argue back, which really makes me feel that arguing with me is just not worth a Deity’s attention. Yup – this is the way my brain works when I panic. Frightening, isn’t it?

Panic attacks screw up my stomach so it’s hard to drink tea . Life is too short not to drink tea when I feel like drinking tea. That’s reason enough for me to work on dealing with my panic attacks. Now, I have not been diagnosed with a panic attack disorder . That needs a doctor’s help. I’ve had doctors tell me that it’s normal to have panicky moments after witnessing my home burn down, but they say I do not have panic attack disorder.

Stop, Look and Listen

If you feel panic coming on, STOP what you are doing. Even say the word “Stop,” if that helps you.

Look around. Is anything threatening you at that moment?

Sniff the air. Listen. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Is anything threatening you at that moment? If not, then concentrate on the moment. If you have someone sympathetic with you, describe the immediate surroundings to them. This should distract you enough to calm down. Also this is where learning meditation really helps. Even rubbing a piece of marble or a smooth stone or a piece of jewelry can soothe you.

Take deep breaths. If you have trouble breathing deeply, then try and sniff something that will force your body to take deep breaths, like peppermint, roses or frankinscence. Although it sounds weird, getting enough oxygen through your body will also help you calm down. When you breathe the shallow, quick breaths associated with fear, your brain goes a mile a minute and you see dangers where there aren’t any.

Other Tips

If you meditate, then your meditation ritual will help you relax. Me, I like to watch my fish swim, or pet my dogs, or even write in one of my blogs. The trick is to do something that takes your mind off of the hamster wheel of remembering your past. And if you know what scenes, smells or actions can trigger a panic attack, try to avoid them whenever possible (For example – I rarely watch international national news programs anymore).

Life does get better after a tragedy. Perhaps panic attacks are our bodies’ way of reminding us, “Could be worse!” All you need is a reminder. Try not to dwell on it. You can do it.


“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Controlling Anxiety.” Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D. Alpha Books; 2006.

Daily Mail Online. “10 tips for coping with panic attacks.” Claire Bates. 13 August 2007;

Author’s personal experience

_A_470_2504384It’s too bad women’s bodies aren’t like office software, sending you reminders whenever any important even in your body’s life is going to come up. One morning when you are still a young girl, you should cough out a memo that you’re going to get your first period and what pain to expect. Then, a few decades later, you cough out another memo about normal signs of menopause and that panic attacks will likely happen. Wouldn’t this be great?

Unfortunately, our bodies do not come with an instruction manual or timely reminder about anxiety and menopause. Women think they are going crazy, or are somehow defective, which can make their panic attacks stronger and longer. Women have to take it upon themselves to learn about menopause. When panic attacks come suddenly out of the blue after a couple of skipped periods, know that you are not going insane. Now sit down, open the Ben and Jerry’s and listen up.

Identifying Anxiety

Everyone gets anxious, but not everyone suffers from anxiety. Just what is anxiety? You basically get panicked or incredibly upset for a very trivial reason. Feeling panicked can lead to painful physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, shortness of breath and chest pains. These physical symptoms just reinforce the anxiety.

According to The Menopause Book (Workman Publishing; 2009) women are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than men. Women who suffer nerves during their periods are also more prone to suffering from anxiety during menopause.

Not-So-Happy Hormones

The ancient alchemists had a theory about the universe – “As above, so below”. This referred to anything, so logically it can refer to menopause. So you can take comfort knowing that some solar system somewhere is going through a hot flash and mood swings. Keep those images in your head whenever you feel a panic attack coming on. It may help you to laugh, which will help you to calm down.

Microscopic things can have tremendous effect on incredibly large things. Your microscopic hormones affect your whole body. Your hormones are going through a civil war at the moment, which leads to mood swings. They can aggravate your feelings of impending doom, nervousness or insecurity.

The exact cause of panic attacks is a point of some debate in medical circles. Some feel the hormones entirely control the response; other feel the organ in the brain called the amygdale is entirely responsible. Whatever! The point is that all bets are off during menopause.


If you have a history of panic attacks, then you really shouldn’t be surprised at getting more at menopause. Check with your doctor, even if you were thought you were finished your menopause. For women that never had a history of anxiety and panic attacks before, still go to see your doctor, but know that your panic attacks are treatable.

Your doctor may want you to get a blood test in order to check for ailments that can cause anxiety, such as a malfunctioning thyroid or abnormally low blood sugar. Ask you close female relatives if they suffer from depression, anxiety or went through a difficult menopause. Your doctor may want to take this family into account before making up a treatment strategy.

Your treatment will depend a lot on what medications you are taking now and your past medical history. You might have to take medications such as anti-depressants, be asked to try breathing exercises during the attack or have a change in your hormone replacement therapy. The Menopause Book encourages regular exercise at last 5 days a week to reduce stress levels.


Wingert, Pat, et al. The Menopause Book. Workman Publishing; 2009.

Johnston, Joni E. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Controlling Anxiety. Alpha Books; 2006.

NOTE: This originally appeared in 2011 on another of my blogs but yet it still applies
You know you’ve thought it. The answer is, “No.” All Peter Gabriel fans are not mentally ill. Just some of us. I have been diagnosed with endogenous recurring depression, which is a mental illness. It’s not a fun mental illness that makes you see neat things or go for days without sleep, but it’s still an incurable mental illness.

Source of Misconception

PG himself began calling his fans “lunatics” back in 2002 in conjunction with the release of Up. (The moon was one of the major symbols of Up and the Growing Up Tour. “Luna” = moon. However, PG has kept using the term for nearly 10 years.) In a 2011 “Welcome to My Facebook Page” message, Peter says, “If you’re a PG nut …” in a way in which was probably not meant as a compliment.

Trickery of Memory

The human memory works on identifying patterns. This can be helpful, such as knowing that all animals with fangs may bite, but can also lead to generalizations in thinking, such as all Peter Gabriel fans are mentally ill. If you meet just one mentally ill Peter Gabriel fan, that’s going to stick out in your memory. That strong memory will overshadow the other 30 normal Peter Gabriel fans. Mentally ill people are generally considered to be dangerous. Anything dangerous sticks out in your memory. Normal people are not dangerous and more easily forgettable. See how it works?

What If You Meet a Mentally Ill Peter Gabriel Fan?

It depends on the mental illness, how well it is managed and on just how much of a natural asshole the person happens to be. Liking Peter Gabriel’s music, unfortunately, does not magically remove assholery from people. If you’ve ever met me, you’ve met a mentally ill PG fan. And I’m a natural asshole, but a harmless asshole. The worst I’ll do is curse you out and talk about you behind your back. However, your wallet will remain in your pocket and your back will remain knife-free or any-other-weapon-free.

So now, that this issue is clear as mud, let’s watch a video. This is a demo for a song called “Funny Man” that PG recorded in the 1970s but has never seen an official release. Until next time, kids, this is Rena off to pop a Prozac: