As I handed over two crisp £20 notes, I added it to the growing tab of shame in my head. I’d now spent at least £2,000 on useless psychics. Regret consumed me, but I beamed and thanked Angie for my reading. I suppose it’s like getting a bad haircut that you wait until you get home to cry about. Whether on botched balayage or pseudo psychics, I’ve always detested wasting money, but this time was even worse. Two days before, I’d lost my job as a magazine editor. Winter lockdown was on the horizon, and I had no idea where my next pay check would come from. And yet here I was again, paying a garden-shed psychic for 30 minutes of clutching at straws.
Angie seemed nice; warm and paradoxically down-to-earth for someone who claimed to connect with the spirit world. She lived on a normal estate and I sat for my reading in her specially built shed at the back of her garden. Unlike most of the psychics I’d visited over the last decade, she didn’t use tarot cards, instead she frantically waved her arms around and shifted in her seat as voices ‘came through’. Though little resonated with me, I diligently scrawled notes to pore over later as usual.
My obsession began when I was nine. A fortune-teller selling lace tablecloths had called at my childhood home and read my politely obliging mother’s palm from the doorstep. I was mesmerised. For years, I’d been religiously reading my horoscope in the teen magazines and by 14, I was hooked on those audience-with-a-medium shows on cable TV, where people sobbed as messages from beyond the grave were relayed to them.
My first psychic reading came, by chance, in my early twenties. A fashion event I was attending in London during my early days as a magazine journalist had laid on a free Barbara Widsor-esque tarot reader to complement the champagne and uneaten canapes. I ignored all networking opportunities and made a beeline for her table. I felt high with giddiness as I selected my cards from her pink-manicured hands and waited to hear my destiny. Twin boys, apparently, followed by a girl. At that time, I was more interested in what lay ahead for my career than my womb, but there was still a thrill in the specifics. Her confidence in my future was soothing. I felt comforted by the thought of it being a little less unknown.
Now in my thirties, I’ve visited psychics all over the UK. I’ve snuck away on business trips in Leeds and spent solo weekends in Cornwall for spiritual fairs. I scour Facebook groups and online forums when I’m not close to home. I make sure they’re always women. It suddenly becomes a very different thing to arrange to meet a man you don’t know for a means that can’t be quantified. Especially given the venues I find myself sitting in front of a crystal ball in – usually the end of warren-like corridors in empty offices or shopping arcades. They can be worryingly isolated, yet I soldier on, driven by a desperate need for direction in my life. I email my location to myself, just in case.
On a surface level, it’s fashionable to engage with psychics, crystals, aura readings or sage burning when artfully curated at a pop-up press event. But out in the real world, the true depths of my obsession is far from acceptable.
I’ve never let on the full extent of my addiction to anyone. My colleagues don’t know that all those hospital appointments during work hours were fake. My friends will never know that those cancelled dinners were because I have to drop everything for a reading after a bad day in the office. My partners never knew that my crippling anxiety and night terrors were directly linked to readings. The times I’ve broached the subject generally with family or friends, they’ve rattled off how stupid, uneducated, anti-science or religious these ‘believers’ must be. People who’ve lost loved ones think that any suggestion they could catch-up with them for a chat, if the price is right, is insulting and cruel.
I get it. I feel guilty when I wonder if my money is perpetuating a vulture-like process of cashing in on grief. Because that’s usually who continues to haemorrhage money on psychics, isn’t it? Sobbing widows looking for one last chance to connect. I am fortunate to have not yet become acquainted with such depth of grief, but I fear it. Perhaps I’m also trying to seek comfort before it happens. Life-after-death insurance.
Imagining the looks on my friend’s faces if I were to admit how much time and money I’ve spent on this habit makes me shudder. I long to put the cynics, and myself, to rest with an unquestionably accurate prediction which has unfolded exactly as described, but there have been embarrassingly few. And I am embarrassed. I have spent thousands chasing a fix that has never come, and yet I refuse to believe these people are deceiving me, or that psychic ability doesn’t exist. Why? Like any addict, it’s the thrill of the chase – the never-ending possibility that next time will be better. I’m paying for half an hour of escapism to another realm, where life might suddenly make sense.
I don’t trust my own impulses. My gut reactions have failed me too many times. I believe deeply in the powers of instinct and premonition, but self-doubt, the ultimate saboteur, leaves me unable to trust my own. I’m plagued with it over every decision and out-sourcing the responsibility helps me get through life just that bit easier. Maybe one day I won’t feel that same visceral urge to seek the reassurance of a psychic. Maybe that’s the day I’ll know I’m truly happy.
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