You know what? I was terrified of telling my story. At the time, I was in college, and I was really scared that telling the world, “HEY! I see ghosts,” would discredit me in my future endeavors.
I’m not going to lie. I almost didn’t do it.
My old roommate, Stephanie, really wanted to do it. She was the one who found the casting call, and she was the one who first contacted the producers. The first two times the producers tried to call me, I didn’t answer my phone. I saw that New York area code, and I was all like, “Nope. Not going to happen.”
I’ve always considered myself a tenacious and brave person, but there was something about telling the truth about my strangest quirk to MILLIONS OF PEOPLE that scared the heck out of me.
What inspired me to get over myself? I’m still not exactly sure. Some braver, more tenacious, part of me took over, I guess. That braver part of me wanted to be part of a movement that helped people. I kept thinking, “I know I’m not the only person out there who is like me.”
I wanted people like me to feel less alone at night. I wanted to help light a candle in a dark place. I wanted to show people that fear can be overcome, and that you don’t have to be excessively quirky to experience supernatural things. You don’t have to be a psychic who charges money, or a television personality, to experience the weird. You can be a grocery clerk, an administrative assistant, or a school teacher and still have contact with the dead.
So, one afternoon, I called that New York number back, and I told my story.
Janel- Now that you have told your story, do you feel that other people may feel more comfortable to tell their story?
It’s so weird, but I do think our story really inspired people. At this point, I have been contacted by people, strangers, from all over the world.
(Germany. The Netherlands. The British Columbia. India. Singapore. Puerto Rico. Etc.)
Some of those people have asked for my help in their hauntings, and some people have sent me e-mails to say thank you for putting myself out there, and for depicting psychic phenomena in a genuine way.
That was my goal! So, that makes me happy. Hearing that people are getting something positive out of my experiences? That’s so cool.
As a side note: hilariously, after the episode aired, I got a few invitations by pretty cute guys to the EKU homecoming dance, and, of course, I got a couple of hateful e-mails asking why my poor mom didn’t kick me out of the house. ;)
Janel- What was the worst part of your experience?
The worst part was probably being afraid I was legitimately going insane.
The show depicted me literally seeing ghosts. The problem with that depiction is, it seemed like my experiences were merely hallucinations. They weren’t.
The ghosts were visionary, and if you ask me, it’s way more scary to have visions. I would be walking down the sidewalk at school, and suddenly, I’d have a clear image of this person in my head, and she died of cancer, and she was terrified, and suddenly I was terrified because all I could think about was cancer, and needles, and my hair falling out. For me, it was terrifying not having a barrier between my own thoughts and the thoughts of someone who was dead.
That was before I knew it was possible to gain control over it.
It’s strange to look back, now — in high school I was so convinced I was losing my mind, I forced my mom to take me to therapy. I told a psychiatrist I was seeing things, and when that doctor made me break it down for her, she told me I wasn’t “seeing things.” Lucidly, I could describe the mechanics behind what I was experiencing. It was “visionary.” It was in my head, not out in front of me. The psychiatrist told me to be very cautious with the language I used to describe what was happening to me. They concluded I wasn’t crazy. They decidedly said I was fine, really, just anxious.
This was all before ghosts were part of the public consciousness, and before “psychics” were really in the media. It wasn’t until college that I made the connection. My weirdly-wired brain was picking up on something real.
Of course, the paranoia and the constant fear sucked, too. Until I sought out the help of Michelle Belanger, and a few other people who studied the occult and the paranormal, I couldn’t really sleep at night. I wasn’t healthy because of it.
Believe it or not, people really need to sleep.
Janel- Did you watch the show and if you did? How did you feel about re-living it and seeing it play on national television?
Weird. It was so weird. It made me uncomfortable. Yeah, I was way outside of my comfort zones. I was so terrified that people from my old Kentucky home would judge me, or not like me anymore, or think I was crazy. In the end, my friends just told me to quit smoking. I was more harshly judged for the reenactment scenes where I was a smoker.
I’ve since quit smoking.
On top of that, when I watched School Spirits, I was so obsessed with how big my boobs looked. My friends from home sent me text messages asking if I’d had a boob job. Something about the lighting did that.
Janel- Have you had any recent paranormal experiences?
Yes. All the time.
I’m not really scared of the ghosts anymore, though. That’s the difference between now and then. I’ve come a long way. When I was in high school, I was so afraid of the dark, I’d call my best guy friend and ask him to sit up with me, watching movies, and wait until I fell asleep. He’d wait until I fell asleep, turn the TV off, and then he’d sneak out.
I’ve come a long way since then!
My current roommate, Sarah, jokes that she’s peed her pants at least three times while living with me. She says, all the time, that it is like my fear reactors are broken, and I am so used to the strange and eerie that I forget how scary ghosts are to normal people. Maybe she’s right, but sometimes, I still get jumpy!
The most powerful experiences I’ve had in the last two years:
A few weeks before Christmas in 2012, I told a woman I could see her dead husband. That was legitimately scary for me; I usually don’t believe in interrupting people’s lives like that. I’m glad I did, this time. She was so grateful. She told me I legitimately changed her life, and seriously, that changed my life. She even offered me money. I wouldn’t take it, though. I just wanted her to know that her husband loved her, and that he was so sorry he had to leave her, and that he still looked at her and thought how beautiful she was, and so on.
The other powerful experience was my grandfather. I had a vision of him the night before he died. “I’m on my way out, Sunshine,” he said. He died the next morning.
We’ll talk about the profound, excessively weird experiences I’ve had later.
Janel- Who is some of your favorite authors, films and photographers?
That is so hard! Oh jeez.
Okay. So before I launch into my obsession with horror, I’m going to put this out there: Sweet Home Alabama is my favorite movie. The Ninja Turtles is my second favorite. J.K. Rowling will always be my favorite writer.
Hitchcock. My third favorite movie ever is Psycho.
ROB ZOMBIE. I love his music. I love his films.
The Screams. I still think Scream is one of the most intellectual takes on slasher movies that I have ever seen, and I love it. No matter what anyone says.
I will always love Joss Whedon. Cabin the Woods. Buffy.
Does R.L. Stine count? Hands down. My favorite scary stories ever. ;)
I really loved Rose Red. 13 Ghosts I loved, too.
I adore the horror genre because it expresses so much about human psychology. Why do so many people love slasher movies? I’m betting it’s because there is something deeply human — deviantly so, granted — about death, tragic death, and violent death. Think about it. People used to watch gladiators in the arena. Now, they watched staged murders and staged gore. I’d better stop talking now. I could go on about this for hours.
Simply put, I find horror fascinating.
Janel-Who inspires you and why?
Lorraine Warren. I watched her speak, once, and she said something that will stick with me forever because it rings so true —
“That’s how I began to know who I was. Who I really was. I can’t help it. I see these things and I want to know what they are.”
In that moment, I felt more understood than I ever had, and I realized I wasn’t alone in the things I saw, the impressions I got. I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this drive inside of me — this drive to figure out what was, and wasn’t, the truth.
Michelle Belanger taught me most of what I know about the supernatural. She inspired objectivity within me, and encouraged me to seek truth. She also introduced me to people who truly inspired me. Eilfie Music (Paranormal State), for one. Eilfie maintains objectivity, and she thoroughly researches phenomena before coming to a conclusion. Not to mention, I think Eilfie has a rockin’ sense of style.
Chris Edwards (Paranormal State) taught me that the paranormal is first, and foremost, about people. Living or dead, your goal is to help people, be kind to people, and treat them with respect. Chris also taught me to research, research, research!
OH! And Leslie Willoughby is a metaphysical shop owner in Medina, Ohio. She owns Earthmother’s. She’s taught me a lot about believing in myself, and in what I can do. She taught me a lot of control.
Janel- How has School Spirits changed your life and what impact has it had on your opinion of paranormal activity?
You know, it gave me the platform I needed to really help people. Because of School Spirits, people knew to contact me if they needed help with a haunting, or something similar.
Janel- Do you have a favorite paranormal film?
The Sixth Sense.
I LOVE THESE MOVIES! I swoon every time I watch them because I think they are so beautiful. People laugh at me when I say I find the Sixth Sense comforting.
Janel- If you could do anything differently what would you do?
I would be more fearless. Less afraid of what people are going to think. People can be so wonderful, but they can also be jerks, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that. I can’t make everyone like me. There will always be haters. Not everyone believes in the paranormal; not everyone believes in me. In fact, some people are pretty damn hateful when it comes to the whole ghost thing. I mean, I can’t blame them — I definitely can relate to the skeptics. Still, though. If I could go back in time, I’d care less that people can be a-holes.
Janel- Do you feel closer to the paranormal world?
Totally. Honestly, School Spirits was a transformative experience. There were more encouraging people than I’d expected, and it was amazing to see that by just being willing to open my mouth, I could change people’s lives for the better.
Janel- Do you think that things would be different if you had not met Stephanie?
Yes and no.
Stephanie definitely put me on a path that strayed from the one I’d chosen for myself. When I first met Stephanie, everything was black and white for me. There was good, and there was evil. Magic wasn’t real. The occult was evil.
Stephanie upset everything I believed in.
She is the one who taught me about the occult. From Stephanie, I learned about the fringe groups and belief systems: the vampire underground, the paranormal, energy workers, witchcraft, magic. She told me it was all real. She studied it. She engaged in it.
Like the time I had a fibroid tumor in my uterus. After the ultrasound showed I had a uterine fibroid tumor, Stephanie insisted that energy work could heal it. Not believing her, I engaged in energy work, and let her adjust my energy. My second ultrasound, the one they do before surgery, showed the tumor wasn’t there.
As a skeptic, I still wonder if the first ultrasound was just wrong — if the tumor never existed in the first place.
Either way — from there, I had to sort it all out in my head. What I believed.
Because of Stephanie, I decided not to rush a sorority. I pursued the occult, the strange, and the paranormal, instead.
All of that being said, I firmly believe that the universe knows what it is doing. What is meant to be will always find a way. I firmly believe I am on the right track. I am meant to help people. I think this is the way I am supposed to do it.
No matter what, I think I would have found my way here.
Janel- How do you feel about the social networks?
I think they’re great.
I think people should be kind, compassionate, and understanding. Even when I want to, I really try not to engage in the drama you see on some social networks. I try to practice self-control, even when directly challenged. I think it is so not-cool that people will (excuse me) “talk shit” about one another.
Like, seriously people. What we do is subjective. No matter how you cut it, no matter how much “proof” we find, we are still engaging in something that ultimately requires belief and faith. Judge not lest ye be judged. I don’t agree with everything people say on social media, but I acknowledge that I don’t know everything. As someone who openly sees ghosts, who am I to say if one person is more right, or more nuts, than the other? The way I see it, I have no place to call someone crazy.
Janel- Have you been writing and do you feel you are receiving a lot of positive feedback since your story has aired?
I am always writing! Blogging. Screenplays. Plays. Books.
MY FAVORITE FEEDBACK COMMENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
*You are kind of stupendous. I stumbled onto your blog. And I had some laughs, and some solace. Stranger, you are wonderful.
*You don’t know are wonderful
*Awesome show. I am believer.
*I guess there is more to this world than what we know…
*Wow I enjoyed to watch your story in “School Sprits” on TV. You are so lucky to meet [a] ghost :-)
I really want to meet ghosts, but too scary LOL. Thanks
*School Spirits was produced very well and I really enjoyed watching. I wish you the best and praise you for sharing your story.
*We are seeing ur episode of school spirits over here in puerto rico it’s scary
*Watching your story on SyFy Holy moley!
*I admire your strength and bravery for telling your story. I understand what you’re going through, and know that we’re all stronger together. Hugs.
*I do appreciate you sharing your EKU stories… it’s not the easiest thing to talk about with people – much on camera. Regardless – great job, homie.
*I love paranormal stuff but some of what u saw would make me pee my pants! I woulda jumped in your arms like scooby and shaggy!
*Hey Rebecca just wanted to say u are not alone when it comes to this stuff stay strong and open minded there is a reason for everything
*It is difficult to find someone, especially someone around our age, that has had encounters or is open to what they can’t see.
Janel- You have been attending conventions? What is your perspective on them and were you able to hear others stories similar to your own?
I think conventions are soooo fun! At Parafest, we were booth-neighbors with Chip Coffey, Katrina Weidman, Heather Taddy, and Christopher Saint Booth. At MidSouth, we were right next to Deep South Paranormal, and that’s where I met one of my favorite people in the whole wide world! Sheena Metal of LA Talk Radio.
I love conventions first, and foremost, because of the people I get to hang out with: likeminded people!
I learn so much at every convention I attend. I love to hear the various perspectives of people.
Janel -Would you consider doing another paranormal show?
You never know where life will take you next!
Janel- What is next for you and please tell us where we can check out what you are up to next?
The two most exciting things that are happening are, unfortunately, things I have to keep on the down low.
HOWEVER! I can say I have made a couple of appearances on the underground Paranormal series, Resident Undead. Adam Kimmell produces, directs, and stars in that, and he is hands-down the most passionate investigator I have ever met. We’ve had our differences of opinion, but I respect him.
He loves what he does. He makes so many sacrifices to keep doing what he loves and believes in. On top of that, he is humble, and kind to every venue that hosts him. Working with him renewed my passion for helping people, living and dead. He also really pushed my comfort zones with some of the situations he put me in while on location, and I am a better person for that.
I’ve done some awesome paranormal fundraisers and investigations with Daniel Hooven of Bio’s Haunted Encounters — like the MS Fundraiser at Anna Dean Farms and the Lake County Historical Society.
Beyond that, I will be launching my website just after the first of the year. Penguin is publishing a book about haunted places, and I am mentioned in there (America’s Most Haunted by Eric Olsen and Theresa Argie — love them!).
My roommate, Sarah M. Ball, founded an independent film company, and I help with the writing and development of indie films. Our most recent short films were Chasing Death and Candace
Additionally, I just finished co-writing a screenplay for a psychological horror short, directed by Fernando Lopez: Sub.
I am on Twitter (@beccakirschbaum) and Blogspot (http://rebeccakirschbaum.blogspot.com) and Facebook. These are all places to find updates on my horror, paranormal, theatrical, and film adventures.
Janel- What have you learned from Michelle Belanger and other paranormal researchers and believers?
Like I said before, Michelle taught me to stubbornly pursue truth, and to do it with as much objectivity as possible. She taught me how to face down my biggest fears. When I first met Michelle, she took me into her basement where all of her occult/paranormal books are, and I was literally shaking in fear. There are so many ghosts down there in her basement! Some really scary ones. That was the start of me learning to stand my ground — even when I’m afraid, and even if I’m quaking from the inside out.
Of course, I could write a book about all the stuff Michelle taught me. Shielding. Grounding. Bravery.
On top of that — I learned a lot from Ohio’s Haunted Housewives, who taught me how to include my heart in paranormal investigation. They took me on my first paranormal investigation. I’ve also learned a lot from PRS Radio Host, Tiffany Hnatiuk — Tiff taught me a lot about research. She’s so good at it! Tiff also taught me to be true to myself, even when the odds are against me. This one time, Tiff found the news story to go with a heartbreaking ghost I saw in Youngstown, Ohio. Tiff really rocked my world by putting an element of proof behind my drawings, and my impressions.
I have a couple of friends who I learned a lot from that I can’t mention publicly because they are underground and keep their identities secret, but seriously. Those people taught me control. I will always love them, and be grateful to them.
Oh — and Chip Coffey / Patti Star. They came to my school. Chip was the first psychic I’ve ever met, and Patti Star the first “ghost-hunter.” They are part of my obsession with the human element of the supernatural. I think Chip really believes in helping people through the grieving process, a quality I admire. Not to mention, I admire the way Chip incorporates his belief in God into what he does.
Janel- Will there be a book or movie in the future?
Hopefully! I can’t wait for everyone to see the cool stuff I’ve been working on behind-the-scenes. It’s hush, hush for now, though. ;)
I LOVE EVERYONE!
Janel- Thank you for your time and how is Stephanie doing?
Thank you so very, very much, my friend!
Stephanie is doing very well. This year was a pretty big year for her. She was at the Anna Dean Farms fundraiser, Lexington’s horror convention, Scarefest, and she made an appearance on Darkness Radio