Phantasy of a Phantom Lover

It was something about having three kids instead of two, so-and-so having the ace of spades rather than the ace of clubs, hot-air balloons, and how very much “Jill” has always liked working on hot-air balloons. And then I heard my friend, “Jane Doe,” say to “John,” her boyfriend, that she really wanted to spend at least two years together before having a family and taking on more responsibilities.

All through this “conversation,” her boyfriend seemed to answer, or at least Jane was, at times, evidently responding to John. None of this really surprised me, because I’d lived with my friend in a group home for 14 months already and, thus, was quite used to her strange and  quirky “conversations,” and none of this is really unusual for schizophrenics. But Jane’s case is indicative of another condition, called “phantom-lover syndrome.”

Phantom-lover syndrome is “a type of erotic delusion elaborated around a person who in fact does not exist,”[1] yet for Jane her boyfriend (and fiancée, for that matter) is very real, indeed. In fact, he is said to be an older man, veteran of the Korean War, spiritual leader and Bible teacher, who is so close to the Lord that they communicate directly on a day-to-day basis. But this case of phantom love goes even further with Jane.

Asked where he lives, she usually answers, “up in Alaska.” Asked about how and when they communicate, (because no one has ever noticed her on the phone with John), she responds that they communicate “spiritually.” You see, John really lives inside of Jane, not in Alaska. She shared her secret with me, and explained that she doesn’t tell this to others because they would think she is crazy. (Well, that is, perhaps, quite understandable!)

And why does John live inside of Jane? Because, unfortunately, he currently has no body of his own. He will rectify this one day, finding a suitable body of his own to inhabit, and then John will come to fetch Jane away to be his wife, and the date for this is always December 31st of whatever year… Of course, many years have passed now and, obviously, John has never come to whisk her away, yet Jane continues to believe John, never suspecting that he might be lying to her or, better yet, that he might simply be an illusion.

Obviously, John inhabiting Jane’s body, (without kicking her out, mind you) sounds like some form of possession, although not malevolent, which in turn points toward some kind of dissociative disorder.[2] But possession may not be the best descriptive, as Jane experiences no apparent loss of control over herself, nor does she obviously enter into any kind of trance.[3] On the other hand, John exercises some control over her life, i.e. how she thinks and feels, what she wants and does not want, what she will and will not do, etc.

For example, although Jane presents herself as a staunchly conservative, evangelical Christian, she is apparently not allowed to attend church. As the reason for this prohibition, she claims that she and her boyfriend only like and/or appreciate “house churches.” When asked, in other words, she will simply say, “My boyfriend and I don’t go to regular churches. We don’t like organized religion. We only go to house churches.”

Of course, one could easily charge that Jane is merely using her “boyfriend” as an easy excuse for not attending church, which is something she would otherwise feel obligated to do, given her background and present beliefs. Perhaps, then, a better example would be her promise to an older friend that, after a year or so of marriage, she and her husband will bring her into their home and take care of her. Why? Because her boyfriend said so … but during their first year of marriage, of course, they have a lot of business to which they must attend.

Perhaps all of this is common with phantom lovers, I don’t know, but one fact is certain: There is no convincing Jane that her boyfriend is really illusory. I have not made the attempt, but know others who have, and Jane’s reaction is very predictable: She becomes upset, if not angry, and simply cuts off any relationship with that person. So … how would a counsellor/therapist address this problem? How can it be constructively addressed? Of course, she is on medication — she receives a shot once-a-month — but the medicine does nothing to alleviate her suffering … or so it seems to me.

Then again, maybe she’s not suffering? This is a distinct possibility, I suppose. After all, she appears to be happy, or at least content, most of the time. Maybe, then, John is more of a welcome addition to her life? I guess this is possible. Sometimes (oftentimes?) real reality can be like a living hell, which is why not a few people try somehow to escape as much as they can. And who among us has not built some fantastical world for ourselves? I know I have Point in fact, I still do, just without communicating with some phantasy lover/companion.

There is one downside in her relationship with John, (maybe more, of course), and that is that he frequently makes her itch all over. Why? She has never given a reason, but if unwanted itching is the only negative she has to put up with in her “relationship” with John, then Jane might be better off than a lot of folks with real lovers! Who knows? But at least she seems fairly happy with the arrangement… It might actually do her worse if a counsellor/therapist somehow managed to disrupt her para-reality. Best, then, to just leave it alone? Maybe so, and who knows? One day I might enjoy having a phantom lover myself!


[1] American Psychological Association, APA Dictionary of Psychology, 694

[2] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), 300.14, although no loss of personal agency or amnesia is evident, 292 – 294; perhaps, instead, 300.15, Other Specified Dissociative Disorder, which “includes identity disturbance associated with less-than-marked discontinuities in sense of self and agency, or alterations of identity or episodes of possession in an individual who reports no dissociative amnesia,” 306

[3] Jonathan Smith and William Scott Green, eds., The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, 850

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Blood on the Rose, Part B

John stood next to the mahogany coffin casting his gaze first to his beloved Sophia, then to the painting erected on an easel behind where her head lay. It looked as fragile as his beautiful wife, except there was power in the pictures – the bright red petals, the solid green stem with wicked little thorns … and the blood. It was his blood in the painting, dripping from one of the thorns. Sophia had performed quite exquisitely in this, her last painting.

The rose he had plucked for his soulmate had died. The flowers in their garden had all died. Sophia had died. Everything around John was death … except, perhaps, for the artistic creation that, for some mysterious reason, seemed to speak so resonantly and compellingly to his heart. This was probably an emotional response to the fact that this was her last painting … but no, John knew better.

This is iconic of life, John thought to himself. This is an exquisite representation of Beauty and Life, but for this reason it hurts … it hurts like hell. There is life in this world, but life is like wax in the fire: it melts away and is gone. John turned back to his beloved. Or maybe that’s not quite true. Even wax, when melted, still exists; it simply exists in another form, melted instead of solid.

He paused for a moment as another tear may its way down his already tear-stained cheek. Maybe life is like that. Maybe we do go one, but just in another form or manner… At any rate, one day I’ll rest with you, whatever that means. I wonder, will we know? Will we be conscious? Will we finally be able to live Life? On the other hand, ‘It’s not death that man should fear; rather he should fear never having lived, John remembered reading somewhere. Ah, but how do we really begin truly to live? Am I living now, or is this simply existence?

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep,” so said Leonardo de Vinci, “so a life well lived brings a happy death.” Yet to John nothing seemed happy about Sophia’s death. And as he remembered her in her last hours, she was not happy. What could have made her happy anyway? John turned back to the painting … back to the blood on the rose.

With all assurance now gone and the future empty ahead,
We sing another dirge while for Hades we make our bed;
Though true it is we fight long to belong to life ever-living,
Yet death stalks us and keeps us from ourselves deceiving

Blood on the Rose, Part A

Sophia was sitting in the warm and cozy breakfast nook sipping on her Earl Gray from a delicate china cup, with a half-eaten bagel in front of her, while she looked out the tall windows at the astonishingly beautiful flower garden, focusing first on the day lilies, then upon the s-shaped row of monkey grass, cream-colored magnolias, azaleas, and so many other growths of glory stretching toward the brilliantly shining sun. Colors bright and vivid flowed in and out, entwined like one marvelous tapestry.

Sophia placed her cup back down on the fine, hand-crafted saucer, and picked up her sketch pad from the solid oak table to resume her work on an artistic rendition of the roses, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and all the impressively beautiful variety of flowers outside. Her pencil sketch of the garden she and her husband, John, had planted and took such great pains to care for, was more than half completed, and this simple knowledge brought a smile to her angelic, but worn and tired face, as it forcefully occurred to her that her drawing would long outlast her and the flowers as well.

Cancer is such a terrible disease, she thought, cutting me down in the prime of life … but, then, life ends in death, does it not, which is why we strain to create beauty and sacrificially fight to preserve it.[1]

Why even this? After all…

Our life is short and dreary; there is no remedy when our end comes; no one is known to have come back from Hades. We came into being by chance and afterwards shall be as though we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts; extinguish this and the body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like the yielding air. In time, our name will be forgotten; nobody will remember what we have done; our life will pass away … dissolving like the mist.[2]

Meanwhile, out in the garden, John reached out to pluck a rose for his soulmate and immediately felt the pin-prick, like a tiny sword opening layers of skin, followed by a swift flow of blood and throbbing pain, yet he thought it somehow quite appropriate. Love often brings pain, and pain often gives rise to beauty.

His particular suffering this morning brought in its train an image not only attractive by way of its own natural, living glory, but attractive to something “higher,” something enduring and almost overwhelmingly mysterious – perhaps Beauty itself. And so John could not help but think what an elegant and powerfully simple painting it would make: the stem, petals, thorns … and blood on the rose.[3]


[1] Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 5 – 6; cf. also Aristotle, “Poetics,” On Man in the Universe, 423

[2] Book of Wisdom 2.1 – 4a, NJB

[3] Scarry, Op Cit, 3; also, “the material world constrains us, often with great beneficence, to see each person and thing in its time and place, its historical context. But mental life doesn’t constrain us. It is porous, open to the air and light, swings forward while swinging back, scatters its stripes in all directions, and delights to find itself beached beside something invented only that morning or instead standing beside an altar from three millennia ago.” Scarry, 48

Alone: We Spin Our Webs

We make our beds in which to lie,

To cover ourselves before we die,

And we spin our social web

Around this self-same bed, 

To catch some unsuspecting soul

To fill in our heart’s gaping hole,

But we consume all our victims

According to Nature’s dictums,

Or else they break entirely free

And fly to where we cannot see,

But there is perhaps a better way,

More promising to spend our day,

Walking the divinely human maze

To meet another person’s face

In which we trace our very own

From an eternity hitherto unknown


Note: Inspired by Flamingle’s post entitled, “Alone.” Thank you for the inspiration!

Scourge of Michael

Monstrosity of darkness, howling winds and waves of ferocity ~

Homes swept away, steel shells of grand buildings left in tortuosity ~

Scourge of God, perhaps, or mindless chance,

Who really knows about the turbulent dance

That we call by the same name as the warrior archangel of heaven,

Which beckons recognition of power in a position of submission,

And all our glory from before lies shattered on the floor of earth,

As the storm sunk the worth of worldly goods, leaving us in dearth,

And so though we cast our bread upon the water, the pain will last

As we hold fast to some sliver of hope among death and destruction, 

While we arduously work at reconstruction in upward direction

Without any eruption in jubilee, for we mark our enemy in the sea,

Wondering when we will next be forced to flee such dark reality

Crazy Life: Homeward Bound

Crying tears into an everflowing river of fears,
We live at home wherever we are, not very far,
And we make our bed on what we’ve soulishly fed,
Clinging to dreams ere before they are dead

My best friend came to visit me one Saturday early in August not only to see and spend some time, but also to “rescue” me. Sadly, his mother had just died, following the death of his father a few years before, leaving their house empty. As an only child, he inherited the home, located next to his own, and he really was at a loss as to what he might do with the property … until he thought of me.

Steve graciously offered me the residence at an affordable (for me) monthly rent. From a strictly practical point of view, it was an offer I could not turn down, but from a psychological standpoint I was actually afraid. Just thinking about living in a “regular” home, especially by myself, frightened me and made me anxious. I wondered if I could do it … that is, if I would be able to make it.

My friend was far more confident. He point-blank said, “I know you can make it. I believe in you. You can do this, and a whole lot more… It’s time, Jonathan.” He continued with an apt analogy. “You’re like an eagle whose wing was injured. You needed time to heal, but now you’ve healed and, even though it might be kind of scary, it’s time for you to fly again.” Wow! I was dumbfounded.

Steve saw more in me than I saw in myself, and he imparted that assurance very poignantly and effectively, so much so that I began to believe in myself again. After his visit, I still had doubts and fears, but I also had real hope that I might actually transition out of the group home back into the big, wide world. Being cautious, though, I decided to try it for two weeks, during which the group home would hold my bed.

Well, the two week trial period went very well. I immediately fell in love with the home, and of course it was quite nice having my best friend and his wife next door. And I didn’t really feel alone, which rather surprised me. And, too, for the first time in over a year I had continuous access to the Internet, to private phone service (that I could use without asking), and I was able to prepare all of my meals, which was wonderful!

Too, the place was out in the country, much like the group home, where I was surrounded by goats, chickens, cows, dogs, birds and so much more. Needless to say, at the end of my two week trial period, I decided that I did, indeed, want to transition out of the Samson Group Home into an independent, private residency, specifically my friend’s parents’ home. And, thus far, this has proven to be a good decision.

On top of this, another group home resident ended up moving in with me, which provided at least two good results: 1) I have continuous, friendly company in someone I got to know very well, and 2) Steve actually receives enough rental income now to at least cover the expenses of bills and upkeep of the house and property, (with no actual financial gain, mind you … just enough.)

So as I bring this series to a close, I believe I will, from time to time, address different psychological/mental/emotional topics. Where my story of group home life is concerned, I’ve pretty much told all worth telling, (and maybe more!) If anything else of potential interest comes to mind, of course I will share it with you, my dear readers. Till next time, God bless you, keep you, and grant you peace.


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs

Crazy Life: Mind of the Prisoner

Crazy Life: Mind of the Prisoner

To make it sound fancy, I suppose, I would call it the mens de captivus, meaning “the mind of the prisoner.” This is something ~ one powerful trait ~ I noticed while in the Samson Group Home. To expand on this definition, mens de captivus means “the whole mentality (perspective, world view) of the individual (almost) completely cloistered within a relatively small, insular community.” 

Many of the fine people with whom I lived displayed a mens de captivus at least to some degree ~ that is, their whole world essentially consisted of the “cloister,” or group home. Within this there were certain activities and relationships that proved very important, which are not (perhaps) nearly so important on the “outside.” Buying and selling cigarettes, for example, while technically not allowed, was a daily occurrence.

The relationships with mental health technicians (MHTs), therapists, and the group home director proved in many ways to be more fundamental than their relationship(s) to family and friends. I suppose this was due to the immediacy and constancy of those relationships. Of course, their/our relationships with one another were very important, and this all became at least somewhat dominant in group home life.

Consequently, life apart from this local, confined community ended up seeming rather foreign and, perhaps, frightening. While many, if not most, of the groups sessions were on some basic life skill (BLS), you could look around the room and see that some consumers were quite obviously not paying any attention, while still others (however few) were even falling asleep! (Granted, these sessions could be boring, but still…)

One fellow resident hit the nail on the head when she said, “It’s really sad. It’s heartbreaking… These people look so defeated. It’ s like they’ve just given up, like they have no hope!” True, and the emptying of any hope for life beyond the group home community was filled with a mens de captivus, that is, an entire life-perspective and feeling grown from within the “cloister.”

And this is really where I believe the Church, and other religious institutions (i.e. temple, mosque, synagogue, etc.), can really make a palpable difference. If good church folk can not only come by to visit, but somehow make arrangements to help integrate group home residents (or “consumers,” as they are called) into the larger, outside community, it would make a world of difference.

Well, this would be an act of connection beyond the four walls of the group home. I believe that it would at least disrupt the mens de captivus, which would be fundamentally positive. The mens de captivus certainly needs to be disrupted! Resident/consumers are ultimately not helped by being confined so much of their time within a mentally/emotionally/psychologically disabled “cloister.”

I remember very well getting up in the morning just in time for breakfast, followed by an early morning shower, followed by morning meds and then day treatment. We ate lunch at day treatment, and afterwards I would feed the birds (and squirrels, racoons, and opossums) and the fish in our backyard pond. After this, I sometimes laid down for an half-hour nap, but then I almost always went ahead and did my chore.

Interspersed throughout my day were, of course, requests to buy or bum something. (This is just part of the local, cloistered, group home life.) And, too, we shared many items and even cut (and sometimes styled) each others hair. Living this more or less complete life, largely sectioned off from the rest of humanity, it became easy ~ too easy, really ~ to forget what it was like to live an “ordinary life” in society-at-large.

thGRVRKD0NPart of my own hope and dream now is to do something to alleviate this mens de captivus, opening the prison door, so to speak, gently leading individuals back out into the verdant fields of promising life in the wide world we inhabit. Yes, it can, and often is, frightening; then again, true freedom (authentic liberty) is scary if for no other reason than the fact that the immediate future always stands open to innumerable possibilities with very few guarantees. Is it worth it, though? Yes! Most assuredly!

For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs