What It’s Like To Be A Real-Life Vampire

Though they may not all have fangs, it turns out blood-drinking vampires are very real — and they need help, just like everyone else. A recent study, published in the journal Critical Social Work, looked at a small group of self-identified vampires. It suggests that most don't feel comfortable disclosing their identity — even to the supposedly non-judgmental people who are there to help them, including doctors and therapists. When asked about their feelings towards people in these helping professions, the 11 vampire participants responded with statements of intense fear of being judged. "Psychic and sanguinarian vampires are individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing without the taking of blood or vital life-force energy from other sources," explained Merticus, a 37-year-old male vampire, in an email. "Without feeding, a vampire will become lethargic, sickly, depressed, and often go through physical suffering or discomfort."

We have these principles of empowering clients and trying to understand their worlds.

Dr. D.J. Williams
So, it's understandable that many non-vampires might find this at least a little off-putting (even though these vampires exclusively drink the blood of willing donors). Although the study's lead author, D.J. Williams, PhD, says, "in our codes of ethics we have these principles of being non-judgmental and empowering clients and trying to understand their worlds," it seems that vampires have so far been left out of this non-judgmental worldview. "When you go to any medical professional, they need to know everything about what’s going on in your life in order to treat you," says writer Michelle Belanger, who first began identifying with the concept of psychic vampires in elementary school. "If someone can’t tell you who they really are, what they identify with, and how that impacts their behavior day-to-day, [then] a huge portion of the treatment is going to be missing."

If someone can’t tell you who they really are, then a huge portion of the treatment is going to be missing.

Michelle Belanger
Dr. Williams, who also serves as the director of Idaho State University's social work program, likens clinicians' unsupported bias against vampires to that experienced by those who practice BDSM: Despite study after study indicating that they're totally healthy and normal (perhaps even less anxious than others) BDSM practitioners still face stigma — the assumption that they are somehow damaged by past sexual abuse or are just insane. Even if they're seeking something as run-of-the-mill as couples counseling, says Belanger, "one of the main things that prevents folks in the vampire community from seeking therapy is the fear that their identity will come out and [be] erroneously diagnosed as the primary problem."

All we ask for is an open mind, tolerance, and the right to privately live our lives.

Merticus works in Atlanta as an antiques dealer; he is a founding member of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance and a leading figure in many other vampire communities. He also served as a consultant for the study. "All we ask for is an open mind, tolerance, and the right to privately live our lives," he writes. "However, as a pragmatic vampire, I’m more concerned about family life, the economy, finding a steady donor, and hoping the media doesn’t attribute the latest murder to non-existent 'vampire cults' than I am worried about seeking social justice and acceptance for my identity." All vampires come to a point at which they "come out of the coffin" (as Dr. Williams' study put it). Merticus, who sees his association to vampirism as more an extension of his identity than a lifestyle choice, says he started identifying as a vampire in 1997 "after much introspection and study of energy work and manipulation." Interestingly, over 80% of the participants in Dr. Williams' study identified as female. And a 2006 survey conducted by the Atlanta Vampire Alliance's membership — which includes both vampires and their donors — suggested that nearly two-thirds of the worldwide vampire community is made up of women.

Vampires have issues like we all do.

Dr. D.J. Williams
Although it's hard to say if these numbers are truly representative of the larger culture, Dr. Williams says gender may play an interesting role in one's path to identifying as a vampire. While it may run counter to our popular notion of the creepy, old vampire dude taking advantage of hapless young ladies, Belanger says there are many more sympathetic depictions of vampires out there. "That sense of identifying with the Other," she says, "I see why that archetype appeals to many people in my community." It's clear that vampires and those who care for them share plenty in common. As Dr. Williams says, "Vampires have issues like we all do."

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