PEOPLE WHO IDENTIFY AS VAMPIRES because they believe they need to drink human blood to stay healthy often find it difficult opening up to health professionals, fearing ridicule, disgust and a mental health diagnosis, a study has found.
They walk among us. The blood-drinkers. And you couldn’t pick them from a normal person—because that’s what they are. Normal people with apartments, partners, jobs, bicycles, swilling red in their downtime.
Sociologist Doctor D.J. Williams from Idaho State University has worked with ‘real vampires’ for close to a decade.
“They are successful, ordinary people,” says Williams.
Where they differ is a chronic feeling of tiredness. It’s this feeling that compels such people to ingest blood, under the belief that it will restore their energy.
“Without feeding, a vampire will become lethargic, sickly, depressed, and often go through physical suffering or discomfort,” says Merticus, 37, a founding member of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA), who has identified as a real vampire since 1997.
A scalpel is used to make a small incision on the chest of a consensual donor, often a friend or lover. And then the vampire drinks.
“Self-identified vampires work regular jobs and participate in the broader communities in which they live. Like people in the mainstream, self-identified vampires may deal with stress, various health issues, relationship difficulties, education or career transitions, and various other struggles that people commonly face,” writes Williams.
But for the vampires, there is a fear of what might happen if they sought help.
According to Williams, people with the vampire identity are living worldwide. Although they’ve adopted the word “vampire,” there are no trends of psychological or social instability—unlike their fictitious counterparts. (See: Laycock, 2009; Williams, 2008).
The vampires are, however, of an alternative identity which many from the ‘mainstream’ mentality might turn their noses up at.
People with alternative identities suffer the same potential for social estrangement and oppression as do minority groups. The intolerance can be quite pervasive: doctors, therapists and social workers, although trained otherwise, are often not without their own bias and judgement towards clients. Consultations can become flavoured by social differences: a person’s age, their gender, income, sexuality, religion, ethnicity—or a vampiric bloodthirst.
In popular culture, the Vampire is a longstanding menace. Dirty and evil. The beast has slunk through the ages with the endurance of a Jungian archetype. Like death, we fear and are fascinated by the vampire. And as a symbol of death, we have it coiled close to the spine.
But real vampires don’t sport fangs and fear the sunlight. They are members of the AVA Facebook page, they share stories in the AVA forum, they organise masquerades in November and pay $20 at the door.
The internet is a portal for the vampires to discover that they’re not alone. Social support is found within the community. Sometimes this is a haven against the shock, hate and discrimination from the non-vamp world.
“Growing up in the Southeast USA, I was discriminated against fairly often. Even attacked on several occasions. However now that I am older and more experienced, I can choose when and where to be “seen” for what I am. Through experience we all learn to blend in, to hide what needs to be hidden, when it is necessary to do so,” writes Calrathoul, on the AVA forum.
Members of AVA report that even family, friends and significant others can fail in accepting them.
Williams’ research with real vampires unearths a fear of opening up to healthcare workers, fearful of the reaction they might receive given the stigma surrounding mythical vampirism.
“[They] are fearful that clinicians will label them as being psychopathological in some way (i.e., delusional, immature, unstable), perhaps wicked, and not competent to perform in typical social roles, such as parenting,” writes Williams.
Because of this, self-identified vampires are less likely to see a therapist or doctor.
Williams urges clinicians to become aware of their own social and cultural positioning, and to remain allegiant to the principals of good professional helping: upholding the dignity and worth of a person, in all their diversity.
“Most vampires believe they were born that way; they don’t choose this,” says Williams.
The global vampire population is thought to number in the thousands.