What Happened When I Tried to Use Crystals to Improve My Life
I skeptically set out to see whether crystals—which science classifies as "literally just rocks"—could alter my mental state for the better and ended up enthusiastically drinking water "purified" by a stone I had soaked in it for 24 hours.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz
Lately I've been feeling constantly tired, depressed, and anxious, and every time I look at Twitter, I have a panic attack. My therapist keeps telling me that this will all pass—after all, she says, I only recently quit weed, and "insights" will come in time. Meanwhile, I just need to exercise, maintain sobriety, and accept that I'm feeling shitty right now instead of trying to fight it.
But I don't take advice well—and I will certainly not stop punishing myself with unrealistic expectations because I am a Virgo. Also, exercising is super hard when you're depressed, even when you know it will be good for you. That's why I freaked out and decided that I should buy a ton of crystals instead of listening to my therapist.
Through cultural osmosis, I somehow got the idea that this would help me feel better. Like many others who traversed the dubious path to wellness before me, I blame Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop, which makes crystal healing seem completely regular. I also blame all the articles like this one in the Pacific Standard that keep telling me all the "young people" are doing it.
But while it's true that the current frenzy around crystal healing infected my mind when it was at its weakest, it's also true that I already put a good amount of faith in my daily horoscope and tarot deck, and attempting to fix my life by carrying around a sack of stones honestly didn't seem that crazy to me.
Friends and colleagues that I talked to about my plan were more skeptical. They didn't see what rocks could do to help me, or anyone else. "I think crystals can help your house look nice," my colleague Lauren offered up sympathetically.
I called up Broadly's astrologer, Annabel Gat, for guidance. She explained that the theory behind how crystals work is somewhere between science and mysticism. "Crystals conduct electricity," she explained. For instance: Watches use quartz because the stone is piezoelectric, which means it can generate an electric current. When the watch battery passes electricity through the quartz, it vibrates, which is how a clock keeps time. "So some people believe that if you're wearing a crystal it's going to magnify the energy around you," she continued. But while our body generates electricity, there's no telling how that interacts with a crystal, Annabel says. This is where the New Age belief in chakras and all that comes in.
Annabel told me that the first crystal she ever bought was a piece of moldavite, a green, glassy rock that is believed to have formed when a meteorite hit the earth. "They say you shouldn't work with moldavite too much because it will leave you too spaced out," she said. "It's supposed to connect you with alien consciousness and galactic consciousness. That was really exciting to me."
Obviously, connecting to an alien consciousness sounded exciting to me, too. But I also thought that the crystal might be able to serve a more practical purpose. Since I quit smoking weed, I've missed the sense of calm that comes with temporarily setting aside earthly concerns and going to a far-out headspace. Perhaps moldavite would work as a substitute? I headed to a crystal store to pick one up.
"They say you shouldn't work with moldavite too much because it will leave you too spaced out."
As a rule, it seems, crystal stores are insane and overwhelming. There are rocks everywhere and very little information about them. Some of the more popular rocks—amethyst, quartz—have a few keywords about their supposed properties listed under their name, but most don't. However, people who work at crystal stores are more than happy to impart their knowledge unto you.
I located modavite and flicked through the little plastic bin filled with tiny shards of the crystal that cost around $12 each—which is expensive, compared to other stones in the store. I had prepared for this moment by watching a Youtube video, which told that I should choose a crystal by holding it in my palm to see if I'm "drawn to its energy." After finding two moldavite pieces that I liked aesthetically, I placed one in each of my hands, closed my fists around the stones, and held them out in front of me as the person working in the crystal store eyed my technique approvingly.
I focused on the stones and decided I "felt" more connected to the crystal in my left hand than the crystal in my right. For some reason, it seemed superior. I don't think I was necessarily sensing its energy—I think it's more accurate to say that my decision was based on the stone's hand-feel. But whose to say the difference between "hand-feel" and "energy"?
Not knowing how else to go about it, I found two other crystals that interested me using the "I think that looks cool" method. While originally this tactic was purely utilitarian, it turned slightly spooky. I would pick crystal that I thought looked nice, and when I asked the shop owner about it he would proceed to rattle off a list of the crystal's attributes that seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. There's obviously a boring explanation for this: Surely, all crystals are purported to have vague properties that would be optimal for any unfortunate soul seeking healing through paperweights. But the language of mysticism was seductive; I started to really buy into the idea that these rocks were guiding me to them. I ended up buying a faceted chunk of yellow apatite for $6 and a piece of black shungite that looked like a small, polished river rock for $4.
If I was ever skeptical of crystals, that feeling had completely vanished by the time I was done shopping. Thanks in part to the chatty shop owner, I left the store thinking that the $22 I just spent was an exceedingly reasonable price to pay for the answer to all my problems. Moldavite was going to ease my anxiety and connect me with some chill aliens; yellow apatite was going to bring me mental clarity and boost my self-confidence; and shungite was going to "absorb and eliminate anything that is a health hazard" in my life. Despite the fact that "no scientific studies have shown that crystals and gems can be differentiated by chemical composition or color to treat a particular ailment," according to The New Scientist, I was feeling pretty optimistic. Suck it, science.
Later that night, I held my chip of moldavite in my hand as I watched Game of Thrones. Watching TV while smoking weed used to be one of my greatest pleasures. I'm sorry to report that watching TV while rubbing a crystal didn't replicate that feeling. After I finished an episode, I attempted to meditate with the crystal to see if that would do something. Maybe the crystal needed to "be respected" and have my full attention before it was ready to reveal its charms to me. However, after about 30 minutes of meditation, it was clear that nothing was really going to happen. It didn't seem any different from meditating without a crystal, which is to say it was pleasant, but I definitely didn't feel like I was high and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I did not connect with any alien consciousness.
But when I woke up the next morning to the sound of my alarm, I felt like I had ingested a bar of xanax; I wouldn't say I felt "tired," in the usual sense, but spacey and hazy. Then I realized I was still clutching the piece of moldavite. It was hard not to believe the two things were related. I placed the crystal on my nightstand and slowly backed away. The thing had started to freak me out.
I picked up my yellow apatite thinking that it would "balance me out" and took it with me to work. Yellow apatite is said to bring a "sunny, spiritual energy to the aura," help people achieve their goals, increase self-confidence, and inspire hope. I have to say, with the crystal in my pocket, my walk to the office seemed a lot more invigorating than usual. I gave a wholesome wave to my neighbor as I passed his apartment and listened to "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey on repeat until I arrived at VICE. Skeptics might say that perhaps it was "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey that put me in such a good mood, but I'm going to give the point to crystal.
I also don't think Mimi could have been responsible for what happened at work. I'm going to just paste the g-chats I had with my boyfriend at the time, because I don't think I can describe the experience:
Gabby: i feel like my crystal is rilling me up
Rion: riling you up how
Gabby: im just like !!!!!
i feel insane
im pretending to be sane
but im actually insane
Right now, you're probably agreeing that yes, I am insane. You might be screaming at your laptop or mobile phone: Rocks can't alter your consciousness! But I don't know, you guys. I just don't know.
The next day, I tested out my piece of shungite, a stone found in Russia that is said to contain healing properties and antioxidants. I read on a few blogs that you can put the stone in water to make a "healing water" that you can drink. Even though I was becoming a full-on crystal believer, I didn't think there was any way that this would do anything.
I dropped my piece of shungite into a glass of water and set it on my windowsill to soak in the sun. In the evening I put it in my fridge to get cold, and the next morning I took it out to drink. I gulped it down quickly and it tasted pretty much like normal water until I got to the bottom of the cup, when the metallic taste from the crystal became apparent.
I had been feeling a lot of anxiety that morning, but by the time I got to work I felt relaxed and it was almost like I was experiencing a body-high. Did the healing water heal me? Was this just a coincidence? Am I going to be ostracized by my peers for admitting the extent to which I believe rocks have supernatural powers?
Since I initially purchased my crystals, I've been grappling with the notion that they could actually work. In the weeks that I've carried them around in a little mesh sack, there have of course been times that I've been depressed, tired, hopeless, aimless, or just generally bad-feeling, and there was nothing that a crystal could do to help me. (To be clear, I still see my therapist.) But then there have been other times that I've woken up with a panic attack and holding onto my crystal for a few moments calmed me down.
Having a charm that works about half the time is better than nothing at all, I guess. Nuclear holocaust might be imminent. White supremacists are organizing. The president is a raging madman. Who couldn't use just a little bit of magic?