Today, Theresa Caputo is one of our most famous TV mediums, but feeling in touch with other realms as she grew up wasn’t always easy.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the star of TLC’s Long Island Medium says that from a very young age she would “see and sense things” — including other people’s pain, which seriously scared her.
“If somebody was nervous, I’d pick that up and my heart would start pounding,” explains Caputo, 49, author of a new book, Good Grief: Heal Your Soul, Honor Your Loved Ones, and Learn To Live Again (out now).
Thinking she was losing her mind, she consulted doctors and therapists to no avail. “They’d say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you,’ ” she recalls.
By the time she was 17 and met her future husband, Larry, now a distributor of Italian specialty foods, she says she “was a complete hot mess.”
“He just thought I was crazy,” says Caputo, explaining that sometimes her anxiety would push her to start screaming “bloodcurdling screams, like a crazy person.”
“If I was in a car and I was having anxiety, whether I was feeling something or just the fear that something was going to happen, I would just start screaming: ‘I need to get out of here!’ ” she recalls. “I would scream at the top of my lungs: ‘Pull over! I have to get out of the car!’ It was horrible.”
- For more on Theresa Caputo and her new book, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
At first, Caputo says Larry would always pull over immediately. But after a while, he started trying techniques to calm her down.
“He would tell me to wait until the next exit because he knew that it was going to pass,” says Caputo. “He’d say: ‘Open up your window. Breathe.’ Then it would subside, because it would only last for 30 seconds or so. But 30 seconds feels like a lifetime when you’re in that panicked state.”
Larry, 60, tells PEOPLE he stills remembers the first time Caputo had an anxiety attack in front of him.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this all about?!’ ” he says. “As time went on, it became more frequent.”
“Most of the time it would happen when we were in the car, because when she’s enclosed in a vehicle, she feels she is not in control,” he continues. “That’s when it would come on. Whenever she felt she was losing control of the situation, she would have a panic attack.”
“Sometimes we’d go out with another couple to dinner and we would be in the car and all of a sudden Theresa would have one of her panic attacks and scare the hell out of the people in the backseat,” he recalls. “At the time, it was a little embarrassing for me.”
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And while he admits he thought there might have been “something off about her,” Larry didn’t give up on the relationship.
“I just cared for her enough that I wasn’t going to let that affect us,” he says. “I wasn’t going to break up with her because she has this issue. I felt like I was her anchor in those moments. It was a pattern and it wouldn’t last long, I knew that, so it just a matter of getting through whatever amount of time it took her to go through that anxiety attack.”
These days, Caputo says she’s learned how to cope when communicating with the dead in her day-to-day life.
“I jokingly say it’s like when you have kids and you want to ignore your kids,” she says. “That’s what I do. I won’t tell someone if I sense and feel things [in a random moment].”
“If I’m in a store and my heart starts racing, I know it’s not me,” she adds. “I’ll just say to myself, ‘Be gone you and out of me,’ and that means that I’m letting the spirit know that I know it’s present, but that I’m not channeling with it right now. Because I might be in the toilet paper aisle and it could be someone in the next aisle over! I don’t know. I’m not going to go seek someone out.”
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And even with a successful TLC show, Caputo says she’s still the same person she’s always been.
“The funny thing is I don’t think I’ve changed,” she says. “I’m very grateful — I don’t take anything for granted. At the end of the day, I’m Theresa Caputo who talks to dead people. Anyone that knows me, they always say, ‘You haven’t changed. You’re still the same person.’ “
—With AURELIE CORINTHIOS