Paranoia Self Destroyer
December 21, 2008 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me not descend into extreme paranoia. Last night a male intruder approached me in my back yard. Police came and "caught" him. I have always been on the fairly cautious/paranoid side of personal security so I am afraid this incident may spiral downward to a place I do not want it to go. Any thoughts? (Longer story below)

So last night, I was home with my boyfriend and our 4 dogs. I let them out one last time before bed and was sitting on my back stoop. The dogs then proceeded to start barking like crazy near the back fence and behind a shed I have. I didn't want them to wake the neighbors so I fussed and fussed at them until they came back in. I figured they just got each other going like they can do sometimes---how wrong I was.

While I was letting the dogs in the house, I was watching them and making sure my kitty didn't run out. When I looked back up about 15 seconds later, there was a man standing in a black hoody staring at me about 15 feet away. I shouted for my boyfriend and ran inside. TERRIFYING!!

The man said nothing and just went to the back fence, jumped it and stood there staring at my house. The police came about 5 minutes later and brought him in the street for questioning. The police told me they could not arrest him but that he seemed emotionally disturbed and would take him to some shelter this evening. (I found out today that they just let him walk away down the street---WTF???? I am already dealing with this)

So here is the question. I live near a downtown city in a very nice and safe (usually) neighborhood. I chose to live here because it is generally a safe neighborhood and I know about my personal safety issues. For example, when I walk down my well lit street at night, I am constantly scanning my environment and usually walk in the middle of the street to avoid the jumping-out-of-the-bushes-rapist who may be lurking there. I also carry mace. Can't be too safe right? I am okay with this level of caution. Some might think it's a bit much but it is not debilitating and I sleep well at night.

Now that this has happened, I am afraid of going to a place that I can't relax at all in my home. I have a great front porch that I love to sit on in the evenings, and I would hate to lose that to fear. I also have to let my dogs out at night and I would hate to be really paranoid every time I do so.

I am a single woman, I have my dogs (who I will be MUCH more prone to take seriously when they bark "that way" since one of them has been doing it for about a week now) and I leave a floodlight on all night in the back yard. I do not own a gun (never shot one), I live alone, and have great neighbors.

Does anyone have any thoughts as to how to keep what is probably an isolated incident from devolving into crazy paranoia? Any security measures that aren't too extreme that might help? Help me keep my caution at a healthy level!
posted by murrey to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Keep in mind that there aren't dozens of others waiting in the shadows. You already know of this one, and he most likely knows that you are aware of him and will not return. A brush with the cops is another deterring factor.
posted by Gungho at 11:43 AM on December 21, 2008

Be sure to let your neighbors know what happened. Maybe try to set up some sort of Neighborhood Watch?
posted by Sailormom at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Actually, its only been one day. A bit of paranoia is ok and is perfectly natural. Some space of yours has been violated. And the feeling will persist a bit but, as things return to normal, will also fade and you'll start to relax. It is how we are wired. To repeat, how you feel ONE day after is not indicative of how you will feel about this, say, a month from now. Give it time.

I dont say this lightly. In college I was out walking alone and had a man try to grab me and stuff me into the back of his van. After that incident, I was unable to even go out on a stroll unaccompanied, especially at night. But, after a few months, even after that, things gradually returned to normal. I returned to my studies and classes and the thing faded into the abstract realm of old nightmares.

If I can share something that might be more related to your incident. My parents live in a fairly upscale sea-side town. They usually leave the back door to the garden unlocked and, heck, leave the gate going from the street to the garden open. Anyways, one night some guy walked in off the street, walked into the house (while my parents were sleeping!!) and lay down and fell asleep on the couch. Well, they were pretty shocked when they discovered him in the morning, my dad roused him up, soon figured this guy was a bit mentally confused and pointed him in the direction to get some help.

My parents still laugh about it. Because, I suppose that in their case, any subsequent paranoia was disspelled by the fact that they were able to confront their intruder and see him, not as some dark unknown terror, but as just a guy who was a bit lost. In your case, judging only by the reaction of the cops who let the guy go on his way, it may have been something similar.
posted by vacapinta at 12:05 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sit down and talk to your neighbors and ask them to be on the look out, make sure you have your neighbors phone numbers.

We live in a not so nice area and have had police chase people through backyards in the area. Our house and yard is filled with motion activated flood lights (solar powered ones actually work really well), we talk to our neighbors on a regular basis and make sure the officers working our beat keep an eye on things when there's something unusual going on. We have a dog and pay attention to him when he's acting strange, but he's a dog and acts strange a lot of the time anyway, so it's hard to say.

Our house has a number of doors with glass panels, I've covered the glass in transparent security film that makes the glass much much harder to break out of it's frame. You can get an alarm system, but honestly we've not found them to be too effective, mostly it's a peace of mind thing, some alarm systems come with a fob like a car alarm you can hit in a panic button, alarm systems can be elaborate as you want them to be. For my money I think the motion activated floodlights everywhere do a much better job of deterring people from getting up too close to the house and letting me know when there's something larger than a cat outside.

If you're worried about the one individual who was in your yard specifically, you should ask the investigating officers for the persons name and then talk to specifically the sargeant in charge of your neighborhood beat (if they are structured this way) about your concerns and make sure the beat officers know what's going on.

I don't think you have a lot to worry about, the dogs, some extra lights around and a cell phone near by goes a long way to making your place safe. Make sure your locks and doors are solid and the strike plates have good long screws in them, make sure you keep your windows shut when you're not at home, and keep aware of your surroundings, you'll be good. In general I think a personal defense course or three is great for everyone in general, so maybe consider that. There's much to be said about feeling empowered to look out for your own well being.
posted by iamabot at 12:06 PM on December 21, 2008

You've experienced a minor trauma. The only thing that will really cure that is time. Your mind is now on high alert. It'll take alot of reinforcement from the natural way things are (peaceful) before you expect peace again. Try to reflect on that, and perhaps your worry will diminish over time.

While adding security measures may make you feel better in the short term, you're changing your environment to constantly remind you that trouble can be on the horizon. Sadly, no security measure can really stop anything from happening from you, especially a black swan like this random occurrence.

I know its not the answer to your original question, but perhaps the best thing for you to do is to reclaim your peaceful backyard by not letting fear dictate your actions.
posted by miasma at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2008

First, that guy? Not a rapist, not a serial killer, just a guy who's off his meds a little and is probably sitting in his room right now thinking, "Whoa, what the hell was I doing last night? That was just weird." If he had meant you ill, he would have run long before the police got there. So if that guy -- who, admittedly, was doing something strange and objectively frightening -- wasn't really dangerous, then your neighborhood is just as safe, if not as normal, as it was two days ago. And so is your home.

Your security measures are good. Next time, pay attention to them (that is, the dogs).
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

First off, I'm sorry about this scary experience. But I think you are overreacting.

Can't be too safe right?

It seems that you've spent large portions of your time obsessing over your own safety, going so far as to carefully pick your home because you consider it safe, and repeatedly feeling threatened even on well-lit streets.

I am okay with this level of caution. Some might think it's a bit much but it is not debilitating and I sleep well at night.

You're working with a level of paranoia that most people would not be okay with. Even before this encounter with the trespasser (you describe him as an intruder, which I think based on the description is bit much) you were already primed to overreact.

Any security measures that aren't too extreme that might help?

You've done enough already. You own dogs, it sounds like your yard is fenced, you have lighting, you know your neighbors, etc. These are the precautions that normal people take in an otherwise unremarkable and safe neighborhood.

Help me keep my caution at a healthy level!

I don't think your paranoia was at a healthy level even before this incident. You sound irrationally cautious, fearful of events which are exceedingly rare, and highly unlikely.

A few things you can do:

- Talk to a therapist. They handle stuff like this all the time.
- Talk to your local police. Maybe they have a beat officer you can get to know.
- Talk to your neighbors (or continue talking to them) about this event. Make sure they know your schedule, and tell them to keep an eye out.
- See if there is a neighborhood watch group, or some other community organization which interfaced with the local police. Such groups can keep you abreast of crime and other information in your area.

Don't live in a fear. Recognize this for the mental/emotional problem it is, and address it appropriately.
posted by wfrgms at 12:19 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

concern for and preparation for your own personal safety is nothing to fear. Paranoia will preserve ya, I always thought is how the song should go. Rather than worrying about what could happen, remind yourself you saw this guy in black at night from 15 feet away rather than after he grabbed you. Your dogs alerted you to his presence like good dogs should. Remember how ineffective the law is in these situations. They can only help after the damage is done. You may not have a gun but mace is good too. Keep it near. The balance of crazy paranoia and healthy caution is bound to swing after something like this. It's just a pendulum not a one way roller coaster ride to insanity. Some forms of martial arts training incorporate situational awareness, which is good and healthy physically and mentally in all facets of mortal life. A life of perfect safety? Never gonna happen. A rational mind like yours knows this at the core. Keep paying attention to the world around you and you should be fine. Sounds like you are doing a good job of surfing the waves of happy and horror that keeps our short mortal lives interesting.
posted by Redhush at 12:31 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing that with time this will pass if you really try to keep it from gnawing at you.

Two weeks ago, someone tried to break into my boyfriend's apartment through the bedroom balcony (we were not home). A neighbor's dog barked, she came out to investigate, and the man ran away.

Two nights ago, someone was banging on his front door at 4:30 in the morning. We went to investigate, the man said "no one" when we asked who was there, and we called the cops. By the time the police arrived, the guy had managed to pull out his keys and make it to his apartment upstairs. It freaked me out considerably that we had called the cops on a neighbor, but hello--the guy was in a dark lobby with a hoody pulled up over his head, sitting on the floor and hitting our door every two minutes. And he said "no one" when we asked who he was. When the cops arrived and we opened the front door, there was money and a McDonalds bag of food scattered all over the floor of the lobby.

Both of these scenarios were scary for me--my computer lives at my boyfriends, so it would have been stolen if the robbery attempt was successful. And hello--someone beating at the door who appears to be drunk and/or deranged--yikes!

But I can't let this get the best of me. I live in New York City. I'm probably going to be mugged someday. I hope that's the worst it gets. I make sure to be on guard (no listening to an iPod while walking alone, paying attention to my surroundings) but more than that...then I start losing my quality of life and I'm not willing to do that. Address this with the police (most precincts will do a walkthrough to point out security failings you can fix), get some counseling, take a self-defense class IF it will make you feel more secure and not more paranoid. And realize that many people have these things happen to them, and they survive. Don't allow someone to victimize you just from the threat of "something bad could happen."
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:36 PM on December 21, 2008

You can also look at this as a challenge to yourself to get overcome prejudice against people with mental illness. You felt threatened because someone you perceived as menacing was on your property late at night - but were you really in danger? He doesn't appear to have threatened you beyond simply being present and unwelcome, and he stepped off the property when you shouted.

Mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society. The assumption that any and every mental illness carries with it an almost certain potential for violence has been proven wrong in many studies.

Current research shows that people with major mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society. [Source]

It's more than likely that you were not in danger. Time will help you gain some perspective, but if you're also afraid of increasing paranoia in light of this, seek short term therapy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I second taking a martial art. A practical one, with sparring. Without huge amounts of padding. It's not merely the confidence that can come from knowing that you can probably inflict some damage when someone tangles with you, but also finding out that you can be hit and the world does not end. Sometimes I think the serious thrashings I received having to fight against people with belts far in advance of mine had their greatest value in realizing that I could take punches and kicks and I didn't die or anything. It's not about being cocky, it's about feeling less fragile.

Maybe your dogs are sleeping, maybe a handgun is out of reach, but that feeling of confidence and internal balance comes with you no matter where you go.
posted by adipocere at 12:57 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can also look at this as a challenge to yourself to get overcome prejudice against people with mental illness.

That's a little unwarrantedly judgmental, I think. This individual didn't walk up to murrey in broad daylight and say, "Hello, I have mental illness." He isn't a co-worker who casually mentioned that he was taking antidepressants. He was dressed in black, standing 15 feet away on her private property late at night, and apparently climbed over at least one fence to do so. Under the circumstances, her reaction was entirely justified and in no way indicative of "prejudice."
posted by Etrigan at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2008 [10 favorites]

Years ago I was visiting a buddy and his then-girlfriend. They lived together in an apartment complex, one of those places where you look out the window and all you see is a parking lot. Anyway, my buddy and his girlfriend were having a spat, so he and I went out drinking and she stayed home pouting. About three in the morning we returned and found ourselves locked out - presumably by the miffed girlfriend. "Dude, I can't believe your old lady locked us out! WTF, dude," I said. "Totally, this is stupid," he agreed. So my buddy commenced with the knocking and yelling, "Come'on, open the door! This is crazy! Let me in right now! It's cold out here!" And this went on for three or four minutes before finally we heard his girlfriend behind the door say something like, "Who is it?" Which just set us off even more, "Who do you think it is? Open the door right now!" Finally the deadbolt turned and from behind the chain lock some woman said, "I don't know you."

And that's when it suddenly dawned on us. In our drunken stupor we had stumbled into the wrong wing of the complex, and we were knocking on the completely wrong door. "Oh shit," my buddy let slip. "Sorry," I said and we ran away.

I think about that now because we probably scared the bejeesus out of that poor girl. And it was super brave or foolish of her to open the door, even with the flimsy chain lock still attached. She could have called the police, we could have wound up in jail...

I mention this now, not because I think your trespasser was just some drunk college kid, mixed up and lost, but because if that woman had been a little more paranoid, a little more frightened, that whole affair could have ended very differently. Someone could have gotten shot, or at least wound up in the drunk tank.

The point is, stupid yet harmless things happen, and you're much more likely to catch a drunk peeing in your bushes than a sexual predator stalking his next victim. So, be cautious, but measure it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

posted by wfrgms at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Like others, I say this is normal, and it will pass.

I say that with experience. I've been mugged at gunpoint twice (yes, really) and caught a peeping tom in my backyard once. After the first mugging, I was quite paranoid and upset for several weeks. After the second mugging, I guess I was getting better about these things, because I was over it in days.

Strangely, with the peeping tom I was paranoid for a month or more (I kept thinking I heard someone outside, would peep out my own windows, etc.). For your sanity, you might consider that this person could have been a peeping tom. The police told me that peeping toms only want to watch, not hurt anyone. Peeping toms and rapists are two different types of people/disorders/whatever.

With my peeper, I really, really caught him -- he was in my yard, and I foolishly chased him out of the yard and down the street... past his car, which he had parked with the engine running. I jotted down the license plate number, and called the police. They were STILL not able to do anything. But, they did offer to put me on their "drive-by" list. That is, for the next few weeks, at random intervals, they drove past my house to make sure all was ok. The first and last time, they stopped and said hello, and let me know what was going on. It made me feel much better, as I live alone.

It passes as time passes without an incident. Having said that, I would talk with your neighbors, letting them know what happened -- for their safety and yours. And, maybe ask the police if you can be put on their "route" for a week or two.
posted by Houstonian at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2008

I dont think you're paranoid! In fact, I really wish other women would take the sort of precaution you do. Because fact is, the world is not friendly towards people with vaginas. I could list all sorts of articles and stories about victims but I wont because you already know it. Now..I'm not saying you should have some sort of victim mentality, but don't feel bad that you know that you have to take precautions and be a little paranoid. Better paranoid than ..well you know. Your caution IS at a healthy level! Your reaction is very normal, my friends and I would be WAAY more paranoid than you are. For a long time I really considered getting one of those "lipstick..NO WAIT IT HAS A HIDDEN KNIFE" thingies but you know..its kind of dangerous and I'm pretty sure carrying it is illegal. Oh, also, find out what your rights are and stuff? But I'm sure you've already covered that with cops and so forth. Ohh..a whistle might be nice! Get a really nice and loud one. Or something else that makes really loud sounds and is irritating.

I agree with other people who say you should take a self-defense class and/or martial arts (maybe Krav Maga? it looks so wicked!!). Be confident! Also you say you live a relatively good part of the city so not having a gun doesn't seem to be an issue but its really up to you.
posted by guniang at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the advice so far and in advance for any other insights. Much of it will come in handy. A quick follow up to clarify a bit better:

It was not clear at all that this man had a mental illness when I first saw him. Had this man been openly walking around my yard and obviously confused when I opened my back door, I would have had concern, but realized he was either on something or had a mental illness. Yes, I still would have called out for my boyfriend, hurried inside, locked the doors and called the police so that professionals could handle it. But the call to 911 would have been MUCH different.

I was outside for a good three or four minutes and he did not show himself or say anything (or perhaps was being kept at bay by the dogs). The moment I turned my back to shuffle the dogs into the house was when he quietly came out of hiding, hood over his head and approached me. I certainly wasn't going to hang around to find out if this was just stupid or harmless drunken behavior or taking the opportunity to do something when the dogs were no longer a problem for him. One thing I also forgot to mention was that when he was standing there staring at the house (once I was inside), he started pulling on gloves. My boyfriend thought that was creepy as hell and he does not share my "healthy caution" in the least.

But thanks Etrigan for pointing out that if he really did mean harm, he would have been long gone by the time the cops showed. Although my initial reaction to seeing him appear out of nowhere and so close to me was abject fear, the longer I saw him hanging out on the other side of my fence once I was inside made me think something else was going on. I assumed drugs. The police thought it was mental illness. Who knows.

And I don't know if this is relevant, but I live alone and my boyfriend is only over one or two nights a week. I really do believe Mr. Hoody has been close by in the past week since my dog has really been acting out of character for that amount of time. I keep most of my blinds open (with the exception of my bathroom and bedroom) at night. So if he has been around as I believe, he easily could have seen and thought I was alone last night.
posted by murrey at 2:41 PM on December 21, 2008

I really do believe Mr. Hoody has been close by in the past week since my dog has really been acting out of character for that amount of time.

You do realize you're letting your dog control your emotions, right?

Look, you can't know if the guy has been around or not, your dog could have gas for all you know.

Maybe Mr. Hoody is just one a long line of weirdos who have been watching you for years? Maybe they work in shifts. Anything is possible once you start taking your cues from your pets.

The point is this: so what? What can you do when you live in a world where people can see you through your open blinds? Do you begin to assume that someone is always there? Do you then assume that this person, who may or may not exist, is dangerous? And do you alter your behavior, your enjoyment of your home, to match the expectation that this dangerous stranger is lurking out there, watching you, plotting to harm you? And if you go down this road, where does it stop?

You caught this guy in the act, that's good. I hope there is some legal recourse you can follow. It sounds like you're following up with the police, that's good too. Maybe this guy has a history, maybe you can get a restraining order, maybe just by filing a complaint his behavior gets the attention of someone who can help him.

You only know what you know. And right now, all you know is that you caught a weirdo in your backyard. Once. You can go off the deep end imagining Dateline NBC, 20/20, and Lifetime TV plots where this ends badly, or you can exercise reasonable control over your environment, and move on with your life.
posted by wfrgms at 3:17 PM on December 21, 2008

Lights. With motion sensors.

You need to put up bright lights and literally eliminate the shadows.

That'll serve to deter theives, weirdos, and people looking to take a leak.
posted by orthogonality at 3:42 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take self-defense classes so you are more confident in your ability to survive a bad encounter.

I don't think you are overreacting or being excessively paranoid. The guy was acting in a threatening, abnormal way -- you SHOULD freak out and react when people do not act benign and normal. Bad things happen to people who talk themselves out of their instinctual reactions to the abnormal behavior that signals a threat.

Read The Gift of Fear.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:50 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

murrey, you are not blowing things out of proportion at all. Your update is particularly chilling — both the gloves, and the prospect that he may have been stalking you for the last week.

I am a lot like you in terms of my approach to personal safety. I do not think your usual setting is approaching paranoia. I think it's typical (or advisable) for women who live alone in urban neighborhoods, or it should be.

I have had something happen to me that pushed me over the edge into a place that disrupted my life for months after the event, long after the likelihood I might be in harm's way had passed. I saw a therapist about it, and I definitely think a therapist could help you deal with this new fear, should you find it continues to bother you. It's also worth telling you that my female therapist did help me get over the stuff that was causing me extreme anxiety and disrupting my life out of all proportion, but she did NOT feel that my usual behavior as a single girl in a big city needed any "correcting" at all.

In fact, I worried aloud to her about a few situations that were making me nervous, and she assured me that she knew few people who were so aware of their own personal safety, and that she was sure I was going to be safe in those situations, as a result. I've found her words to be a comfort since then, to know that I am (and you are) adept at taking care of myself, and that I have dramatically reduced the likelihood I will be hurt by being ultra-aware of my surroundings and responding to threats appropriately.

A self-defense class helped me too.
posted by adiabat at 3:54 PM on December 21, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry, unclear again. When I say out of character, it do not mean she is being mopey when she is normally playful.

My dog has been fiercely barking and agitated outside at night when I let her out...just like last night. She normally does not do that. She has been doing the same fierce barking inside the house and looking outside when she does so. She never does this. She was definitely seeing/smelling something amiss outside. It never crossed my mind that it might be a person she was barking at...well, until Mr. Hoody decided to make his appearance.

Trust me, I know when she has gas and this wasn't it and my olfactory nerves are grateful :)
posted by murrey at 3:55 PM on December 21, 2008

"In college I was out walking alone and had a man try to grab me and stuff me into the back of his van."

That reminds me. NEVER let anyone take you to the second crime scene, because that's where the really bad stuff happens. Even if they threaten to shoot, stab, or otherwise hurt you if you don't go with them, because if they really are planning to do that, they're a lot more likely to do it after they get you to an environment that they control (and that you can't escape) than they are out on the street where someone might witness it or intervene.

FIGHT BACK and RUN AWAY, don't ever let anyone forcibly move you anywhere.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:56 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

He was dressed in black, standing 15 feet away on her private property late at night, and apparently climbed over at least one fence to do so. Under the circumstances, her reaction was entirely justified and in no way indicative of "prejudice."

Sorry; to be clear, I completely understand being terrified in the moment. But a bit later, and with some information from the police, it's become clear this was a person with some mental health issues. Maintaining the same level of fear is IMHO both exhausting and not warranted.

Therefore, if the fear continues, I'm suggesting that murrey get some professional help in dealing with it, because that is a big and cumbersome burden.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 PM on December 21, 2008

I agree that this man, though creepy, likely wasn't forming clear thoughts about harming you, because if he was, he would definitely not have stood around waiting for the cops. I would also feel creeped out in your situation, but being scared doesn't always mean you're in actual danger. Remember that creepy in and of itself isn't dangerous. It's most likely you're safe- there are a lot of weirdos and a lot of "off" people & experiences out there in the world, and yet most people live long, healthy lives free of violent crime. So for what it's worth, try not to worry- it's extremely likely the guy wasn't intelligently planning to harm you, and now that he's been caught once, he'll go elsewhere next time he decides to do some creepy wandering.

That said, if you're scared, you're scared. And if a few gadgets and strategies make you feel more secure, I say get the gadgets and apply the strategies.

I would put a motion-detector light in the area you think the man was hiding (behind the shed or whatever). Then if the dogs bark, you can peek out the window to see if the light came on, and see if it's a raccoon or a person or a cat or whatever.
Put deadbolts inside the doors so you can bolt them at night, and use wood to wedge closed any sliding doors or windows.
You could hang jingle bells around the insides of the doorknobs- my mom did this to keep us from sneaking out as teenagers, but I'm sure it also gave her some peace of mind about burglaries.
Close your blinds when the lights are on in the house.
You could even get a cheap fake camera with a red LED light (many Chinatowns have these) and hang it in a noticeable part of the alley, so anyone back there thinks they're being surveilled.
Keep your cel phone charged and with you, so you feel connected.
Talk to the neighbours about what happened and exchange phone numbers or emails to keep each other posted about security issues. Also a great way to befriend neighbours if you don't already know them.

Just doing a few things like that will make you feel proactive and less helpless, which will probably make you feel calmer about the whole thing. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:24 PM on December 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would definitely suggest calling the police back, and asking them to clarify exactly why they let him go and what their assessment of him was. Make it clear to them that you live alone and are very upset by this and feel unsafe. Try and get them to put you on their drive-by list (as mentioned upthread). I think that the less you know about him, the more fearful the situation, because your brain fills in the details, and brains tend to fill in gaps with worst-case scenarios :)
posted by Joh at 5:09 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

But a bit later, and with some information from the police, it's become clear this was a person with some mental health issues.

Some people with mental health issues can be dangerous too and the cops are not trained psychologists or anything, they basically took what the guy told them at face value and let him go.

Murrey, I am not by any measure a paranoid person. I live in a crappy neighborhood and walk around alone at night all the time! But finding Mr Hoody in my backyard would have creeped me right the fuck out. Especially with the way the dog was acting all week.

I'd definitely take steps to make your yard an unhappy place for him to be: lights, neighbors checking in, cops driving by, moving or blocking off the shed so he can't hide, dogs allowed outside frequently etc. I had a prowler last year and it was creepy but I never saw him (or her, just left behind cigarette butts and footprints) and after doing some of the above the prowler disappeared.
posted by fshgrl at 6:08 PM on December 21, 2008

I would definitely suggest calling the police back, and asking them to clarify exactly why they let him go and what their assessment of him was.

Just to reiterate: Joh has it. Following up with the police, taking ownership of the problem (holy christ I sound like middle-management guide book) is the one thing you can do that is very commonsensical, and non-hysterical in this case.

Freaking out, buying a gun, yadda yadda... that's pushing it, but following up with the police, finding out about this guy... those are all things within your legal rights to do, and make damn sure you stay on them about it. Ask probing questions when you talk to the police - ask them, "Has this guy ever been in trouble before," and, "Did you cross reference him with the state sex offender's database?" Don't count on the cops to be through.

If the police know this guy, if he has a record, or a history of run-ins with the law, then that gives you much more indication of who this guy is and what he's up to. Also provides a lot more legal leverage if needed.

If they don't know him, then you still have an important role to play as the first person in your community to lodge a complaint against this character. If he's picked up again, lurking in another person's backyard, then they have a repeat offender... and people like that get a lot more legal attention than random weirdos.

So follow up, not just for your own piece of mind, but for the sake of the next person who may have to deal with this goon, and frankly for the guy's own safety... there are a lot of gun nuts out there who would be more than happy to shoot first at a perceived prowler.
posted by wfrgms at 6:14 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You had someone wander onto your property and hang around - a huge deviation from socially acceptable behaviour, and thus a rare and frightening thing - and it turned out to be nothing to be worried about.

Take that away from it at least - even when the shit does hit the fan, things usually turn out ok - the TV has been lying to you. Constantly.
And even though it was just a false alarm, you still did the right things.

So you did ok. You passed any tests. And you learned a few things in the process! You're allowed to relax now.

Just keep telling yourself that life will throw stuff at you, and it's no big deal - you'll simply deal with it and move on like you have been your whole life.

Baddies gonna getcha? You'll deal with that bridge when you get there. ;-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:44 PM on December 21, 2008

Seconding The Gift of Fear. Take back control of your reaction. Go to a self-defense class or read a book (I liked Self Defense: Steps to Survival). Learn about how to react when startled like this.

I tend to agree this was weird but not necessarily directly threatening. But you don't need to reassess your reaction, either -- it was something that you felt you needed to do for your personal safety, and look what didn't happen: you didn't get hurt.

I was a victim of crime this year on my family's property, and it helped me to go back to the scene, so to speak, and remember good memories and just refamiliarize myself with it as just a place where I happened to be at the wrong time.
posted by dhartung at 11:46 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not at all the paranoid sort, yet after this incident I would also be very concerned - mostly because of the earlier unusual dog behavior. Sure, it might be a coincidence, but it might not, and it's not something that I would ignore.

Barring getting a gun (because a mistake with a gun... urrgh), I'd do everything I could to secure myself and my house, why not? The dogs are great... perhaps the top intruder deterrent, so that's a good thing.

I don't find your usual level of safety precautions a bit much, at all. It all sounds perfectly intelligent to me. But going forward I would not give up sitting on my porch; I would not allow myself to become a cowering prisoner in my own home no matter what. I'd keep the loudest, ear-splitting personal alarm on my person always, and the mace to hand. I'd be glad of the dogs, shore up all security for the house, close the blinds at night, light up the back, talk to all the neighbors, learn some self-defense, and sit back and have a cocktail on the porch. Those things would not mean I was descending into paranoia... taking positive action would prevent me from descending into paranoia. However, I do think that news and media ramp up our fears, and I actively try to avoid falling into that trap. If after a while you feel that this is preying on you overmuch, definitely talk to a therapist, but being hyper-vigilant right now doesn't seem the least bit weird to me.
posted by taz at 5:47 AM on December 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can totally understand why this spooked you. You may be overreacting to the guy's actual intent (whatever that was), but your fear is real and should be acknowledged. However, don't let it run you.

The moment I turned my back to shuffle the dogs into the house was when he quietly came out of hiding, hood over his head and approached me.

1. Leave the dogs out there while you yell for your boyfriend.
2. Carry a cellphone whenever you go outside.
posted by desjardins at 8:53 AM on December 22, 2008

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