How can I not be afraid of ghosts, shadows, creepy hidey holes and other ridiculous things?
March 20, 2011 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I like to think I am a reasonable, science driven individual. I’m not religious nor particularly superstitious. But something about the upstairs of my house creeps me out against all reason or logic. I hate this and want it to be different. Help!

My husband and I bought the house a little over 3 years ago. We got lucky: we sold our old house and bought this one right before the market came crashing down, but because of the state of the housing market it’s likely we will be here a long, long time. I love this house, but the upstairs has always been creepy to me. Part of it is the use of space. It’s a second floor carved out of the attic, so it’s really a longish narrow hallway with 2 tiny bedrooms and a teeny bathroom coming off of it that all have walls and ceilings joining at crazy angles. The hallway actually jogs to the side and narrows as you go to the second bedroom which just makes it feel more claustrophobic. The top of the stairs are flanked by two tiny-sized doorways which open into unfinished attic space. Each bedroom has a closet with a child-sized door you need to duck into which then meanders back into the attic space.

The other icky thing is that there are a couple access panels in each room to get to crawlspaces and essential wiring and important housestuff in the attic. One is in my bedroom; a 1.5 x 2.5 foot panel was hidden behind a dresser, but the dresser was moved recently to make room for my infant daughter’s crib. She currently sleeps with us or in a bassinet, and I even though I know I need to move her to the crib soon, I can’t bring myself to put her little bed next to the door the pale man likely comes through. It’s not screwed in tight, so sometimes the air pressure from the attic pushes out the little panel open just a bit. (I usually notice this at 2am, natch). The other terrifying access is a 3x4 foot sealed door that is fit into the ceiling right above my older daughter’s bed. She doesn’t seem concerned by it, but man it makes me just about sick.

I hate to be home by myself, and I loathe going upstairs to bed by myself at night. I lie in bed and jump at every shadow. I used to make the dog come up with me but he is old and his knees and hips cant do the stairs anymore. I know eventually this will become the baby’s room and my husband and I will move downstairs and half of me can’t wait and the other half is worried sick to leave my girls upstairs by themselves. When we put the baby to bed at night I can’t bear to look at the monitor sometimes for fear I will see “something” on the video.

I *know* this is not rational.

The house itself is sound - no creaks or drafts. No weird sounds at night. It’s super quiet, in fact, the stairs don’t even pop or creak. The house itself is not particularly old and I know its history. It was built in the 1940s and the same family lived there until the 80s. When we were moving in, an elderly man stopped me outside and told me that his dad had built the house and that he had grown up there. In fact, his father was still living just a few blocks over and was getting ready to celebrate his 90th birthday. That family sold it to the city who used it as a group home, and then we bought it from them.

I have painted the whole upstairs, bought plushy new rugs and runners, put up cheerful wallstickers with blossoming trees and happy songbirds. An incandescent nightlight bathes the entire hall in warm light at night. It’s better. But it’s still creepy.

I guess my question is twofold. First: how can I make this irrational fear of nothing go away? And second: if I can’t accomplish #1, is there anything I can do to make this space less creepy and terrible?
posted by lilnublet to Home & Garden (47 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's a phobia. Since you dig science, look for science to help you in the form of therapy. A good therapist might have a few treatment options to consider.
posted by inturnaround at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is the space quieter than the rest of the house? Atticy places can be pretty quiet and still sometimes. Put music up there. Then maybe try to force yourself to spend time up there during the day. I bet you don't ever go up there to read a good book, fold laundry, listen to music, etc. Maybe if you really make yourself get into the habit of doing comfy, everyday things up there then the fear will dissipate.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'd definitely replace the attic-space entrances you don't use with screwed-in panels, and fix the door (with a lock?) that pops open. That alone might help you feel better.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:57 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second putting locks on the panels. You could use small luggage locks so they are less obtrusive.
Beautiful house!
posted by Agatha at 5:00 PM on March 20, 2011

We've all at some point been subject to irrational fear. Admitting it is a first good step. The second one would be CBT. I have to add that whenever I felt fear in what would be an otherwise perfectly safe place or situation, it was linked to general "anxiety" I was suffering from at the time. Finding ways to relax (if need be) might help. And just remember: this place is yours...
posted by bluefrog at 5:01 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I just want to say that I totally understand where you're coming from. I also like to think I have a completely scientific world-view (I'm not religious or superstitious, and I'm even in grad school for science), and I absolutely don't believe in creepy-crawlies, but I also can't watch anything approaching a horror movie because I'll spend the next month sleeping with the lights on. And even when I'm checking the closets I know I don't believe that there's anything there, but, aaaagghhh.... I don't think it makes you crazy, but storytellers have been practicing the best ways to tap into our primordial fear responses for a long time - you're just more sensitive to it than other people, and probably made more so by having kids.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:03 PM on March 20, 2011

What a beautiful house! Can you spend some time in the attic itself? Bring in some lights and do some cleaning in there or something. Take pictures. Maybe once you get comfortable with the space behind the access panels, it won't seem so creepy to be close to them. Unfamiliar spaces tend to be more scary, I think.
posted by beandip at 5:04 PM on March 20, 2011

Building on what Quizicalcoatl said, I have always found it helpful to listen to funny, lighthearted podcasts or radio programs when I am alone and creeped out. I find listening to friendly radio voices more helpful than just music. (Two of my personal standbys are The Bugle and Answer Me This.) So if you could set some time during the day to be upstairs and listen to programs like these (maybe while doing housework or hobby stuff), it might help you to associate the upstairs with pleasant (or at least not creepy) things.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:09 PM on March 20, 2011

And for god's sake don't watch any more horror films.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:11 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Skpetical atheist scientist who used to be scared of the dark, here.

Plants, flowers, curtains, family photos and rugs. Lots of them. Put a TV or a Mac up there (not a PC, they're beige or black and haunted). And plaster over those panels.

No mirrors! ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:20 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're alone, carry a baseball bat and a phone with you, telling yourself "Hey, this is silly, and I'll get over this, but for now what the heck." And when you think of the icky thing jumping out or appearing at a window, try to make the next image be the same icky thing doing something goofy, friendly, and non-threatening that makes you smile and reminds you it's 100% your imagination. I hear the pale man's name is Chad and all he wants is Twinkies.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:22 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in a house that had similar spaces and little access panel doors when I was in middle school (in fact, most of the homes in the area had a top bedroom with those weird little panels).

I always thought of them as kind of magic little Alice-in-Wonderland doors. When I saw BEING JOHN MALCOVICH later in life, those were TOTALLY those doors. Why? Because my dad kept things in the attic. Art supplies. Those little holes were the passageway to all the messy, fun, weird things my mom HATED. I shot my first gun in the attic (OK, not a good thing, but it was FUN!). My dad revealed street sign paint he had stolen from the city in the attic--the stuff that reflects light like cats' eyes--and we painted the walls with it. THE ATTIC IS AWESOME MAGIC SAUCE! My dog even made one of the little areas his special place, like a built-in dog house.

Then, one day my dad had stayed up for way too many days in a row and a taxidermy fish fell off the wall with one of the access panels. So he took a hammer and got revenge upon the fish. When he "came to", there were big holes in the wall. So, he stayed up another 4 days and tore out the upper part of the wall, and just annexed the attic space into his room, keeping the wall below where the door opening was--like a barista bar or something, with the little door as a passthrough, and put his bed in the attic area as the coziest, coolest space in the world.

So, all of this to say, dude, it creeps you out. Stop trying to logic your way out of this one and build a new mythology. And, seriously, look at remodeling the attic so that your daughter will have the MOST AMAZING PLAYHOUSE BUILT INTO HER ROOM!!!! and you could treat the little door like some sort of fairytale awesomeness rather than putting a lock on it which will reinforce the "thar goes demons."

Crank music. Open all the little doors. Burn sage bundles. Write a Narnia-like story about the beautiful land behind the doors. Make clay figures and hide them back there. You are the master of that domain. We all want to believe we're logical people, but the human animal isn't.

And seriously, don't stop watching horror movies unless you hate horror movies. Don't give anything power over you, logic or no.
posted by Gucky at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2011 [29 favorites]

I don't know. But to me it sounds like a really great house for a young family. Hang in there and grow into it. I bet some day you will fall in love with that attic. And if you are like me it will probably be two months after you sell and move out.
posted by notreally at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2011

I don't know what you do for a living, but have you considered writing spooky fiction? When you wrote that you were afraid of seeing "something" on the video monitor the hairs on the back of my neck went up. Exorcise those demons by giving them to someone else! And, yes, in reality it looks like a beautiful house.
posted by drdanger at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

if I can’t accomplish #1, is there anything I can do to make this space less creepy and terrible?

Gut it and rebuild it in a new configuration. Frequently effective with poltergeists.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:32 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Long, narrow, irregular spaces often make me feel a bit uncomfortable. I don't know if you can change or disguise that attribute of that hallway without actually knocking out walls, but maybe you can see a way. Painting? Decoration? Actually knocking out walls?

(I can't help you with the access panels— this rationalist atheist secretly believes that all attic access panels are doorways into a wonderful world of childlike adventure and secret spaces— but what if you were to leave them open?)
posted by hattifattener at 5:35 PM on March 20, 2011

Just because you are rational doesn't mean you aren't allowed to be bothered by things that are purely consciously explainable. Rather, there is possibly something setting you off that subconsciously bothers you.

In my own case, I am sensitive to strange noises. I'd check if wind through the attic might be making subsonic noises, which have been shown to cause uneasiness. Or perhaps the way the walls echo make it feel strange and alien... Many of the suggested solutions will have the side-effect of making it feel more normal by dampening the sounds, etc.
posted by joshu at 5:35 PM on March 20, 2011

Or, of course (rationality notwithstanding), call around for a preacher man who does blessings and/or house cleanings. Catholic or Orthodox Christians often do this sort of thing.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:35 PM on March 20, 2011

Just for fun, a few previous questions on similar topics -

-My friend wants me to dispel a ghost from his house (this includes several non-paranormal explanations)
- I've heard rumors our new house might be haunted
-Have you personally seen a ghost?
-My child sees a ghostly sphere that nobody else can see
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I love Gucky's idea. Or if that doesn't appeal, put furniture back to block the areas that are freaking you out. I'll admit that I can't mentally picture what's bugging you here pretty much at all, but look around the room and think, "What specifically could I do to this room (other than moving out) to make me feel less scared?"

Worst comes to worst, you could try to do a ritual for yourself about cleaning out the space. Get some sage, set it on fire and smudge it around the room to clear out whatever mental bad juju you have going on. Even if you don't "believe" in that, it might work for you under the circumstances?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also -- my house makes an insane amount of creaking and popping noises. I've always been vaguely scared of people living here that are hiding ever since I saw that video about the woman hiding in the crawlspace of some guy's apartment and was caught on video.

We got a dog (obpuppy), who barks at every strange noise or person walking up the street. She'd protect me, right?
posted by joshu at 5:37 PM on March 20, 2011

You are probably thinking of approach scenes along long corridors in action / suspense / horror films (I won't cite them here, but they are stock).

Also please don't read Perdido Street Station.
posted by bad grammar at 5:43 PM on March 20, 2011

When I first looked at your question it reminded me of another question someone asked a couple years ago about feeling an inexplicable creepy feeling in part of their house - which is why I went looking for the ones I linked above. I don't think I found the one I was looking for, but those all might be fun reading for a time when you're in a non-creepy place, full day, etc. Probably not great for reading while you're acutely feeling creeped out, except to say "you're not alone, lots of people have these kinds of feelings about places, there are some rational explanations, but also even if you think there's something paranormal going on you can re-frame it as positive rather than negative".

But what Gucky says is true for me - I grew up in a 1940s house with the top bedrooms crammed into the roofline, with lots of hobbit-door closets and even smaller access panel doors. The long, low, weirdly shaped "closets" that you accessed via the hobbit doors were definitely a source of fascination as a kid - alluring as a secret play space, also a little creepy. If you can put down real floors in there, maybe a coat of paint (assuming they're floored with insulation now), they can be a good play space. If you're thinking about taking down a wall, be sure the insulation situation is good for that - you don't want to open up a wall into an uninsulated space.

When we were looking at houses a few years ago we toured one, I think a 1950s one, that also had the crammed second floor rooms with empty storage spaces in the eaves. The owner had renovated it in a terrific way - floors and walls for the storage space (which in that case was tall enough for a short adult to stand in), a window from the storage space to the outside (design of house made this easier than it otherwise would be) and a cut-through window between the storage space and the hall/stairwell of the house - it made for great light during the day, and the in-wall window had a little platform so she and her kids could stage doll scenes there, build Lego buildings to display, put up those colored gel easter egg cut-outs, that sort of thing.

What kind of space would you like it to be -- more open, probably? I wonder if there's a way to do that given the geometry of the rest of the under-roof area. Would it make sense to take out the wall between the two bedrooms, and have your kids share a single big room? Could you put a window into the wall that you're looking at, at the top of the stairs? (Which you could then cover up with posters later?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

(That is, a window into the wall of the bedroom, straight ahead and slightly right in your first photo)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:58 PM on March 20, 2011

I grew up in an old house (1830s--as far as I'm concerned your house is *new*). And you know what? I grew up in it so it wasn't 'old' or 'creepy' or 'scary' it was just 'home'. It was normal. I didn't have nightmares or turn out any more unbalanced than anyone else. So even if you are creeped out, odds are your kids aren't--so maybe knowing that they are probably doing just fine will ease your mind a little? (Also, maybe some track lights and the kid's artwork in the hallway will make it feel more like a home--my sister and I each had a big bulletin board in the upstairs hallway outside our bedroom doors to display our latest creations.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:58 PM on March 20, 2011

...Each bedroom has a closet with a child-sized door you need to duck into which then meanders back into the attic space.

The other icky thing is that there are a couple access panels in each room to get to crawlspaces and essential wiring and important housestuff in the attic. One is in my bedroom; a 1.5 x 2.5 foot panel was hidden behind a dresser,... It’s not screwed in tight, so sometimes the air pressure from the attic pushes out the little panel open just a bit.

Every time you put your foot down, every time you make a sound, or even breathe, you're getting slightly "off" echoes and weird acoustics, because you're essentially in a hollow shell inside the external walls.

Consciously, you usually don't notice it, but subconsciously you're aware that the echoes you expect from solid, non-hollow surfaces aren't there, replaced instead by double echoes and a hollow "breathiness" that your brain is interpreting as the "presence" of something human or animal, leaving you constantly on guard.

Possibly the floor flexes as well.

The same way a cat can go crazy over squirrels in the wall, you're constantly set off by air moving and sound echoing in the big empty spaces in your walls.

Possibly, you can fill some of those spaces with insulation or spray foam to limit the air movemtn and deaden the sounds.
posted by orthogonality at 5:59 PM on March 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

Have an exploring party! Invite over some friends and put flashlights on your heads and crawl into the crawlspaces and get drunk and hang out in those rooms and laugh like crazy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:01 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm the same way -- being in the house on my own at night gives me the creeps. I'm not afraid of burglars, muggers, home invaders, maniacs with hooks for hands, or rabid raccoons -- just the spooky things that go bump in the night.

I leave on a radio all night, tuned to NPR or the World Service so there are friendly, intelligent human voices to cover up any odd noises and creaks.

If my husband is out of town, I make a ritual out of walking around the house as jenfullmoon suggests, talking (aloud!) to whoever or whatever is there and telling it firmly that I'm the boss and that I need a good night's sleep, so please settle down for the night and don't bother me.

I feel a little bit better when I've done this, even if I still jump awake when the cat comes barreling through the cat flap at 3 a.m.

I also talk out loud to the former inhabitants of the house, alive and dead (I did some research and know their names), and tell them that it's nice to hear from them, but that they should take it elsewhere. I realize this makes me sound a little potty, but it does seem to work for me.
posted by vickyverky at 6:02 PM on March 20, 2011

kids share a single big room

I see that your kids are not close in age, so this suggestion is probably not such a great one.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:08 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: The angles being weird doesn't help. Have you ever watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (not that you should at the moment)? It's creepy because there are no right angles. The same thing provides visual cues of "wrong" in your upstairs. I would counteract it with wall hangings and pillows and warm plushy things. And reminders that the off angles are functional, and are what make your home unique.
posted by freshwater at 6:11 PM on March 20, 2011

Here's a sciencey explanation for why your upstairs is bothering you: our culture prefers right angles and symmetry thus all those odd angles are setting off deep alarms. You aren't superstitious, you are just irregular-angle-ist.

Consider using some paint to offset those unusual angles. Normally, I would paint the section with the angles darker to de-emphasize them but the other goal here is to make the hallway look less narrow so put the lighter tone on the ceiling and the top quarter of the walls. You could do the same effect with picture rail molding, if you prefer.

Change the hallway light fixture to something that doesn't look so off-kilter, maybe something that has a dangling element so it is parallel to the walls or better, take it off the ceiling (where it looks crammed in) and replace it with a few low profile wall sconces.

If that were my house, I'd totally store a few glasses and a bottle or two of tasty alcohol behind the hidden door in your room, to be shared with the SO along with the corny invitation to share some spirits.
posted by jamaro at 6:16 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Three thoughts occur to me:

1. Have an electrician check the place out.

When electricity leaks it creates fields of electromagnetic radiation that can - I believe the scientific term is, "give you the willies." As a former heavy-duty watcher of Ghost Hunters, they are often able to write off creepy basements as being rooms that have high EMP fields.

2. Watch more Ghost Hunters.

Seriously. Go on a full-on rampage, all Ghost Hunters all the time. I say this as a staunch atheist formerly suffering from a lifelong terror of ghosts. But you know what? I'm not afraid of them anymore.

As you watch Ghost Hunters, first you will be terrified of every single thing. Then you will realize that ghosts never do anything very interesting. (One of the most dramatic acts caught by the GH crew is a rake falling down.) And finally you will find the whole concept thoroughly boring.

3. I note that the timing of your fears seems to coincide with your pregnancy and the birth of your daughter.

Perhaps you are externalizing all of the fears of a first-time parent. Taking all of the irrational fears regarding your pregnancy and your baby daughter, and projecting them upon the upstairs of your house - which is, as you mention, where your daughter sleeps at night. (Night is a particularly tricky time for infants, of course.)

But that's enough dimestore therapizing from a Random Internet Person What Has No Qualifications To Do So. A real therapist could no doubt be very helpful here.
posted by ErikaB at 6:31 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think new mums have all sorts of hormonal and sleep issues going on and that this is within the realm of not unheard of anxiety. Which means a chat with your g.p. sooner rather than later, to make sure you don't end up with some post-natal depression. Good luck possum.

By the way, lovely home.
posted by taff at 6:31 PM on March 20, 2011

While I don't endorse its rationality, I do recommend a few eps of the ugodly awful Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel-- it's basically Ghost Hunters if all the Ghost Hunters people were total stereotypical Central Casting Ed Hardy-clad bros.

And then you can go upstairs and go "LIKE, ARE THERE ANY *SPIRITS* HERE WHO MIGHT WANNA, Y'KNOW, *SPEAK WITH US?!*" and laugh your ass off.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, I totally agree with jamaro and freshwater. The angles, combined with the claustrophobic-y stuff would give me the willies on their own.

Also, I'm counting at least 8 blind corners on a single narrow hallway. I tend to freak out over that sort of uncertainty with 4-5 corners; I can't imagine how I'd respond to 8. The easiest solution (depending on the construction/money stuff) would be to knock out the regions marked in red, and replace the wall marked in blue with another row of banisters. The new area would be nice and open, and will eliminate a few of the blind corners.

It'd also make a great sitting/tv/play area.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:04 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

ErikaB is right. Electromagnetic fields can cause all of the "creepy" feelings you are having. Definitely have an electrician check the place out (or if money is no object, you can buy a K-II meter which will detect EMF).

Also, address those panels-blowing-open issues. A simple wooden lever & hitch/catch will go miles to help you feel better. (The fewer points of entry into your living space, the better you will feel, guaranteed.) Insulation and sound-deadening within the attic itself may also improve your spirits and your energy bills.

And now, an aside. I once lived in a house that had a very creepy basement. I always felt that I was not welcome, and that I was being chased up the stairs. (Which I used often, as our washer/dryer were in said basement.) I had a difficult time sleeping when my husband wasn't home and felt as though I were being watched. Like you, I never wanted to look down the stairs as I was convinced someone would be staring back. EMP vs paranormal vs my paranoid over-active imagination discussion aside.... I had a lot of success by very deliberately setting aside a half hour, summoning my courage, and telling the air/bad juju exactly what I thought. I shouted, I offered a truce, I griped, I stood my ground. Basically, I reclaimed my ownership of the space. It helped. I'd encourage you to do the same - if you can involve a few trusted friends or family members to help you feel more powerful, go for it! (You can always Memail me if you have any questions or need to vent.)
posted by muirne81 at 7:11 PM on March 20, 2011

Agreeing that you're reacting to the architectural weirdness. There's some uncanny valley-style oddness going on with the strange angles and doors to nowhere.

If I were you, I'd be tempted to invent a different and hilarious story about your house, one which involves a seriously derpy architect, or construction workers who held the blueprints wrong, or something. Throughout construction, they kept going "whoops! Doors don't go in the ceiling! Oh well, we'll paint over it or something."

One of the ghosty previous questions LobsterMitten linked above is mine. I'm a lot like you: I consider myself a person of reason, but I can't bring myself to dismiss scary irrational weirdness - in fact, I'm often drawn to it. That apartment turned out to be, predictably, totally mundane. But there were nights I wondered if the TV would spontaneously turn on or something. What helped me the most was not turning away and shutting my eyes, but looking straight at it. If you go actively seeking out boogeymen, maybe even yelling for them to come out, it can help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:40 PM on March 20, 2011

If it's this much of an issue for you, maybe you should consider hiring a professional feng-shui consultant? They're the masters of recognizing why certain spaces make us feel certain ways, and so they should be able to help you cheer the place up, or at the very least identify the reasons that the floor seems creepy to you, which might put your mind at ease a bit..
posted by Glendale at 7:42 PM on March 20, 2011

I know askme isn't the right place to be confrontational, so I'm going to say this with as much respect and trepidation as I can muster:

If you consider yourself a reasonable, science-driven individual, do NOT hire a professional feng-shui consultant. Hire an architect.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:51 PM on March 20, 2011

I say you should go up there and scare yourself silly. On a dark, rainy night, turn off all the lights. Carry a lit candle upstairs.

Then blow it out. Close your eyes. Feel the air moving on your skin. Sense the walls around you. What's out there, just out of sight? Was that rain spattering on the roof, or warm drool hitting the floor? What if it came for you right now, came without a sound, without a warning, just a flurry of claws and slavering mouths whirling out of the attic's shadows? Are you scared yet? Are you trembling? Is your hair on end and your pulse racing? Good.

Now turn on the lights. Look around. It's just the attic. With the cheerful wallpaper and the warm beds and the dusty happy memories of the people who lived there peacefully, for decades.

You gave yourself to it. You offered yourself up. You were defenseless, terrified, open to any attack, helpless.

And nothing bad happened. Because there is nothing there.

So the next time a branch scrapes a window, or the house groans and creaks as it settles, think of that time you stood in the attic in the dark, terrified. Wasn't that silly? There's nothing there to harm you. And now you know it, in your gut as well as your head.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:54 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have no idea whether there are any sources of combustion in your new house, but low-level carbon monoxide exposure is notorious for inducing feelings of fear and horror.

A somewhat florid exposition of the symptoms of chronic CO poisoning-- including a very interesting discussion of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher-- can be found here.

I think you should borrow, rent, or buy a sensitive CO detector and check it out if there's anything in the house which could conceivably produce CO.
posted by jamjam at 8:18 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Remodel. When my wife and I bought our current house, we did so with the intention of doing some remodeling from the outset. But there was this one room—vestibule, really—that I hated. It had 11 different wall surfaces and being in it didn't feel spooky, but it felt like a place I really didn't want to occupy. It didn't especially bug my wife, but I insisted that we rejigger things as part of the remodel so that it would be a more rational space with 4 walls.

We did. It wound up making sense to do so for other reasons, and my wife agreed that it was better for the changes.

Another benefit of remodeling: If you have that space torn down to the studs and then rebuilt the way you want it, you'll own it. You'll know what's behind the walls and inside them. Any mystery will be demystified.
posted by adamrice at 8:57 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy...!!! Wow a warning about that last pic might have been nice. Now I'm scared!

I am an atheist who is afraid of all kinds of things that don't exist. I find that the only way to combat this is to very deliberately think to myself that those things don't exist and I am being irrational. Pause while you are walking and stay in the uncomfortable place in the dark for a few moments. Nothing will happen, of course. Keep repeating this until you are trained to know that there is nothing there and nothing will happen. I feel that anything that does not address the problem directly is just covering it up.

However, you do have to accept that you may be a slightly fearful sort of person, and that's okay. You can either go to therapy for it or learn to adapt. Good luck! I know how frustrating this kind of thing can be.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 10:41 PM on March 20, 2011

Imaginary fears can often be overcome with imaginary countermeasures. What techniques are effective vary a lot from person to person, but a good starting point would be imagining a cube of force surrounding you, a place of absolute safety that no thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night can breach. Think about the precise extents of this magical safety field, where the corners are in the room. If you need to get up in the middle of the night, will it to move with you.
posted by baf at 11:29 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Is there any possibility you're swapping fears about your kids' safety with this other, amorphous fear in an effort to wrestle with those fears, especially considering you have a new baby?

(Yes, it's possible to get too much therapy, in case anyone is wondering.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:14 AM on March 21, 2011

I just caught the ending of an episode of Wasted Spaces on tv and thought it applied to your question. Here's a link to the project they did building a play space/closet between dormers. It included child sized doors for the children to use.
posted by onhazier at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. Big remodeling projects and plastering over the access panels are out of the question (and the budget), although checking out the insulation situation may be doable in the next few months. We have a CO2 detector and that doesn't seem to be it.

Gucky: I adore you. You have made me want to paint a landscape on the inside of the crazy closet and put a surprise on the inside of the access door in the baby's room. On second thought maybe I'll just leave that one screwed in... with a chair in front of it.

I gotta say: the comments asking if maybe this is just referred baby anxiety particularly resonated with me. I never loved this upstairs but it's really only been after the birth that I've been driving myself crazy over it. Can't believe I didn't notice it myself (and I thought I was doing so well at keeping my latent generalized anxiety under control).

Knowing is half the battle right? (I slept like a rock last night... coincidence?)
posted by lilnublet at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2011

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