How do I help my flatmate get past a disturbing home invasion?
November 19, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I help my flatmate get past a disturbing home invasion?

One evening last week my flat was broken into...while my flatmate and I were both home.

Two guys (addicts of some kind) came in through the kitchen window which was accessible by scaffolding on the outside of the building. I heard a noise and assumed it was my flatmate, he heard the same noise and assumed it was me. A few minutes later he went into his bedroom and found these two guys taking his laptop and wallet (and phone, iPod, blood sugar monitor and digital camera as we later found out) My flatmate then came through to my room and said "There's people in the flat!" I went out into the hall to find these two gaunt, pallid looking guys literally circling around in a creepy stupor. We didn't realise it at the time but at this point they were probably carrying knives taken from our kitchen. They didn't directly threaten us but I just wanted them the hell out ASAP so I ran back into my room to get my keys and opened the front door to let them out. (I can already see the funny side of this - which is a good sign) It was all over in a flash and we are both unhurt so it was a pretty good outcome as far as I'm concerned.

We have dealt with all of the practical stuff - called the police, called the insurance company, cancelled all of the stolen bank cards, had better locks fitted etc.

I'm basically OK. I'm a little jumpy and tired because I was too wired to sleep until really late on the night it happened but I'd just like to learn from it and move on. It has been significantly worse for my flatmate because they were in his room, he was the one who found them and they nicked his stuff. He says he has been having difficulty sleeping and I think he feels uneasy being home by himself. His sanctuary - the place where he comes at the end of the day to relax - is gone and I'd like to help him somehow. He wants to talk about it a lot - mostly going over the same ground but for me it's already in the past and I'd actually rather not talk about it. It's the fact that we were both obviously in with all the lights on, making a fair amount of noise and they still chose to break in which is going to be the hardest for him to shake.

He is planning to rearrange the furniture in his room to try and alter it from the room where he found them which seems like a good idea. I'm looking for advice on how I can help him relax and get past this.
posted by neilb449 to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get the scaffolding moved so no one can break in through the window again.
posted by zia at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is so hard. My only advice is to hold on to all of the patience you can for however he needs to deal and talk about it for as long as you can, because something similar happened to me and that has ended up being the lion's share of what I've needed.

Last summer I woke from a dead sleep for what seemed liked no reason. My partner and I live in a two-story brownstone, but converted a first floor living room into a bedroom. I stumbled into the kitchen where there is a half-bath to pee before going back to bed and stopped, mid-stride because something was just wrong. What I had first picked up in my half-awake brain, was that the kitchen was warm and filled with noise of insects, in the middle of a hot summer, when we had the air-conditioning on and windows shut. Then I looked up to watch a man dressed in dark clothing start running out the back door, which he had propped open. Obviously, I had been awoken by some strange noise--then I interrupted a home invasion.

My partner never woke up, and never saw anything but the propped open door and jimmied window--basically, he slept through the whole thing, as did my kid. So, the whole incident ended up having an emotional element for me that it never did for my partner. It was wrapped up for him as soon as we talked to the cops and improved our security. I still can't sleep through the night, because every tiny noise wakes me up.

He can't really make it go away for me, but it helps so much more than you can imagine to have him respect the gravity that the incident holds for me and to leave off of pushing me to "get over it." I'm positive that he doesn't really understand why it still bothers me so much, so viscerally, but he doesn't let on and that patience calms me down. Also, he's put up with all the weird ways that I've messed around to make things seem more physically and probably emotionally secure.

I'm sorry this happened to you both of you, and that your roommate is struggling. I'm glad everyone is safe, and I hope both of you feel a whole lot better soon. But yeah, just having the patience to listen to his fears and acknowledge them as best as you can, even as time smooths over the rougher parts.
posted by rumposinc at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ugh, I went through this too. My house was broken into while I was either asleep or showering upstairs (in short, vulnerable) and only my things were taken from the downstairs common area - including my laptop which had all my passwords saved on it and no password protection, and my camera with hundreds of pictures on it. I was very, very shaken up by it. It was my birthday, too, my 21st. Still one of the worst days I can remember.

Short answer, it took me several months and some time away from the house to get over it. I stopped keeping anything valuable downstairs. A few months later the person who had been renting the master bathroom, which had its own lock and bathroom, moved out, and I snapped it up so I could feel safe again.

Talk with him about it if he needs to talk. If there's any way he can install better locks, get the scaffolding removed, generally make his space feel like a fortress, he should do that. Lock down his credit history if you can so they can't steal his identity. But the fact is, it might take him months, and he might never really feel safe in his room again. I never did.
posted by troublesome at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2011

Best answer: Some of the best post-break-in advice I got was to increase security as much as I could by installing things like window stoppers, better locks, motion triggered exterior lighting, and also to move climbable objects from the garden area (the people who burgled my home climbed up on a yard debris can to reach a window they could break). Thieves will often return to a location where they were previously successful. Knowing that I had made lots of changes to make my home difficult for thieves to get into was more comforting than anything else. It made me feel in control, which was critical for my peace of mind.

I think that your flatmate's idea to rearrange or redecorate his space is a good one. If the room looks different, it might help to minimize replaying the event in his head when he's in the room.
posted by quince at 3:20 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you or he afford to move? Because I'd get the hell out of a place that has handy scaffolding that's so easily climbed. Do you have landlord? He or she needs a swift kick!
And I think the best way to process something like this is to take all the precautions, do all the follow up and distract yourself from re-living the events until the memory fades, which it will, if it's not rehearsed over and over again.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:34 PM on November 19, 2011

Offer to trade rooms, maybe?

When he start up with covering the same ground, can you tell him, "We need to put it in perspective, put it behind us, and let's go out for coffee/beer/a walk?

Would it help his discomfort to put locks on the windows and increase the door security?
IMHO, the negligent landlord ought to pay.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2011

I had this happen too, not with a home invasion, but my roommate got held up at gunpoint right outside our place. It got to the point where she was having really terrible nightmares, and after a particularly bad night, we decided it was time to move. It really did solve the problem. Is this a possibility?
posted by carpediem at 11:41 PM on November 19, 2011

Best answer: "We need to put it in perspective, put it behind us, and let's go out for coffee/beer/a walk?"

Please don't do this.

Recounting it over and over is a way of getting control of it. Being able to talk it over may help. Has he had a chance to tell all your friends over beers or similar? If he continues to have this need, Victim Support Scotland may be a good resource for him. (You can even arrange for someone to come out to your home.) Some professional help to understand the response to (even perceived) peril, flight or fight, gender expectations, etc when faced with crime may help him more than you can guess.

I also like the suggestions to trade rooms. Anything else you can do that is really concrete - installing window guards, making sure the scaffolding is taken down, getting an alarm, etc - can help, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:40 AM on November 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers folks, and I'm sorry for those of you who have suffered a similar thing.

Like I said, we have all the practical things covered. The work which requires the scaffolding is apparently necessary to stop the building falling down so the security risk is the lesser of two evils. We've secured the windows now such that anyone would need to make a lot of noise to break in.

Even before this happened neither of us were planning on staying here for that much longer anyway but we will both be staying for a few months at the least so will definitely need to deal with the feelings it has created. My flatmate will be rearranging his room. I offered to swap but he said no - his room is far nicer anyway! I've left the offer on the table for the future though. Victim Support Scotland seems like a great idea too, even just for assistance with the insurance claims.
posted by neilb449 at 12:10 PM on November 20, 2011

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