Help me get over my rat/vermin phobia.
August 31, 2015 5:35 PM   Subscribe

There are rats in the garbage shed behind my house. My landlord has been contacted and I have no evidence of them being in my house, but I am completely terrified to be there at night now. I know about all of the logical things I can do, but I am filled with terror and don't want to sleep at home knowing they're outside and knowing that they could get in.

What do I do in this situation to keep my head straight? I can't afford to move, and vermin is a fact of life in the city. Despite getting traps and keeping my house clean, I am consumed with fear. I even had to sleep in a hotel last night because I was up all night hearing them rummaging around outside and I can't manage two nights without sleep.

What are some coping strategies, besides looking for a place to live? My landlord is aware, but doesn't seem to be moving on it quickly. I just want to not be scared to go home every night.

And no, I can not get a pet.

posted by lollipopgomez to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you know why you're afraid of rats? Is there something specific you can point to? To me, this fear seems pretty irrational, as wild rats generally are as keen to avoid contact with you as you are of them. But then, I've also kept rats as pets before, so they definitely don't bother me either.

If the noise keeps you up, could you get earplugs?
posted by Aleyn at 5:58 PM on August 31, 2015

You have an anxiety problem, not a rat problem (you indicate they are not in your house.) There are many AskMes on managing anxiety, including the question right before yours. If it won't trigger a new phobia, you can also look at recent AskMes about dealing with bedbug phobia.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:02 PM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your landlord may not be your only option for doing something about the problem, especially since they're outside. Consider reporting them to your local animal control department (some jurisdictions take rats very seriously!)

I don't think I'd like the situation either, but the fear does seem disproportionate to the situation and likelihood of rats wanting anything to do with your home. I would say it's worth looking into this as well as into trying to get the rats removed, mostly because it's clearly having a negative impact on your life, and you deserve to get some sleep.
posted by asperity at 6:20 PM on August 31, 2015

I have been in a similar situation. In my case, I thought back to how it was, sleeping at my house before I knew there were mice. How is my situation worse in any material way now that I know? They didn't bother me before I knew, and now that I know, I'm actually in a better situation because I can take preventative measures. ETA: to clarify, I slept great when I didn't know, but I almost certainly slept in a place with mice. The difference is a day and some knowledge.

Look up advice for preventing rodents from entering a home (put all your food and soft goods in plastic storage bins with lids, don't have a lot of clutter, sweep up frequently, and try to keep the bottom foot of your house clear with items away from the walls.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:24 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you can't get a permanent pet could you at least borrow a cat for a while? Maybe offer to catsit in your home? I think having a cat around would not only do a lot to mitigate any actual threat from the rats (the cat might actually just kill them all for you before the landlord gets around to it) but also reassure you that they're not going to be climbing into bed with you etc. as long as the cat is in the room.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cognitive Based Therapy for Phobias.
posted by inturnaround at 8:16 PM on August 31, 2015

Hi all -

These are all good suggestions, I have had courses of CBT before for other issues and I definitely see how this could be another issue, rather than strict fear of rats. There are no holes in any of the walls in the house and I will keep checking.

Thank you.
posted by lollipopgomez at 9:27 PM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I cope by a strategy I call geeking the fuck out about it. I hie myself to the internet and learn everything there is to know.

I will use the example of roaches, which tend to invoke a big ol' irrational hyper-startle revulsion reaction that could be described as "BLEHGHGHGHGHSQUEEEKACKAUUUGH."

So, some book learnin'. And now, I can glimpse those fuckers and think "OH THAT'S CALLED AN ORIENTAL COCKROACH NOT AN AMERICAN COCKROACH OR GERMAN COCKROACH AND THOSE GEOGRAPHICAL [breathing easier now] COMMON NAMES are wildly inaccurate, but anyway, the Oriental cockroach doesn't actually try to colonize occupied houses generally [STOMPS THE BUG ALL CASUALLY and shudders just a little], it's not the one that's the common kitchen pest, which is the German cockroach, which is much smaller and kind of pointy on the ends. Though I think the most common types differ between the west coast and east coast, and...

And so I don't like the fuckers, no, but I can turn back the wave of irrational reactionary fear long enough to deal.
posted by desuetude at 9:34 PM on August 31, 2015

I, on the other hand, have found that researching stuff on the internet increases my anxiety (health anxiety as well as cockroaches and other pests). I try never to do that now.

Remember if you do go on the internet that you're more likely to read about horrible pest invasion stories because no one is going to read a blog post or whatever about a straightforward pest experience ("Heard rats, called the landlord, he dealt with it"). As the newspapers say, "If it bleeds, it leads".

Sounds very unpleasant but it's great that you have no evidence of them entering the house yet. Can you use a fan or white noise app on your phone to drown out the noise at night? I also find that when I'm stressed out about something, I can get to sleep by switching on the TV and watching something funny and relaxing till I doze off. Not very good from a sleep hygiene or energy saving point of view, but it gets you relaxed enough to sleep.

And, yes, start looking into anxiety management techniques. Different strokes for different folks, but relaxing reading and viewing works well for me, as well as knowing that however bad I feel right now, it isn't going to last forever.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:35 AM on September 1, 2015

> Remember if you do go on the internet that you're more likely to read about horrible pest invasion stories because no one is going to read a blog post or whatever about a straightforward pest experience ("Heard rats, called the landlord, he dealt with it"). As the newspapers say, "If it bleeds, it leads".

Oh gods, I don't read news stories, no! I go straight to encyclopedias, agricultural extension offices, and science education sites.
posted by desuetude at 9:07 AM on September 1, 2015

I would heavily suggest against spending more time researching it. Anxious people are great at picking out the pieces of information that confirm their fears (think of a hypochondriac combing through 100 possible explanations for their headache and settling on brain cancer).

Running a fan or some quiet music at night is great if you're afraid of things that go bump in the night.

I'm not sure what it is about the rats that scare you, but for what it's worth, I had one get in my house a few years ago and it was like 5% as bad as I thought it would have been. It was annoying but I would take it over a bug infestation any day.
posted by noxperpetua at 4:00 PM on September 1, 2015

Yeah, the thing with rats is a) noise and b) destruction. There is no c) find humans and eviscerate them.

They will keep you up at night with their ceaseless gnawing and they will gnaw through anything that gets in their way, but they are not the least bit interested in getting to you.

I hate (Norway) rats with a purple passion but the only reason to fear them is if your possessions are between them and the food they seek.
posted by bricoleur at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2015

Maybe running a fan so you can't hear them outside would help you relax and get some sleep. Or a nice calming album you like played on repeat.

It sounds to me like they are probably pretty happy and successful outside. At this point they have little motivation to try to get into the relative fortress of your house.

I'd also suggest calling your landlord every day until someone actually shows up.
posted by ewok_academy at 6:27 PM on September 1, 2015

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