Is the boogeyman real?
July 12, 2008 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Anxieties about my own safety and that of my loved ones are making it hard for me to sleep at night. The onset of dusk makes my stomach knot.

When I was a child and would see a scary movie, it would be hard for me to sleep for a few nights afterward. Every time I closed my eyes I would open them immediately, expecting an axe-wielding maniac to be standing over my bed. Ever since I had a child last year, I feel exactly as I did then. Like "they" are waiting just beyond my vision to cause harm to me and mine. It doesn't help that we had a spate of robberies in my neighborhood this time last year - the thieves came in to my neighbor's house through an unintentionally unlocked side door. Also fairly recently, a bright shining light in the community was at home in a very good neighborhood when two young sociopaths came into her house via an unlocked door, took her, drove her around and killed her.

Reading descriptions of movies like "The Strangers" and "Funny Games" doesn't help. I am obsessed with the thought that sociopaths, psychopaths, thieves and other amoral characters are roaming the streets right outside my house, just waiting for us to leave a door unlocked for a moment.

(and then I worry by thinking about it, I am somehow willing it to happen! aaaaahhh!)

How do I ever close my eyes and sleep again without all this worry? I am not a dog person (and besides, I know more than one person whose dog did nothing to scare off intruders) and we do have a security system. I'm starting to think I should sleep with a Taser under my pillow.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am sure others will have suggestions on what you can do to relax, but one thought I had was-can you contact your local police department and ask them directly what the crime statistics are for your own neighborhood? And suggestions for home security?

I don't know your belief system but for me prayer also helps.

Having once lived in an neighborhood as a single woman- where someone did try to get into my house!-I can understand that your anxiety is not totally unfounded-but it does sound as if it has reached a debilitating level. Perhaps you should talk to your doctor?
posted by konolia at 8:29 PM on July 12, 2008

One of the things that one should remember about these movies -- they play directly on our fears of the unknown. The vast, vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by people who know their victims. The home invasion, random and cruel, is incredibly rare.

You may also look in to things like gradual desensitization. Spend some time in the dark, increasing the amount of time, until you are able to walk around in the dark at ease.

You may also look into getting an alarm. And talking to a therapist
posted by proj at 8:32 PM on July 12, 2008

I have read (and heard from women) that one manifestation of postpartum depression can be the onset of obsessive thoughts. The constant worry - and then the irrational worry that your worrying will bring about the bad end - is something that can be helped with therapy and medication. If I were you, I'd tell my doctor and see if s/he can help you out.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:38 PM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'll just keep citing this comment which links various threads about dealing with unwanted thoughts. You have to fight this stuff because it's irrational, and pathological. Some people need professional help to do it. Tasers won't fix what's wrong with you.
posted by nanojath at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had post-partum depression manifest as anxiety and panic with both my children. I constantly had completely irrational thoughts, like being afraid to carry a knife through a room because I might trip and it go flying into the baby's fontanel. I thought I was losing my mind! Please consider seeing a doctor who can talk to you about it and prescribe medication if necessary.
posted by Addlepated at 8:46 PM on July 12, 2008

I want to say purchase a handgun, learn how to use it, learn how to use it well, learn how to use it safely, and then lock it away and never, ever use it (but always know that you have it and could and would use it if your life or the lives of your loved ones were ever threatened...but I'm not quite sure how to say that without immediately getting jumped on by everyone else here for being some crazy gun nut. Which I am not. But people get upset when they hear someone suggest gun ownership.

I grew up in a house where we owned guns and knew how to use guns, but knew to never, ever, ever touch them, ever. Ever. But knowing that they were there, just in case, was very good for the peace of mind of the family. And yes, "just in case" incidences did come up and yes, we were glad to be gun owners.

Now commence with the hating.
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 PM on July 12, 2008

I'll second nanojath, approve getting dog(s) [for comfort rather than security] and cordially non-hate the crazy gun nut. And on a personal note, I've had a life-long ability to scare myself sleepless by hooking on to a looping paranoid scenario. This won't replace the advice to get professional input, but I found that focusing on a truly ridiculous but happy fantasy (like, you're doing the Snoopy dance and bunnies start to waft down from the sky) could quickly shift me off that worry-loop. It's sort of like humming the theme from Zoom when you get an annoying Sondheim song stuck in your head [read: now commence with the hating.].
Good luck and take care.
posted by Mngo at 9:23 PM on July 12, 2008

You are mentally ill. See a doctor.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:47 PM on July 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

To put it a little less bluntly, you have an unusually high level of anxiety and it is affecting your quality of life. So, see a doctor.

Measures to make you feel less anxious in the meantime, such as asking your partner to double-check the door locks before you go to bed, might be ok, but you really are experiencing anxiety disproportionate to your life situation, so you should see a doctor. I don't know if you're female, as your question doesn't indicate that, but moxiedoll is correct that some women experience increased anxiety due to postpartum depression and/or general wonkiness. Wonky and wonkiness, by the way, are the scientific terms.

Also, don't watch scary movies. You're just torturing yourself.
posted by bedhead at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2008

Please talk with your doctor or OB. I agree this sounds like post-partum depression. I would guess that getting guns, dogs and even a 20 foot concrete wall with machine-gun towers around the house won't help you sleep better, you need to get your head back into a better place, so you can be a happier (and well-rested!) person.
posted by Joh at 10:49 PM on July 12, 2008

Given the intensity and the irrationality of the mental loop you're describing and the possibility that this is postpartum-related, I agree with ikkyu2 and others regarding the suggestion that you need medical intervention. In addition to considering whether an antidepressant might help, consider cognitive behavioral therapy to help you retrain your thought processing -- it's a form of therapy that is very goal-oriented and can work very quickly and effectively under the right circumstances.

If you're reluctant to seek out medical help (though I really do hope you'll call your doctor first thing on Monday), perhaps at least try reading this book, written by a cognitive behavioral therapist who specializes in treating over-worry. And in the meantime, STOP watching shows and reading about movies and incidents centered on murders, sociopaths, violent crime, etc. For your own sake, don't keep triggering your own darkest thoughts.

But really, call your doc on Monday.
posted by scody at 10:59 PM on July 12, 2008

I'm guessing that we live in the same town, OP, as I am familiar with the story you tell that worries you so much. I have lived here for eight years, and never has there been random violence and cruelty to that degree. Actually, we are quite lucky to live in an area in which the community as a whole is so invested in the safety of its children. I understand your worries, but I agree that this is something you should discuss with a professional. Everyone brings a child into the world with the fear that they cannot protect them as well as they would like. But here, we have the benefit of relative safety, and a community of mental health professionals and various support groups that can help you through this.
posted by greta simone at 11:09 PM on July 12, 2008

I have experienced depression, and I live about four blocks from a place where a robbery of an elderly man took place in broad daylight.

Yet I am not experiencing (crime-related) anxiety. It is a matter of mindset. Your mind is playing cognitive tricks on you and you need to find ways to counter those tricks. The standby here at AskMe is David Burns' Feeling Good. In the early chapters you will learn some of the tropes or tricks that are bad habits your mind has fallen into, such as minimizing the good and maximizing the bad, or catastrophizing small things that have little to do with you. For example, getting burglarized is not a happy experience, but it is also not the end of the world. If you can start to think realistically about these situations instead of in melodramatic terms, you will immediately begin to feel more relaxed.

Seeing a professional can also get you on medications such as SSRIs that will counter your depression, or anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax that will help you calm your racing thoughts. Better nutrition and a good sleep schedule are also essential.

I can say that if you have become accustomed to worrying keeping you awake, you need to get out of bed immediately and do something you only do when wide awake, such as reading the newspaper or cleaning the bathroom. Anything to distract you, and to disassociate your bad thoughts from sitting in your bed. When you feel genuinely, head-falling-over tired, then go back to bed.

Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 PM on July 12, 2008

I suggest checking on depression first.

Then if you are medicated, and still feel uneasy, you should look into something such as a gun purchase. That would also require some level of training (I'd highly suggest it at least), and would potentially make you feel a bit more empowered.
posted by ceberon at 12:03 AM on July 13, 2008

Bogeymen are imaginary creatures of nightmares and mental disturbance, and fear of them is irrational. You should seek help coping with irrational anxiety, as not doing so can make your fears, and the medical condition that may be producing them worse.

But home invaders, burglars and kidnappers are real bad guys, and people's homes really are being invaded and burglarized, and people are being assaulted in ways they weren't even a decade ago, in every area of the country. So, while you can be feeling irrationally anxious, you can also be feeling that way in a time when a well founded concern for personal safety is not unreasonable, in itself.

Part of the problem is that smash and grab robbery is a comparatively low effort, high reward crime in many suburban neighborhoods, as TV shows like It Takes a Thief make all too clear. As retail businesses have hardened their security, and improved their cash control measures, homes just look like easier targets to many criminals. And many such situations may start out as simple burglary attempts, that escalate in fear by both sides, when home invaders discover you are actually home. So, it's not irrational to take basic steps to better secure your home, and to look for strategies to better protect yourself against real threats.

You say you have "a security system," but many people who say this actually have an alarm system. A security system may include an alarm system as one component, but it also typically includes additional barriers, access control devices, and strategies, that make unauthorized entry to your premises more difficult, and that may give you additional time and options in responding to threats, or escaping them. You can start by simply looking over your home for obvious problems, and perhaps getting a security survey from your local police department or a professional locksmith or other security company. They may recommend better locks, improved lighting, high strength plastic security film on basement and ground floor windows, etc. A few hundred dollars in security improvements can go a long, long way to deterring people looking for a quick buck from seeing your home as an easy target, if you actually use the locks and other devices you purchase. Beyond those basic measures, video surveillance and access control systems and wireless backed, monitored alarm systems can be effective, if you use them, at a cost of under a hundred dollars a month in many areas. If you have a large closet, for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, you could do simple things like replace the door with a lockable steel door and reinforce some of the walls to create a panic room. Simple things like fire extinguishers can provide a measure of improved security in multiple situations, as well.

Knowing your neighbors, and participating in neighborhood activities and watch programs are also effective strategies in many areas, and as a new parent, making sure that neighbors know your child, and that you know the people in your neighborhood are important responsibilities. A child learning to walk can disappear outside in seconds, from many homes with normal windows, doors and locks. You should be doing things like having the child fingerprinted, and keeping copies of relatively current photos handy, that you can give away or distribute digitally quickly. Having current description information (height, weight, hair and eye color, birth marks, scars) and medical information in a handy place, is a good idea, too. This kind of information changes rapidly with young children, but if you simply keep an updated text file and current digital pictures of your kid on your computer, for quick printing and distribution, you've gone further than the majority of parents in preparing to assist authorities early and quickly, should you need to do so.

I personally believe having a dog and pump shotguns are reasonable personal protection measures, too, but I understand that many others don't. I wouldn't just have a dog and pump shotguns, but as additional elements of a personal protection system, they make sense in my neighborhood and situation. Where I live, the average police response time to a residential 911 call is about 8 1/2 minutes, and that is an eternity in a home invasion situation. So, while I keep a cell phone handy, I'm not going to just call the cops if people are smashing in my patio door. It takes more training and regular practice to maintain proficiency with a handgun for self-defense scenarios, than to use a shotgun, and the range of loads for shotgun ammunition and the simplicity of the mechanism mean you can go from less-lethal "rock salt" loads, to full buckshot, in a couple of rounds, in under a second.

So, to sum up, I guess my advice is to see a doctor to feel less anxious, but don't stop there. Do sensible things to improve your home and personal security, and that of your family, too.
posted by paulsc at 1:49 AM on July 13, 2008

1. Stop watching the lifetime channel, and thinking of movies whose sole purpose is to scare you.

2. Do things that would make you feel safe. Talk to your local police department about what you can do to make your house safer...bring your baby and they WILL give you their time. Put phones everywhere. Plant maglites in various drawers, doorways, etc in your house so they are readily accessible. Practice with them at night when you can't sleep.

3. Anybody that tells you to get ANY kind of firearm is an idiot. Seriously. Next time you are at your BABY'S pediatrician, ask them how likely your child is to live to the age of 5. After they look at you weird, and give you an above 99% figure, ask them how much that number declines if you have a firearm in the house. It doesn't matter if you are trained with a firearm, or if you lock it, or whatever...a gun in the house DOES mean the people in the house (including the children) are much more likely to die by that same firearm.

If you don't trust that, read the study:;105/4/888.pdf

4. Please pay no attention to people who get ideas from popular movies on how to defend yourself or make yourself safer. The only thing that will do is insure that you will know how to protect yourself if Joe Pesci wants to rob your home.


In college (criminology major), I learned that A LOT of things are ineffective, or unknown...but one thing that ALWAYS works is a neighborhood watch. Not only do people feel a lot safer, but it ACTUALLY REDUCES crime.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:08 AM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a little therapy might be in order. I can understand the fact that you might be more on-edge as a result of your exposure to those crimes, but you're going to need a little help getting your fear back down to a reasonable level.
posted by kldickson at 7:50 AM on July 13, 2008

Read The Gift of Fear. Read it even if it makes you a little bit uncomfortable. Also, enroll in a martial arts class that is taught by someone friendly and personable, who has an attitude of reacting to threats in a calm manner. This can be a nice meditative form of exercise while changing how you think about these things that concern you.

Dearest OP, I interpret your meaning to be that while you have similar feelings now as you did after seeing those movies as a child (and I don´t think those are good movies for children), that you do fear different things than you used to. Therapy might help with some of your anxieties.

Also, stop watching or reading about scary movies. Even if you enjoy the actual watching, they don´t seem to be good for you.

phunniemee, that´s good general home security advice but I don´t think that alone will help much with the OP´s anxiety. Plus, I think there are a lot of advantages to shotguns, although this is something that everyone needs to decide for themselves and their situation. And you should head to the range occasionally instead of just locking the gun away for (hopefully) good.
posted by yohko at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2008

These are classic OCD symptoms, esp. since you note that it's been since childhood. Worrying that you are going to will them into being by thinking about them also speaks to OCD quite strongly.

Recurring unwanted, violent thoughts are one of many manifestations of OCD, and your comments about the your distaste for and the irrationality of said thoughts also fits the profile - unlike some other neurological impairments, OCD sufferers experience a duality of thought where they are able to identify the obsessions as irrational while still being caught up in them.

I guess the further litmus test would be to ask if you have any behaviors you perform to "cancel out" or will away those thoughts. If so, these would be the compulsion part of OCD.

Things like depression, anxiety, and OCD are all, neurologically-speaking, in more or less the same boat, so if it ain't one, it's the other. Waste no time and get thee to a doctor. If the thought of medication is unpleasant, then start learning about cognitive behavioral therapy now.

And whatever the outcome, remember that it's all just a cognitive trap and has nothing to do with your real self.
posted by softsantear at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2008

The two sad stories you mention had one simple thing in common: an unlocked door. Lock your doors. Consistently. Double-check that they are locked before you go to bed.

You can't help what someone standing outside your house might be thinking about, and perhaps you can't help the scary thoughts without talking to a doctor or therapist, but you can do your part and be sensible: use the locks your doors already have and secure the perimeter.
posted by tomboko at 9:05 AM on July 13, 2008

Intelligent people can disagree on the benefit of owning a firearm for home protection (if the owner is willing to think very hard about and act accordingly to mitigate the dangers of having an inherently deadly object in one's home). But advising a pathologically fearful individual (which is what a person who can't sleep at night for worrying about her home being invaded by random sociopaths - even getting sidetracked by belief that her thinking could somehow magically will bad events to occur - is) to arm herself as a curative for that fear is stupid and irresponsible.

A gun is NOT is not going to fix the fear - in fact, by justifying it (I need this gun for all the insane killers roaming around out there!) and intensifying imaginary scenarios of violence, it could make it worse. Further, it is indisputable that irrational fear plus a firearm can have devastating consequences.
posted by nanojath at 10:43 AM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went through a similar sort of thing when I started grad school and started sleeping only three to four hours a night. The important thing to realize, I think, is that you've taken the reasonable precautions and that now what's going on is in your mind - that most people would feel safe with the level of protection you've provided for yourself and your family. The thing that made me realize I was being irrational was the realization that I would never feel completely safe, no matter what kind of environment I set up for myself, that there was always a way to imagine something bad happening. Also, I suggest you don't read Gift of Fear, it's a book based on rational arguments and full of scary stories, so it'll probably just scare you more right now - it did me.
I eventually got back to a regular sleep schedule and my anxiety went away, but I would nth everyone in here who're saying that you should look into cognitive behavioral therapy. I don't think you're crazy any more than I am, but I do think that big changes (like kids!) and physical effects (like postpartum) could be wreaking havoc on your normal ability to stop these irrational fears. It sounds like you went through a long period in your life where you weren't having this level of anxiety, which means it's possible for you to get back to there. Good luck!
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2008

A gun is NOT is not going to fix the fear - in fact, by justifying it (I need this gun for all the insane killers roaming around out there!) and intensifying imaginary scenarios of violence, it could make it worse. Further, it is indisputable that irrational fear plus a firearm can have devastating consequences.

Quoted for truth. It's in your mind and you know it is. Please see a doctor. Your kids deserve a well-rested mommy. You deserve peace of mind.
posted by CwgrlUp at 11:18 AM on July 13, 2008

I support the right of people to own guns in their home. But I also believe that it must be a careful decision, made rationally, accompanied by training and safety courses for everyone in the house who's old enough to enroll. The OP is not thinking rationally (e.g., "I worry by thinking about it, I am somehow willing it to happen!") and has at least one small child in the home. Under these circumstances, advising gun ownership for the sake of the psychological benefits of "empowerment" is exceedingly irresponsible.

OP, please consult with a doctor. Make no major decisions until you have stabilized. Gun ownership is a major decision, and must only be made in a better frame of mind and with your spouse's full agreement and support.
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on July 13, 2008

I also think that owning a gun won't solve the underlying fear, just as the current home security system does not.

Statistically, you're more likely to be killed by your own gun than any one else's by a huge margin. Obviously safety measures will help that, but why bring an unsafe item into your household when the fear itself is the problem?

Also, statistically, you're way, way, way more likely to be harmed by a huge number of everyday things before you're going to be a victim of violent crime. Violent crime is super rare. You'd be more safe by expending your worry and money elsewhere.

I also had a recent epiphany that Irrational fear is a safety problem unto itself. There's a point where you are less safe because you are thinking less logically and hurting your body with all those bad thoughts and stress hormones. CBT and other mental health therapy can be very beneficial towards feeling better about these things and becoming more healthy, physically and mentally.
posted by Skwirl at 12:18 PM on July 13, 2008

Although it's been said I really would like to amplify it - as a person prone to (to the extent of having sought significant therapy for concerns including) anxiety, it is critical to stop feeding the anxiety by dwelling on media that accentuates it. This stuff is designed to hold your attention and accentuate anxious feelings. This may be fine for most people, maybe it gives them a harmless thrill, but an OCD cleaner shouldn't watch shows where pseudo-scientists shine blacklights around the bathroom and you shouldn't watch trailers for slasher movies or read descriptions of them or obsess over news that dwells on mayhem. Fuck the news altogether, as a matter of fact, the rest of us will pay double attention to the world to make up while you sort things out. The basics of home security are simple and don't require poring over the local crime statistics. Lock up, keep some lights on, if you have a security system use it consistently as the manufacturer instructs.

But you have to live your life. My experiences include what I genuinely believed as it was happening was a home invasion (my garden-level apartment window being kicked in literally around my ears at 3 a.m. - the drunk responsible was probably just completely obliterated and the cops said he could barely walk but my limbic system didn't give a fuck about that) and walking into another apartment while a burglar was inside it stealing my stuff) and I really, really know about feeling scared and not being able to go to sleep because of car doors slamming outside and unfamiliar voices and normal sounds that every structure makes. Please get help for this.
posted by nanojath at 2:21 PM on July 13, 2008

To overcome my fear of the dark when younger, and again when living alone for the first time in years as an adult, I simply reminded myself that constantly thinking every freak out there was after ME was a bit narcissistic. I'd chastise myself for having an overinflated ego. What makes me soooo special that every psychopath is just dying to get into THIS apartment?

I'm also not the type to buy lottery tickets. Numbers work well for me. This same logic worked beautifully when I lived in a neighborhood with a lot of gunplay on a daily basis. I'd just think to myself, "Meh; there's a shitload of actual airspace, and bullets are very tiny. What are the odds?

Yeah, I didn't go too far in math. Still, this really worked for me.
posted by heyho at 9:17 PM on July 13, 2008

Good Lord, people. You've got someone here who could well be suicidally depressed or psychotic - no way to tell from here; it sure seems likely - and you're telling her to go buy a gun?

I'm as much a fan of private gun ownership as the next NRA member, but someone in the middle of a psychotic break is probably not going to be an ideal choice as our next poster child for exploration of our 2nd Amendment rights. To the contrary, this is the person who's going to use that gun to commit suicide. Even Clarence Thomas thinks that's a bad idea.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:18 PM on July 13, 2008

[This is a followup comment from anonymous.]

Thank you all for your answers.

I would mark Nanojath and Addlepated as having the best replies, if I could.

I am not psychotic or suicidal. I believe this is postpartum depression, manifesting itself as anxiety and some obsessive worry about my family's safety. I will be contacting my doctor to see if nursing-safe medication is appropriate for me. Thank you.
posted by cortex at 3:28 PM on July 20, 2008

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