Monday, August 17, 2009

Things that go bump in the night

Recently I've developed an irrational fear of the nighttime. OK, not the nighttime specifically. Rather, I'm afraid that there are intruders in our house in the middle of the night.

We've been living in our house for four months and this fear only just started. Hey, I SAID it was irrational. I guess I just didn't think about it before, AND we have a dog and a pretty good guard dog at that.

For the first month or so that we lived in the house the dog slept in her crate with the door latched shut, so she wouldn't have been any use as a guard dog anyway. Then Torsten went on his first business trip and I felt a little nervous being home alone at night, so I started leaving her crate door open, and now we always do that. It makes me feel better to know that if she hears a noise, she can go investigate it, and that if somebody is trying to break in she will likely scare them off with her barking.

But even then, even when I started thinking about it I wasn't really nervous. Even when Torsten started saying that he felt uncomfortable without some sort of security system, I wasn't really nervous.

Even though it kind of makes sense to be nervous, doesn't it? In the past we've always lived in apartments, buildings with secure access and doormen, and we were always above the ground floor with only one door and a few windows, and any weird sounds that we heard could easily be attributed to noisy neighbors.

Now we're in a house, a big creaky house with several doors and lots of old windows and no doorman. It just FEELS less secure.

So, I agreed with Torsten and we purchased an alarm, the monitored kind that automatically connects to the police when there's a problem. But we didn't buy motion sensors for it right away. At first we just had door and window sensors, the kind that set off the alarm if the door or window is opened.

Still, the fear didn't start right away. The thing that triggered it was a few weeks ago when the light rail, which runs along the highway behind our house, made a very strange noise at about four a.m. We're used to the light rail going by at all hours and we don't really hear it, even if we leave our window open, but this noise was different. It was a very loud, very distinct, repeated thumping noise, and it sounded like it was right in our house.

It woke us both up and we looked at each other and listened for awhile and didn't hear anything else. And we looked at the dog and saw that she was unperturbed and we told ourselves that it was nothing and tried to go back to sleep. Torsten did, I think, but I lay awake for an hour with my heart pounding, freaking out every time I heard the slightest little sound. I had to pee but I was scared that there were people in my house and that they would hear me if I got out of bed. On a rational level I KNEW that if there were people in our house the alarm would have gone off and the dog would be barking... but who is rational at four in the morning?

At around five, the sound happened again and woke Torsten up again, and I convinced him to go downstairs with Montana to check out the situation. At four a.m. I'd been thinking that the thumping was the sound of thieves dragging our TV out of our house, but when it happened again I was able to tell myself that maybe it was an animal. Or the trash can. Or something else innocuous.

As soon as Torsten turned on the hall light I felt better. He inspected the whole house and yard, and (of course) found nothing. And then I felt better too. After that, I managed to fall asleep.

But you know what's strange? Even though now I KNEW that that noise means nothing, and is just the light rail, and it's not like there actually WERE armed intruders in our house? After, every little nighttime noise freaked me out. If a noise woke me up I would totally lie in bed hallucinating other noises and convincing myself that someone was about to creep into our bedroom and murder us. Even though I KNEW it was ridiculous. I KNEW IT, but when I was lying in bed in the middle of the night and my heart felt like it was about to leap out of my chest, trying to be rational just didn't work.

However, it has gotten better. There was one week where it was really terrible, and I slept like shit every night because something would ALWAYS wake me up and scare me, and then I would lie there terrifying myself with imaginary scenarios, figuring out ways that burglars could get into the house without setting off the alarm, and not be able to go back to sleep.

But now it's mostly better. We got motion sensors for the alarm, for one thing. So now I know that even if a burglar somehow manages to get into the house without setting off the door and window sensors, the alarm would STILL go off as soon as they took a step into the house.

And also, I looked up the crime statistics for our neighborhood over the past few years, and they are extremely low. And even the crimes that have occurred in the neighborhood have occurred in a few specific areas that are not anywhere near our house. In the past five years, there has only been one crime in what I consider to be our section of the neighborhood, and none at all on our street. And I couldn't tell from the map what kind of crime it was, so I choose to assume that it was something minor like a car break-in, and nothing that was actually dangerous.

After those two things happened, it took me a few days of middle-of-the-night wakeups to teach myself to calm down. To remind myself that the noise CAN'T mean anything, because if it did, the alarm would be going off, FOR REAL. And that the likelihood of anyone even trying to break into our house, regardless of dog and alarm, is very slim.

And I had a whole rationale behind these self-reminders. I assumed the there are two types of break-ins: crimes of opportunity and premeditated crimes. We lock our doors and windows and therefore prevent any crimes of opportunity. And we can only assume that a premeditated crime would include some scoping out of the target house ahead of time, and any potential criminal who did that would see that we have a protective dog who barks AND an alarm, and pick a different house to target.

Add that to the low crime statistics for the neighborhood, and the odds of anyone trying to break into our house are very low. And yes, I realize that I'm overthinking this but I NEEDED that kind of logic to make myself be reasonable. Especially given the level of panic that I was feeling in the middle of the night.

So, yes, after a few days I'm pretty much back to the way I used to be, not freaking out if I wake up in the middle of the night, and actually able to get a good night's sleep. Thank GOD. I don't think I can adequately express how STRESSFUL it was to wake up almost EVERY NIGHT and imagine that someone was coming to get me. A grown-up bogeyman, if you will.

But even yet, every now and then that damn light rail makes that weird loud thumping noise and wakes me up, and even armed with all my tactics for talking myself off the ledge, it STILL gives me a good few minutes of freaking myself out.

Am I the only person who still lets herself get freaked out by things she should have grown out of 20 years ago? Please tell me I'm not alone in this.


  1. Sounds like you've got the place secure.

    No you are not alone in your fears though. I hate checking on my parents' place when they are out of town in the winter. It's dark and cold and the house is big and scary and EMPTY.

  2. Nope, you're not alone. I still freak out over weird sounds in the middle of the night. And I especially hate being home alone in a big house at night. It's gotten so bad over the past few years that I've stopped watching scary movies and shows like CSI. They make my anxiety worse and allow my mind to create crazy irrational scenarios- it just not worth it. I'm glad you're feeling better about it though and that you have a security system in place, just in case. :)

  3. Oh, you are SO not alone. I have a hard time too, especially if my husband's gone. When I'm woken that way I tend to lie awake and hatch crazy escape plans/hiding places.

    I also went through a hugely anxiety-ridden period where I was sure that anyone who broke in would be coming to take Madeline, and would have to get OUT of bed to reassure myself that she was still in her bed. Even though we had the SIDS monitor in her crib that threw an alarm if she stopped BREATHING, much less was picked up.

    So no, you're not alone... though it sounds like you've got the situation covered!

  4. True story: A few days ago about 10 minutes after Dan got home from work I went into the bedroom and found the bathroom light on. I hadn't been to the bathroom in hours and Dan hadn't made it as far as the bedroom yet. FREAKED ME OUT. Although I knew it had to have been me, it didn't stop me from calling out to any potential intruders that they better not mess with me!

    So I feel you on this. Multiple entrances suck :)

  5. I used to have a hard time sleeping when my husband was gone and I was by myself in the house (or by myself with the dog, who didn't help, being a jumpy little thing herself). I would lie awake as you described, with my stomach in knots and my hearing at supersonic levels.

    Since having the kids, though, I LOVE being in the house alone so much I am rarely afraid. Even when it's just me and the kids--much more frequent than just me--I sleep fine.

    And in either case, what helps me the most is knowing the neighbors on both sides of us. I think I feel (without reason, since they probably sleep as soundly as we do) that if something happened I could shout out the window and have on-site help immediately.

  6. I am hardly ever worried about intruders in my apartment as I live on the third floor in a secure building but last night for some odd reason I woke up at 4am totally convinced someone was in my apartment. I grabbed my cat and walked around my dark apartment to see. Totally nuts but sometimes those fears are just other stuff coming out.

  7. Whenever I hear a noise I always look immediately to the dogs. If they don't respond, I don't. What you have to watch for is uncharacteristic barking. That night that someone set my gate on fire? Lilith is the one who woke up and was barking. She never barks during the night, so we knew something was wrong.

    Eventually you will get used to the silence! You have the place well secured, now it's time to settle in.

  8. I understand your fear - just creaking doors make me jumpy - especially when B is out of town. Casco got to leave the crate at night for the first time when B went out of town and I needed a guard dog! Glad you've got everything secure.

  9. You're not alone! I'm the same way. Having a security system with motion sensors and a big, black dog makes me feel much safer at night. Having that peace of mind makes it easier to sleep. I still wake up and get a little freaked out when I hear a strange noise in the middle of the night, but I'm always able to calm down when I remember that the alarm would have gone off if someone had actually gotten inside the house.

  10. I am a scardy cat too. BUT I have a reason to be. We actually had our place broken into while we were out to dinner with my parents. We came home to settle our son into bed before heading off to the hospital for the delivery of our second son when we noticed that a few things were out of place and a deadbolt on one door was locked when we hadn't locked it. I mean our place was locked up but the deadbolt didnt have a key hole so we locked the regular lock when we left. Some how they managed to get inside, get what they wanted and leave, locking the doors behind them. We think it may have been someone we knew but that still doesn't make it any less scary.

    I've lived alone for a couple years with the kids since then and I've had my share of sleepless nights. I think after awhile though you just give up the fear. What good does it do anyway? If there is someone in the house then it would be best to stay out of their way anyway. I keep a phone beside the bed and my bedroom door open so that I can see the kids' doors from my bed. As long as I know that my kids are safe and there isn't anyone in my bedroom, Im good.

  11. It's normal I guess. I'm so scared with any types of noises too, I'm 21 yet I still sleep with lights on and still believe in ghosts and such. Creepy.

  12. I am the exact same way! I always freak out over noises, and I don't get much sleep when Joe is out of town. I'm dreading his upcoming business trip. :)

  13. i think on some level it's actually rational to be MORE scared of bumps in the night now than 20 years ago. i mean, 20 years ago we thought it was monsters or vampires and stuff; now that we're grown up we KNOW all the scary (real!) stuff that can happen, so it kind of makes sense to be more nervous, you know?

  14. When we moved into our new flat, I had issues sleeping - lots of new noises, and the stairs go straight past our door, so I would always end up wide awake thinking someone was sneaking to the door to try to open it. Plus, I always get paranoid moving to a new flat that maybe the previous occupants still have a key..

    It sounds like you guys are ok though - being smart. You've got the alarm & pup, and of course, each other. We've got Oscar - but he can sleep through all sorts of things.. crazy cat that he is! :D

  15. So not alone. A few months after Addy was born I got what I can only assume was some kind of postpartum anxiety, rather than the more usual depression. I was happy as a clam all day, but when night came, I was rigid with fear, CONVINCED someone was going to break in the house and hurt or kidnap my baby. Every single night. I finally went to our church and did some talk therapy with counselors there, which helped a lot. I also started letting myself fall asleep to the TV, which is supposedly a bad habit, but it saves my sleep, even now sometimes.

  16. I've never actually been afraid in my own home. Even last week when 3 of our neighbours were robbed (just little things), I felt okay. It's probably a stupid, reckless way to be, but at least I don't lose much sleep over it. :-)

  17. Oh me, me, I do! And then I lie awake imagining what I'd do if it really WERE intruders, including horrible imaginings such as which child I'd save first, or whether it would be better NOT to lead the intruder to the children, and wondering why I don't have a GUN, and then imagining what would happen if the children got it. Cheery and restful thoughts!

  18. I have the same irrational fear and we also have a really good guard dog and a really good alarm. I guess 27 is too old to be afraid of the dark, but I still am!

  19. There are times when I get scared at night if Dave isn't home. We live in the basement apartment of a house, so it would be hard for someone to break in, but still. There was one time I was alone at my parents house, they were on vacation, and the alarm went off at 1am. I didn't call the police (cause I'm a MORON), but instead chose to hide a screwdriver under my mattress. Because I would have stabbed the intruder with it if they were to come into my bedroom? Sometimes I'm very smart. ;)

  20. You are definitely not alone. The first time A. went hunting and I was alone at the house, seven miles out of town, out of city cops juristiction, etc, I was a wreck.

    Now I am fine. I figure there are much, much nicer homes around, we are so far off the highway and away from any getaway exit that we are safe.

    This sounds like what anxiety feels like. Rationally, you know better. But it doesn't matter.

    I am SO GLAD you are able to find a way to deal with these feelings.

    If it is any consolation, I think you guys are in a great neighborhood.

  21. Please disregard any spelling errors in that comment. I am having one of those kind of days with my keyboard...

  22. I get freaked out any time that Matthew is away. I check the doors fifty times and hear every creak in the house. Sigh.

  23. I don't worry about intruders, because I have a BIG dog. Actually, though, a little dog would work, too. I watched a show once where they interviewed people who had been jailed for breaking and entering and they all said the single biggest deterrent to them was a dog. They know how to get around alarm systems and fancy locks, but they're terrified of getting bitten. They'll just move on if they hear barking.

  24. I sometimes worry about people breaking into our house too, even though we're in a "secure" building. And then I make the scenario worse by imagining they have a gun, so our amazing guard dog would basically have no defense. Add to this we only have one exit to the place, so basically, we.are.screwed.

  25. I will sometimes get up two or three more times after getting in the bed for the night just to make sure all the doors are locked.

  26. I'm anxiety-ridden all the time, and YES, I do worry this way A LOT (I'm 24). I know it's irrational too, but I can't help the heart-pounding if I hear a noise at night.

    AND... I still live in my parents house! I know I'll be even worse when I move into a house of my own and there are less people in it (until I raise up a bunch of kiddos myself). I'll forever be the woman who has her husband investigate the house with a baseball bat in hand, lol.

    BUT... I think having the alarm system and the big dog is a great idea, and I think that if I do the same as you in that respect it'll help me feel calmer too.

  27. Um, even more weird than being afraid of actual thieves and murderers, I'm still afraid of supernatural things. Ghosties and devils and whatnot. I have nightlights all over my house so I'm never in the dark.

  28. Actually, I don't really think I have ever felt as freaked out as you describe in your post about someone possibly breaking in...

    I have over the years stayed in many different homes alone,while pet sitting and never felt the fear you are describing.

    Maybe I am just not prone to it? maybe I am fool hardy?

    But I also live in larger city than you do currently, with a higher crime rate and not a single person I know has an alarm system in their home. I even have had my rental home burglarized once when I wasn't at home and haven't felt the fear you are describing.

    I personally find it puzzling that with a safe neighborhood, a dog, a husband and and fairly complex alarm system that you would still feel so much fear.

  29. Oh my gosh no you're not alone! I get freaked out sleeping alone in a new house, even my parents house for an evening. I can handle it in an apartment building but not in a house. I still have a night light sometimes.

  30. I didn't used to be bothered by the dark, but now that i'm spoiled with Mr. A here, I'm a total baby.

  31. No you are certainly not alone in this. Eight years ago, before I got married, I was living with a friend in a rented house in a semi-decent neighborhood. We got robbed by a coke addict from the neighborhood. He actually kicked the back door DOWN, ripped electric cords right out of the wall, trashed our rooms, emptied all our drawers (we both washed all our underwear), etc etc.

    My friend & I were nervous for weeks afterward, especially because it took our landlord several days to fix the broken back door. The guy got arrested & is serving a TWENTY YEAR sentence (he had other violent charges). It was all freaky.

    BUT, my point is NOT to freak you out further. Sorry! My point was that, even though I HAVE been robbed, the fear is not irrational or overwhelming. Which is weird because I would think it would be WORSE. Somehow it's not. I'm just normally afraid of what goes bump in the dark, and slightly more so when Brett is out of town.

    The fears fade, wear down over time. That's my point I guess. You very well may not feel it so intensely after some time.

  32. Getting "freaked out" is kinda normal... as long as its not extreme.