The Scare Tactic

One of my favorite mantras--and the slogan for one of my favorite stores, Paper Source--is "Do something creative every day." I try my best to sing every day, read a new poem before I go to sleep (Leonard Cohen and W.S. Merwin, my current bedfellows), and, if time and energy permits, cook something for myself that looks good enough that I'd be proud to serve it to a friend for dinner. Gluten-free cereal out of a coffee mug while standing up in my kitchen surfing the internet on my phone definitely does not count toward the latter.

An equally valuable mantra that I've been embracing is, "Do something that scares you--maybe not everyday, but often." Yesterday, I had a week's worth of fear-facing, and I thought I'd share this story:

At 6:47 on Wednesday morning, I woke up to the strangest noise. It sounded like wheezing would sound like if you wheezed from your nose and not your mouth, and it sounded like the noise was coming from inside my bed. Since my bed is a solid storage bed with areas built in for wicker basket storage, I was immediately terrified. Was something living in there? Had some animal had eaten through the wood in the frame and was lurking in my bed without me knowing until this moment?

My building doesn't have the thickest walls, so I tried to tune in and hear if this weird, wheezy, sandpapery breathing noise was, in fact, from the neighbors or the apartment upstairs. But it didn't sound like it. The anxiety built as the noise reached a crescendo, went silent, and started to get loud again. Angrier, it seemed. The noise died off and started again, every "breath" of it feeling like an eternity to my panicked and despairing mind.

Convinced there was some weird creature in my apartment, I spent at least 30 seconds freaking out, wondering if this thing was going to chew through my clothes or urinate on my floor. The panic escalated at the thought of how my mother would react when she came to visit this weekend and I had to spend Friday waiting for Animal Control instead of heading on a retreat I booked for us in New Hampshire.

Then, swaddled in my covers with tears in my eyes, I was struck by a thought: "It could be the ghastliest raccoon creature imaginable hiding under there, but I can't do anything about it if I can't take the step off my bed and see it. Waiting for this situation to go away is like ignoring a hole in a lifeboat. I can't wait for the boat to sink."

So I finally got brave and hit my bed as hard as possible with my hand to see if it would startle anything or disrupt the noise. It didn't. Then, I jumped off the and shouted as I did. Hitting the bed at least ten more times and pulling out all the storage baskets, I yelled my way to 7AM.

The conclusion? No creature. No nothing. It had to be some noise coming from another apartment. Maybe there was an animal somewhere in the building pipework, but I found no traces of one in my bed. (Cue double entendre).

Looking back on the moment of "crisis", which still feels like something out of The Metamorphosis, if Gregor Samsa woke up on top of a bug instead of turning into one, I'm pleased with how I reacted to the situation. I allowed myself the time to panic but was able to escape the grip of dread, refocus, and take action.

In this situation, as in many others, I couldn't just wait for the problem to go away and resolve itself. And I couldn't figure out how to fix the situation if I wasn't willing to explore it.

Sometimes, letting things flow and letting things go in the answer. Other times you have to dive into the ocean, into the depths of uncertainty and impossibility, and simply have faith that you're going to be brought back to the surface at the very moment you need to come up for air.