Safe as Houses?

Somebody tried to break into my garage a couple of weeks ago.

It didn’t really seem that big a deal at the time. We were watching tv and thinking about going to bed when there was an almighty bang on the garage door. We looked out to see three folk at our garage door. By the time we ran out, they had run off.

They didn’t get in. and they didn’t get anything. They just damaged the door a little and squashed a couple of my plants.

Not really that big a deal.

Or so I thought at the time.

Then a couple of things happened.

First our neighbour came over. He has cctv which happens to look in the direction of our garage. It was strange and a bit unnerving watching these people try to get into my home. But what really stayed with me was just how long they tried for. At the time we had thought it was just a bang and them running off. But it wasn’t that fast. They were there for over ten minutes. Just the other side of the wall I was sitting behind. And they knew that we were in the house.

Second, they tried to break into a neighbour’s garage a couple of weeks later. After our experience, we are a little over sensitive about noises outside, and have taken to curtain twitching in response to bangs. So when we heard a bang and saw a group out in the street, I went out to see what was happening. What was happening was a group of five trying their best to get into the neighbours home.

I would like to say that they ran off when they saw me. In fact, they carried on trying to get in for a while and then ambled away when they heard me asking for the police on the phone.

Apparently it is bikes that they are after.

We think our house was targeted because we have a bike rack on the car. The neighbour had the garage door open the evening before the attempted break in and some folk were seen having a good look in. The local gym has put out a message to all its members saying that bikes are being stolen from their car park. According to the local press there is a bike theft ‘crime wave’.

I didn’t lose anything. I wasn’t directly threatened. The whole thing was a bit of an inconvenience.

Except that it was more than that.

It was only this morning that I realised how much more.

This morning I went to get the cargo bike out of the garage for the school run and the alarm went off for no reason. My heart leapt into my throat and I burst into tears. In fact it was a fault with the alarm, now fixed, but my immediate thought was “there’s someone in here”. Not a nice feeling on your own in the dark.

Later I was chatting to a friend about the various attempted break ins. I also mentioned that I was really tired. And she said something like “is it the worry about the break ins which is stopping you sleeping?”.

At that moment I felt a rush of “at last somebody understands”. Because, until that moment, I don’t think even I had really understood.

I am not an anxious person. I don’t really worry about things. I see a problem and I storm in with action. This is often ill-thought through and overly enthusiastic action, but still, action rather than anxiety.

But for the past couple of weeks I have felt anxious. It is not even anxiety about any particular thing. I’m not worrying about break ins. It’s more of a constant, nagging, fretful, restless feeling.

I haven’t slept a full night since the night of our attempted break in. Usually my sleepless nights are caused by one or both of my children but not this time. It takes me an age to fall asleep and I frequently wake up throughout the night. I often wake up dreaming about break ins or thinking I have heard something untoward.

Anxiety and sleeplessness have been the biggest things, but that hasn’t been all. I have been irritable and depressed. I have been impatient with the children. On top of all this I have been laden with guilt because I am being irritable and impatient.

It has really not been a good couple of weeks.

At least I now feel I understand why I have felt so low. I think this is the first step to dealing with it.

I also understand why I have so desperately wanted time on my own for the past couple of weeks. As any stay-at-home parent will know, time alone is not easy to come by. It’s not that I wanted to do anything. I didn’t even want to go out and ride my bike. I just wanted to be alone, somewhere quiet. I think this was all part of trying to come to terms with the contents of my head.

Having understood it I know that it will pass.

But I wish that I could communicate to the people who looked at my home and saw it as a target, just what an impact they have had. Not just an impact on me but on my whole family.

They took nothing materially from me, but for now they have taken my feelings of safety, security and well being.

My husband is unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to be left in on my own. I am unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to walk home on my own. I am unlikely to get back to my winter turbo sessions any time soon because I don’t want to be out in the garage on my own when it’s dark outside.

They have also upset my vision of the world I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone has security lights and cctv. Yet we now have security lights and cctv. Installing these has gone some way to restoring my sense of security. Most of the neighbours are also installing security lights and cctv.

I can kind of see a positive from all this negative. We are setting up an estate WhatsApp group. That way, if anyone is at home on their own and something happens to make them feel unsafe, they can call for help from their neighbours. Maybe this is neighbourhood community in the digital age. My vision of the world I want to live in does include neighbours who know each other and regularly chat and who can ask for and offer help.

If I could speak to the people who tried to break in to my home, I would simply like them to understand that taking other peoples property is upsetting, but taking their sense of safety is devastating.

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