Living on the ground floor of a 100-year-old downtown Toronto building, with its charming brick interior walls and wood burning oven, is all fun and games until you hear the pitter patter of little rodent feet scurrying across the floor.
The first time I saw a mouse in my old apartment, I had a stage-5 breakdown. I was working in the living room and glanced over and saw what I thought was a piece of kale I had dropped on the floor while making dinner.
The kitchen was dark, and as my eyes focused, I realized the kale had a tale and was attached to a mouse body, so I jumped onto my couch, Tom Cruise style, and started screaming bloody murder.
My sister/roommate was out of town and I didn’t know anyone close by that could help me deal with rodent issues at 11pm on a Wednesday night. So I did what any normal adult woman would do -- I called my mom and cried.
It turned out that we had a mouse problem. The landlord, a former art student into home projects, had taken on the task of renovating the apartment herself, and she left behind dozens of holes, cracks, open walls and other mouse-friendly entrances.
She also didn’t live in the same city and didn’t care very much about our rodent woes. What followed was about seven months of seeing, hearing, avoiding, and dealing with Mickey and his pals.
I woke up every morning apprehensive to go into the kitchen. What treasures would be there? A dead mouse carcass? A live one running about? Some droppings?
I told friends, co-workers and family members about my mouse issue. My Uncle Frank came over a few times to fill as many holes as he could with steel wool and foam, but still, they found a way in. There were just too many access points.
My sister, who I lived with at the time, wasn’t quite as terrified as I was, but she wasn’t much better. We’d hold hands and slowly tip toe up to the traps to peer over and see if a mouse had been caught.
Every rustling sound caused me stress, every moving shadow spotted from the corner of my eye gave me heart palpitations. I didn’t want to be at home and use the kitchen, because I knew that’s where the Mickeys were hiding. I’d lay awake worrying that mice would crawl around on me and eat my face as I slept.
A few months into my mouse tale, I got hit on the head, diagnosed with a concussion, and became the headachy, clinically depressed version of Dory the forgetful fish from "Finding Nemo."
The physical and emotional pain I was in was comparable to that torture scene from Casino where a man’s head is squeezed in an industrial vice. At least my eyes didn’t pop out of my head, I guess.
By the time I got my own therapist, I was eager to talk about how rodents, above all things, were ruining my life. It wasn’t just mice that gave me anxiety, they were but one of the things I couldn’t control in my life. One of the things that seemed to be spinning like a cyclone above my head at all times. It wasn’t pretty.
I couldn’t be in a department store or mall for longer than 10 minutes before announcing, “I need to get out of here!” and booking it to the nearest door. I avoided parties, and making new friends. I kept away from crowded places. I smoked pot before attending large family functions where there would certainly be arguments and yelling and questions, to get through without a panic attack.
We never got the rodent problem under control, so we were happy to move out when our lease was up, and by that time, I’d gone through a few months of therapy. I was ready to put the mice, the concussion and my subsequent breakdown behind me. I was ready for a change.
So I made a brand new start of it in New York. My anxiety has been largely under control here, and I’m so grateful to live in this big, beautiful badass city, but I need to keep the ol’ worries in check with meditation, exercise, and yoga, and not with excessive drinking, which I sometimes do in a pinch.
The more I don't deal with my anxiety in healthy ways, the more it eats at me, and a few weeks ago, it began to, big time.
I told my roommate Melissa about the overwhelming anxiety I was feeling. It was work related, mostly. I’d sit down to write and just start worrying about what I was doing, why I was doing it, how to do it, and if I even could. I worried so much I could barely type, and my stomach felt jittery and nauseous.
“Have you tried anxiety medication?” she asked me.
I told her no, and she offered me one of her Clonasepam pills.
Since I’m under a year into using antidepressants, I was sort of nervous to take the pill, but I looked it up to make sure there wouldn’t be any harmful drug interactions and swallowed it down with a huge glass of water. Within a half hour, my stomach unknotted and the anxiety began to fade. I could focus and write and not give into the worry that was plaguing me.
My antianxiety high lasted all day. It was sort of magical. (I don’t recommend taking other people’s prescription medication, unless, you know, they offer, it’s safe and you really need it.)
Later that same day, I walked into the kitchen to find Melissa cleaning the floor with fervor. She looked seriously stressed out.
“There’s a rat in the kitchen,” she said, showing me a note our French roommate left us that said: “There is a rat in the kitchen, by the stove. Carla, be careful because it was in your food.”
The truth was I had noticed little claw marks on my avocado and peaches that morning. I assumed someone had dropped them or something, so I cut around the marks and ate them anyway.
I ATE A RAT TAINTED FRUIT.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said to Melissa, in a calm and unaffected voice. The Clonasepam had transformed me into a disarmingly chill person.
Melissa looked at me, waiting for an appropriate reaction, but I just smiled, dreamily.
If a rat ran in front of me at that moment, I might have started waltzing with myself, saying: “Dance with me Ratatouille! Let’s make some French cuisine, mon petit ami!"
“I’m calling an exterminator,” said Melissa.
Snapped out of my rat daydream, I began to assess my reaction. “I took one of your pills today, or else I’d probably crying and screaming and running upstairs right now,” I admitted.
In fact, I went to bed that night thinking that the next morning, I’d probably have a panic attack because of the rat in the kitchen.
He’s a New York City rat that was probably born in the bowels of the subway and is used to feeding off of the flesh of dead creatures, discarded tampons and actual shit. Surely having him in my apartment would cause me another breakdown.
But it didn’t.
As cool as the magic anxiety pill made me, it wasn’t the Clonasepam that changed my rodent reaction. I had changed it all on my own. I guess I got wise to the ways of rodents, and they’re not ruining my life anymore.
The next morning, I threw out the rest of my fruit and when I heard the rat behind the oven, I made loud Chewbacca noises so that it wouldn’t come out.
I later saw it running about the main floor bathroom, and promptly shut the door. I didn’t even scream, you guys. I’m pretty proud of myself because rats are way worse than mice, you know?
The exterminator eventually came, but he didn’t actually catch the rat. What he did do was turn our kitchen into a rat poison and sticky pad minefield. Please, rats are way too smart for that stuff. If you don’t actually kill it when you see it, it’s not going to die, exterminator. How do you not know this?
As I type this, I can hear Zed rummaging around behind the oven range. I’ve named the rat Zed. Right now, I’m like, “Stay where you are, Zed,” as I blast Arcade Fire to scare him away, but I hope one day soon, I’ll be saying, “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”
Until then, I’m not losing sleep about it, and I feel way more empowered to deal with my other anxieties, too (without borrowing prescription drugs.)
Having a dog around has helped conquer my rodent fear, but mostly, my new “I’ve got this” attitude was born out of me sort of growing up. Sometimes you have to deal with society’s underbelly, and your own. It comes in many forms. This one happens to have fur, a long tail and the bubonic plague.
If you can handle a rat in your kitchen, you can handle anything, right?