A few weeks ago, an email went out to everyone in my building at work with an important warning.
SUBJECT: Bear Near McMillian and Oak
MESSAGE: We were just informed that there is a bear near the corner of McMillian and Oak. Please refrain from walking near that area today as the city ordinance is trying to capture the bear and potential cubs.
Right. Avoid the corner with the bears, a block from our building. I smiled to myself — how is this my life? How did I end up in a corner of the world in which Betsy DeVos might actually have a point?
I didn’t feel unsafe, just avoided the area for a few days… limited my runs to the other side of McMillian.
Until a few days later when the Marshfield Police Department made an important announcement on Facebook.
The 1500 block of N Hume Ave… in the field about a block from our house. Runs re-routed once again. No letting Curls out alone after dark. Empty pizza boxes left in the garage until garbage day. Again, I did not feel particularly unsafe.
It’s interesting, though, that a real live bear, a hungry, just-woken-up-from-hibernation-only-to-find-its-not-really-Spring-yet-in-Wisconsin bear, really did not concern me. Bears are kind of a fact of life around here. And waking up hungry in early Spring is what bears do. It’s not terribly hard to avoid being its food. Avoid the general vicinity, don’t fill your outdoor bird feeders or garbage cans with tasty treats, and you’ll be fine.
It’s so simple… when it’s a real live bear.
But when it’s metaphorical? When the beast lives only in your mind? Then what? Then it seems far less simple.
The work email, the Facebook post, they reminded me of a walk with my aunt through a seedy area of Minneapolis back in October of 2015, shortly after I miscarried and she arranged a weekend getaway for us, saved my life.
We ventured out on foot from our lofty Airbnb in search of good food, unique shops, and a place to get a pedicure. We walked and walked and walked, ending up in a place that didn’t feel quite right. A dangerous neighborhood, perhaps. We certainly didn’t belong. We walked quickly, eyes straight ahead, and took a left into a safer neighborhood as quickly as possible.
We did stop for a pedicure, best described as unforgettable, right on the border between the two neighborhoods, safe and unsafe… and then walked on, leaving the dangerous space behind us in favor of Mexican food and more wine in the loft apartment. At some point along the way, maybe on the walk, perhaps over the wine, my aunt shared with me her own experiences with dangerous neighborhoods — dangerous neighborhoods of the mind.
I loved the metaphor. It was instantly familiar. Dark streets that suck you in, horrific thoughts lurking in shadowed doorways. Roads that lead to dead ends, that feel inescapable. Twists and turns in which a person can lose their way, lose their self.
How often have I ended up in a dark space like that? Unable to stop the thoughts, to prevent further escalation, to prevent the snowball from growing as it rolls down a very steep hill.
The mind as a city with unique neighborhoods, characterized by the nature of our thoughts. Yes.
I often spend time meandering carelessly through my mind, failing to use past experiences and mental maps to avoid the dangerous areas. I find myself in those places over and over again, let them suck me in, and get lost. Self-pity, body negativity, grief, jealousy — if I don’t turn back immediately, it can take a long while to get back to safety.
While I’ve always found comfort in metaphor, perhaps this would be a good time to find solution in reality. The neighborhoods in my mind, after all, can’t be all that different from the city of Marshfield. An unpredictable bear wandering the town on occasion — easily avoided, all things considered.
I can heed the warnings, the sightings of potential danger. I can keep the garbage inside until it’s safe to take it out, to get rid of it once and for all. And, if it’s not a bear, something more vaguely unsettling, I can call my aunt and ask her to walk beside me until I’m in a safe space again. A pedicure and bottle of wine to relax on the other side.