I hadn’t even been in Dublin for two months before my feeling of security was shaken. For the majority of my life, I have felt safe. Throughout my four years of college, I never had a blink of uncertainty bar a few shaky moments here and there.
Moving to Dublin had been on my mind since I accepted into my Masters. I was benevolent about the move. There is a certain dread about moving to the capital that stems from constant reiterations about a lack of housing and high prices. Luckily at the time, a school friend was moving into a house and there was a spare bedroom available at a good price. I loved the area, I loved the house and I loved my housemates.
The house was previously an Airbnb. Instead of a traditional lock, a code protected the house door. Warning signs should have flashed immediately at this but we took no heed. Sometimes when you’re young, you think you are invincible.
It was midweek when it happened. I woke at three and went to the bathroom. As I climbed back into bed, I waited for the house to settle. But this time it didn’t, and the creaks and scratches didn’t stop. I thought that maybe it was one of the girls. In these moments I discovered your body instinctively knows that danger is afoot. My whole being was on alert and the fight or flight chemicals in overdrive. I knew someone was there that shouldn’t have been.
My roommate began to shout. Scurried footsteps followed and the door was slammed. There was a man at the end of my roommate’s bed. We didn’t know how he got in or why he was there but as 6 young girls on our own, we were terrified. We were paranoid that someone was watching us and had figured out the code. We called the guards and explained everything, they presumed the man was drunk and lost his way. But from what I heard and what my roommate saw, he was anything but drunk. We eventually discovered that the latch of the door had been left up by our landlord while some plumbing work was done. This meant that without a code you could enter our house. It also transpired that some money and a watch had been stolen.
I know my story is not the worst and some people’s homes and security have been ravaged, even my roommate’s experience was worse than mine. Waking up with someone at the end of your bed is a situation nobody wants to find themselves in. But the effects of what happened and my following reactions were profound.
I felt instantly unsafe, no matter where I went. Down the street, on the bus, it was everywhere. I did not know what this ‘it’ was but it tricked me constantly. I became more and more susceptible to sounds around me. We moved into a new house shortly after the intrusion, due in short to our dodgy landlord. I never settled once in the seven months I resided in the new house. The girls seemed to seamlessly relax, albeit we were wary of unlocked doors.
Anytime I was alone, a distinct searing, pungent feeling would make its way to my chest. I would struggle to breathe. I convinced myself that when I was alone there was someone else there. The pipes would creak and I would scream, set in my thoughts that there was an intruder upstairs. It got to a point where if I came home and there was nobody in the house, I would refuse to go upstairs until someone returned which could be hours later. My mother and my boyfriend got the brunt of these episodes, which consisted of me heaving and crying into the phone. All the while they tried to convince me that it was my imagination running away but sometimes that wild imagination of yours can be a virus, one so powerful that it consumes you.
Sometimes I wonder if these episodes panic attacks that were reactionary to my experience. But I feel foolish when I talk about it. I never saw him so he might as well not have been there, but this is what has affected me most. The unseen became my greatest enemy. The noises mixed with memory made the darkest corners occupied. The one place that I could always count on for sanctionary was my home but I could no longer feel comfortable there. For anyone who has experienced something similar, it’s the feeling that someone has entered your home without a welcome that is the most painful. One who entered without kindness and warmth.
I move into a new apartment in the coming days and I hope that this feels like a home. One where I am not afraid and where I don’t stay awake in the night listening for a sign of intrusion. I crave to be alone and feel ok, but most of all, like all of us, I just want to feel safe.
I just want to feel safe in my home.