Mental Illness Bites

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Small, Dark Spaces

I read a blog called The Write Practice. There are many different bloggers, but every Wednesday Suzie Gallagher posts a “Words on Wednesdays” exercise, “as a way to improve our vocabulary and practice our writing at the same time.” This week’s word was nook: a corner or recess, especially one offering seclusion or security.

Nook is a great word. I started seeking out nooks in my world when I was very young. When I was little, my dad, the wood worker, built my sister and I these beds. They were the height of bunk beds, but instead of a bed on the bottom, there were drawers, three on the left, three on the right, and in the center a door that doubled as a ladder. Behind the door, there was a T-shaped storage space. Like most younger siblings, I was excited about finally getting to sleep up high, having my own room (though I think this happened a few years earlier), but more than anything, I was excited about the nook under my bed.

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It looked kind of like this, except the wood was lighter, it had three drawers on each side, it was higher, and the door in the middle had horizontal slats that acted as a ladder.
While the bed was being built, I spent hours imagining how I would use it, what I would put under there, how I could disguise the fact that it was really my secret hideout. When I finally got the bed, I put all my favorite stuffed animals, books, extra pillows, and blankets in the back two corners and all my shoes in the front part, just inside the door. I would crawl over the shoes to get to my corner, turn on my flashlight, and just sit and appreciate the small, dark space. I had toys and books, but when I went in there it wasn’t because I wanted to play; it was because I wanted to feel safe, enclosed, comforted. The nook was my escape.

When my parents built an addition and I moved into a completely new room, with a new bed and no nooks to speak of, I asked my dad to build me a door that was also a bookcase on the inside. When I closed the door to my room, it looked like there was no door. I didn’t have a small, dark space, but I had the illusion of being away, enclosed. Later, when my sister went to college and I moved rooms again, I had an L-shaped desk that was build into the wall. It wasn’t ideal, but I carved out a nook in one corner hidden by the desk chair.

After we sold that house, I moved into a giant room that had a closet without shelves. The doors slid side-to-side, and one half became my nook. By this time, I had a few specific things that always transferred from one hide-a-way to the next: a stuff animal, a blanket, a great big pillow. I was sixteen when we moved into this house and I soon realized it wasn’t “normal” to have a nook like mine. So after a while, I stopped using it and turned to other comforts.

A couple of years ago when I was at the bottom of a depression cycle, my husband, having heard about my nooks, took a big stuffed elephant, a pillow, and some blankets and carved out a nook in one corner of our walk-in closet. It felt silly at first, but when I finally acquiesced and crawled into the small, dark space I felt safer than I had in a very long time.

We all have coping tools, some more healthy than others. Many of us have coping mechanisms we would be embarrassed to talk about. “Hi, My name is Terryn Rutford and I like to hide in closets.”

If you would like to share your coping mechanism, but you don’t want to tell us who you are, feel free to post as Anonymous and use a fake email address. Sometimes it feels good to tell the truth, even under the cover of darkness.

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 – T

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