How to Transform a Mouse Into a Bear: Just Add CampingIf you’re new to my blog, I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret secret: I have panic disorder. With agoraphobia to boot.

Simply put, I get panic attacks. Sometimes they’re frequent. Sometimes (like right now!) they’re not.

And, sometimes, I find it difficult to leave my apartment and stretch the boundaries of my “safe” radius — the area around that apartment that doesn’t feel threatening.

I’m happy to report that my safe radius is ballooning these days, folks. A year ago today, I could barely make it down the street to Walgreens to buy a roll of toilet paper without feeling faint and shaky.

And now, I’m camping in the middle of the woods?

Yup. (Thanks, CBT.)


I’ve always loved nature and the outdoor world. I liked grass. I liked dirt. I liked bugs.

In fact, when I was in elementary school, I liked bugs so much — ants, in particular — that I would sneak sugar cubes from the kitchen cabinet and spread sugar granules around on the back patio. My mother probably hated me for this, but the ants loved me.

I surrounded the sugar with Lego and wooden building blocks and called it “Ant City.” I waited patiently, decorating the borders of town with thick blades of ripped-up grass.

And then, the ants would march on in for their feast.


In late elementary school, I started going to an overnight Girl Scout camp for a week or so every summer. I fell in love with everything about it from the silly sing-along songs to the mediocre-tasting-yet-strangely-satisfying campfire meals.

I learned how to carve wood with a pocketknife. I wove a basket out of bamboo strips. I learned how to start a one-match teepee fire, how to use the cap of an acorn as a whistle, and how to make an emergency stretcher with two sticks and a few sweatshirts.

At night, the sounds were glorious. From the twin-sized cot in the platform tent I shared with three other girls, I could hear crickets, whipporwills, and the occasional owl. These sounds lulled me to sleep.

Well, most of the time.

“Guys, did you hear that?” one of my fellow 11-year-old tentmates would ask. And then, immediate goosebumps all around:

“No, what did you hear?”

“I heard it!”

“OH MY GOD, what is that?”

“I think it’s a bear!”

“Shut up. It’s not a bear.”

“Oh yeah? Dare you to shine your flashlight out there.”


“Guys, I’m scared.”

“Me too!”

“I still hear it! It’s shuffling through the leaves!”


At this point, a camp counselor would usually react to our shrieks by calling out from the other side of the camping unit or, depending on how loud we were yelling, by visiting our tent platform…to let us know that we’d just scared ourselves silly over a damn field mouse.

One of my favorite counselors put it succinctly: “At night, small things sound like big things.”

And how.

(Stay tuned for the second half of this post to see how “small things” always “sound like big things” to us anxious-types — even in daylight.)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sputnik Beanburger III