When I was home this last time, studying for the boards, an opossum decided to take up residence under my house. This could have been okay. Mr. Opossum and I could have lived in continued obliviousness to each other had he not decided that he wanted to make a nice nest out of the insulation under my house. Now, take a moment and imagine the sound of an opossum thumping around under your house ripping/tearing/clawing insulation out with his nasty Mr. Opossum teeth. That is not a pleasant noise. And Mr. Opossum decided that the insulation directly under my bed seemed like the best nesting material just for funsies. So I decided that Mr. Opossum had to go.
Dad set up a live-trap at what we thought was Mr. Opossum’s entrance under the house. He baited it with an old chocolate glazed donut. When I didn’t catch Mr. Opossum the first night, Dad tried to tell me that there was no Mr. Opossum under the house and that I must have misheard the whole thing. I figured I could wait Mr. Opossum and Dad out, and I did. A couple of nights later I heard a loud metal clanging noise that was the trapdoor slamming shut.
I was weirdly excited to have caught Mr. Opossum. I took pictures of him with my phone. I sent them to my sister and to my Mom. Mom replied with a text message that said “that opossum could be your ‘spirit animal.’”
Later, I demanded an explanation as to why she thought it was okay to compare me to an opossum. Unfortunately, she had been thinking on it for a while and was ready with an answer. She said possums were stubborn, like me. She said they took good care of their people, like me. She said possums know when to fight and when to play dead and then run away, like me.
And even though she was spinning it in a good direction, I still didn’t like it. Who wants to be compared to an animal that is famous for playing dead?
But then, when I really thought about it, even though I didn’t like it, I thought she might be on to something. I realized that it is one of my coping strategies, when things are particularly difficult in one area of my life, to shut down some other areas, or to, effectively, play dead.
I’ve always called this “going under the porch.” As in, sometimes you have to go under the porch to lick your wounds (like a dog). You need to rest and recuperate and reorganize. But this could just as easily be considered “playing possum.” It’s the same strategy, just with a different name.
For a while there, when I was younger, I wanted to be sort of invisible. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and wanted to blend in. My goal was to be solidly middle-of-the-pack so as not to draw attention to myself. This was mostly during the last couple of years of high school and the first couple years of undergrad. During this time I was playing possum with a decent portion of my life- I didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with everything.
These days though, I’m tired of playing dead. I’m ready to fight for the things I want. I’m comfortable in my own skin and with my ambitions. I’m going to look my fears in the face and hiss at them, just like a possum.