Have you ever had a rat problem? Rats in the attic? In the walls? On the roof? If your answer is no, you’re probably just not aware… yet.

The Rats Are Around

Between the parking garage and the cinema, little black boxes are strategically placed against the wall of the building. That means someone has seen the rats on the sidewalk. Theater enthusiasts might never see them, but they are around. I have those same black boxes in my backyard. Little heroine houses for rodents. They come, they use, they die.

If you let rats move around in the shadows unchecked, you risk the disease and destruction they bring. To keep them in check, we’ve removed rat bridges—tree limbs that rest on the roof—and sealed up rat portals into the attic and soffit with steel wool. We avoid or clear debris that might become rat condominiums. Although, I do keep a wood pile for fire-pit nights.

I’ve been in this house thirty years and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a live rat—ew!—but I know they’re around. In case I forget, our cat Rosie brings us a freshly dead rat at least once a month, I’m guessing from the wood pile condos.

The Rats in Our Heads

I hate rats but the worst rats aren’t in my attic; they bang around in my head.

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Self-doubt
  • Jealousy
  • Worry
  • Perfection

If left to run rampant in there, they gnaw at my serenity and dig holes through my dreams.

So how do we protect ourselves from the rats?

In RL, we set traps, use poison, close off bridges and portals. What about in the clamorous rats in our real heads?

Just like in RL, our most potent weapon against the rats in our mind is awareness and the longer it takes for awareness to come, the steeper the remediation curve.

The Rat Metaphor

If I dive too deep, this metaphor doesn’t hold because in RL the goal is to eliminate the rats, eradicate them. Total annihilation. But the truth is we can’t and shouldn’t obliterate our thoughts. They are part of us and even the negative ones once served an often outdated or misdirected purpose.

  • fear to avoid danger
  • anger to define limits and boundaries
  • self-doubt to avoid embarrassment
  • and so on…

They manifest in our logical left brain, part of ego, part of the survival kit. Part of us.

So what to do with the rats in our head?

I’ve never had a pet rat and I don’t intend on domesticating the rats in my yard, but I hear rats make perfectly good pets. Maybe we can stitch the metaphor along these lines.

It’s Not Too Late.

I let my rats run amok for decades, destroying the very fabric of my inner longings, but I didn’t have the awareness to mitigate the infestation. When I became aware, I had to find exterminators that specialized in writer’s rats. For me they were in the form of teachers like Julia Cameron, Steven Pressfield, Liz Gilbert, Jeff Goins, and others.

Successful people have a practice or routine in place to manage their rats. Mostly at dawn, they jog, walk, or do yoga, some journal, others meditate. All of these activities take us inward, allow reflection, and strengthen our awareness and mindfulness.

In just two years of intentional journaling, meditation, and walks, I am moving forward, and the rats no longer rule in my head. They still get in some days, but I have the tools to kick them out or lock them away.


I journaled most of these thoughts in my morning pages earlier this week and considered putting them together for a post, but my writing plans were shredded the last few days. Not by rats, but by RL. I ditched the post idea. Then, at 5:00 a.m. morning Rosie brought us a freshly dead rat. A reminder?

Write, dammit!

I’m grateful I have my morning-page ritual because when other things fall apart, the awareness that reflective time brings keeps the rats out.

What are your ratty thoughts? How do you manage them?

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023