Actual footage* of my response to the Naked Burglar
*or near enough
I love exploring other countries, and in 2018 I decided to do some solo travelling. Having seen an opportunity on Facebook for a writing residency on the Thai island of Koh Samui – and after applying on a bit of a whim – I found myself on a plane to Bangkok (but only after my flight got cancelled and I had to wait at Heathrow for 14 hours). After a highly stressful run through Suvarnabhumi Airport, I just made it on my plane to Samui, and – almost two straight days after leaving my house in England – I got to the small fishing village in the rural province of Surat Thani that would be my home for the next two months, managing to find my way to the writers’ house just as everyone was going to bed. The house was just down the street from a massive statue of Guan Yu, military officer and god of war, and after 48 hours of travelling (and very little sleep), seeing the ominously lit Guan Yu bearing down at me late at night made for an interesting arrival in the village. That was the start of my two-month writing residency, a time filled with awesome people, cheap cocktails, island sun, and a lot of hard work. It was an experience and a half, but one particular experience stands out – something that happened just before I came back to the UK.
It was around 2 am...
It was around 2 a.m. and I’d been sitting in bed finishing some work when I got up to go to the bathroom. On coming back to my room (which was on the top floor of a large three-level house) I saw a movement in the shadows behind the door, and as I took a step back and let the door swing wide, I came face-to-face with a burglar. He looked like he was a local man. He was pretty skinny. He was quite short. He was also completely, utterly naked.
I wish I was making this up.
The only item the guy had on him was his phone – which he’d obviously been using as a torch in the dark house – and he immediately started flashing the light in my eyes in a strange and unsuccessful attempt to distract me, either from his presence as a burglar or from his nakedness, I’m not sure. At least he had the decency to cover his bits with his other hand. I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all.
It’s during events like these that your ‘fight or flight’ response is supposed to kick in, right? I should have either run away or perhaps punched him in the face. But I did neither of those things. In fact, my brain decided not to make any decision whatsoever, and – like something out of a comedy sketch – I just stood there, utterly frozen to the spot, while I yelled at him in English. In return, he stood there and yelled at me in Thai. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I think – in my shock – I was just yelling things like “What the **** are you doing here? What the absolute ****? What are you doing in my ****ing bedroom?” As if he’d be able to understand my ridiculous stream of swear words enough to actually reply.
Fight, flight, or freeze
The fight or flight response is often joined by the ‘freeze’ response, which is when the brain decides it’s far safer not to fight or to run, but to instead freeze and do nothing. Sometimes, this is a brilliant response. Other times, however, it’s completely unhelpful – such as when you find a naked burglar in your room at 2 a.m. As I found out, in this particular instance, freezing to the spot doesn’t help at all.
Now, maybe if this guy had represented any real kind of danger, my brain would have kicked in and I would have actually done something. However, as the burglar looked about 90 pounds soaking wet, and as I knew he didn’t have a weapon on him (unless he was concealing it some place I really didn’t want to know about), I thought I probably had the upper hand if he resorted to a fist fight. But, instead, we just stood there yelling at each other, and I eventually started backing out of my room into the hallway so I could yell for my friend Mel (who had the room next to mine) in between yelling at the dude. She eventually came out to see what on earth my problem was, but by this point the naked burglar had given me one last yell and had run down the stairs to the middle floor. After I’d explained to a very confused Mel what had just happened, we made our way downstairs with the intention of waking up the rest of the household, though unfortunately all the others were extremely deep sleepers and paid no attention to our panicked shouting. Eventually we managed to wake up the house manager and, together, the three of us made our way around the rest of the house, eventually coming to the conclusion that he’d fled the scene.
Had I hallucinated a naked burglar?
For me, several things came out of this incident.
First of all, I realised pretty quickly that even though this guy had been in many of the rooms, I was the only one who’d actually seen him. Had I somehow hallucinated a naked burglar? And if so, what on earth did that say about me?
Fortunately, we managed to find evidence that he had, in fact, been there and that I wasn’t, in fact, losing my mind. We found a pair of trainers on one of the balconies, trainers he’d stolen from the house next to ours (everyone leaves their shoes outside in Thailand, as it’s considered disrespectful to wear them indoors). From what we could gather, the naked burglar had stolen the trainers and popped them on to protect his feet as he shimmied, like some kind of butt naked superhero, up the side of the house to the first-floor balcony (for American readers, this would be the second floor). He’d then let himself in through a balcony door that the house manager had left open and made his way around the house, finding my room open and unlocked at the exact moment I’d gone to the bathroom. I’ll give it to the guy, he had good timing.
As he fled from the house following my expletive rant, he also grabbed the house manager’s bag and stole some money and her cigarettes, leaving the bag and the rest of her stuff dumped on the living room floor. Fortunately, that’s all he got, which I guessed as much when I saw that he was naked and, therefore, had no pockets or bags in which to put any of the countless laptops, phones, and tablets a house full of writers could have provided him with, if only he’d been more prepared – and less naked.
Fleeing into the night with his best buddy
After talking to an Englishman who owned the cafe a few doors down from our house and who was pretty sure he knew the guy in question, we pieced together the rest of what happened during the naked burglar’s daring escape. This dude had actually stood outside the house, phoned his mate, and got him to come and pick him up in the middle of the night. The two of them had then made off down the road on a scooter, the driver and his naked passenger heading off into the dark Thai night. Now that’s friendship.
Another thing that came out of this bizarre incident was that I took a long, hard look at how I’d handled the situation (or not, in this case) and how I would handle it differently if it happened in the future. After all, I live on my own, and burglaries happen a lot (though you don’t get so many naked ones in England; it’s too cold). I promised myself that if it ever happened again, I would actually do something – even if that something meant getting the hell out of there to make sure I was safe, or immediately calling the police (not something that even crossed my mind in Thailand, but that was because of the different way things worked on the island, not to mention the language barrier. Plus, in my shock, I couldn’t remember the number). We did go to the police the next day, but nothing came of it.
I’m telling you all this because, one, it’s a pretty funny story, and two, it demonstrates my complete inability to make decisions. My fight or flight response did not kick in. I did nothing but stand there shouting at him, neither fighting nor fleeing. Afterwards, someone asked me why – when we’d moved our standing and shouting routine to the top of the stairs – I hadn’t just pushed him down them, and my response was, “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a Bangkok prison for accidentally killing a naked burglar,” which I think is pretty fair really.
I’m not really big into astrology or horoscopes, but I find some things do ring true, such as my inability as a Libran to make decisions. Whether it’s deciding what movie to see, what career path to take, or what to do when I find a naked burglar in my room in the middle of the night, my brain just goes, “Nope! Not helping you out here.” So I decided to train it, to teach myself how to look at things from different perspectives and how to make huge, life-changing decisions – something that forms a big part of the Write Your Life book and programme. I’d like to think that if a similar situation happened again, I’d actually do something, instead of just being frozen to the spot. I’ve been frozen to the spot enough times in my life, completely incapable of moving in one direction or another and consequently getting nowhere at all. It's a limiting belief that has completely shaped who I am, and how I respond (or don't respond) to certain situations. I don’t want my life to be like that. I want to make the tough decisions, go after what I want, and achieve my dreams – without letting anyone, naked burglar or otherwise, get in my way. It’s a weird metaphor, I admit, but it works for me.
What are your limiting beliefs?
So, what are your limiting beliefs? I want you to write down a list of all the ones you can think of, then choose your ‘top three’ (or should that be ‘bottom three’?) – the ones that hold you back the most. For me, in the past, they would have been: I’m too quiet, I’m not confident enough, and I can’t make decisions even if my life (or a naked burglar) depended on it. Can you train your brain to overcome these limiting beliefs?
To find out how – and to read more stories from my own life – check out Write Your Life: The Ultimate Life Hack For Achieving Your Dreams, out now!