Coyotes of the Mind

Friday night, as Al and I were walking home from synagogue under a brilliant full moon, a creature darted across the street ahead of us. Ghostly white, scrawny, doggish, with pointed ears and a long, thin tail, it disappeared into a neighbor’s backyard and the trees beyond.

Coyote. Had to be. Though our Central Massachusetts neighborhood is not overly forested, there are enough woods in-between lots for a coyote to lace through in search of food. And there have been occasional sitings in our area.

I shivered. Often during the past few hot summer months and on recent days when I’ve been too busy to take an afternoon break, I’ve walked our 15-year-old golden, Ginger, after dark. She loves nocturnal smells, and the stars have been stunning. No more. It’s colder, anyway, now that fall is here, and I don’t want to chance it with a coyote on the loose.

But I don’t want to give up those evening strolls, either. As long as I bundle up, I love staring up at Orion and Cygnus while Ginger pauses to snuffle each and every fallen leaf by the curb. Risks abound. If all I do is focus on the bad things that could happen, I’ll imprison myself. And her.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, you should yell, blow a whistle, bang pots and pans or shine a flashlight to scare off a coyote. Not my preferred mode for a relaxing walk around the block. Maybe I’ll just wait a week or so before we venture out late again, as long as it’s not too cold.

Much as I have no desire to face down a live coyote, there’s another kind that I’m much more accustomed to confronting: those hungry coyotes of the mind—anxieties about health, money, security, family, the future.

These I fight often. Scleroderma, as any chronic illness, births a band of them, trotting across my subconscious, wily, ghostlike. They appear without warning, gobble up energy and optimism, and howl loudest on those nights when I have trouble sleeping.

What if I end up in a hospital some day and get one of those super infections in my ulcers? What if I gag on my food because my swallowing is sometimes uncoordinated and there’s no one here to help? What if I fall and mess up my hands even more? What if something happens to Al’s job and we lose our health insurance?  On and on.

But shouting at those feelings to go away, lecturing myself to silence the angst doesn’t work. It only seems to make those coyotes of the mind even stronger and more voracious.

No, especially if the anxieties have a basis in reality. Disease is disease. When your body doesn’t work right, it’s damn scary. As you gain experience coping, managing your meds and your symptoms and your docs, the anxiety dampens a bit. But the sense of vulnerability never goes away.

Better to shine a light on it, name what’s most frightening, acknowledge the storyline. Separating fiction from fact is the first step toward coming to terms with both the anxiety and the reality.

Power that light with compassion for your trembling, I try to remind myself when I find myself in the grip of wild fears. The more self-compassion, the longer you can be still and see clearly what it is you’re actually contending with—and discover the courage to be present and move beyond coping to living fully. Hard to do, but I keep trying.

Coyotes have adapted to suburban sprawl, say the wildlife experts here. Nearly all Massachusetts residents now live near them.

My inner coyotes roam at random. Lest they get too cozy, I’ll keep my flashlight handy.

Photo Credit: matt knoth via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    I love the metaphor, Ev. Plus I am startled to learn about a coyote in our neighborhood. Where there’s one, there are probably more, but I think they don’t like to tangle with humans. They are too smart for that. There are certainly plenty of squirrels for them to eat.

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