Domestic Drapetomania

By Alison August 24, 2013 9 Comments 3 Min Read

Yes, drapetomania: the urge to run away.

Aren’t words wonderful? For what an absolute pleasure it is to discover a word that encapsulates an emotion so concisely, so absolutely perfectly. Once the word used to describe a pseudo mental illness apparently suffered by slaves, and now a more general description for the overwhelming urge to escape something.

It has been an odd week: at once resplendent with lovely moments and stained rather darkly by the ugly. Alice, the teenage kitten is behaving in a cat like fashion, in a way Jimmy could never quite pull off. Running across the furniture, climbing up the curtains and (oh joy) maintaining an insect cemetery right in the middle of the living room carpet,  fighting and teasing spiders and dragonflies to their death and then piling them up as if she were the kitty equivalent of a mass murderer. It isn’t pretty and a person does so hate to have squashed spider between her toes.

The washing machine smells funny. My bottom is expanding horribly. The new porch is beautiful but PMT has had me throwing minor fits at the upheaval in the house and even Finley  has accused me of being ungrateful. There is a bill I cannot yet pay that is keeping me awake at night, and I have turned the house upside down in search of something tiny, but precious, that I have suddenly decided that I will wither without…

My car is off the road and there is nothing guaranteed to make me feel trapped faster than a car that won’t go, and then on Wednesday evening Finley witnessed an incident of vile temper and rage in our lane, that has profoundly disturbed him. By the time he reached us to tell us about it, it was over and Richard, Mark and I, spent the next hour trying to make sense of it for him. Trying to make sense of it for ourselves, as the neighbors knocked on our door to discuss it, and we tried to laugh Finley out of his frightened, appalled silence. He is my baby and I could not prevent him seeing something he should never have had to see.

This litany of minor misery has brought on all the symptoms of  domestic drapetomania. A kind of claustrophobia that inspires in me, a yearning for a cool, empty hotel room. A place  free of Cath Kidston flowers, objects loaded with meaning and family regret. A room with a kindly, matronly woman who will instruct me sternly to have a bath, take afternoon naps and go for long walks to clear my head.

Do all women have the same fantasies? Not those of the Christian Grey variety, but fantasies of escape, of being looked after for a while instead of having to do the looking after?

A place with room service and fluffy, white towels we do not have to launder ourselves. Fantasies of lands where mobile phones, and constant chatter, and sleepless nights do not exist for a short while, but where we can instead sit in an open space, or an immaculate, beautiful room and do nothing at all, but perhaps nibble on fresh berries and work our way through a pile of vintage novels?

What then if we could take drapetomania as our cue to reign in all that has come loose in our lives: what if we thought about it as if it were proof of allergic reaction to a way of life that does not suit us? Yes! That’s it: an allergy! And once we take action to soothe the irritants, they will no longer fuel the urge to escape and gratitude and acceptance could be ours all over again…

For we don’t really want to run away do we? Imagine if we did: surely boredom and loneliness would set in once the novelty of solitude had worn off? Because this is the truth: drapetomania is but our cue to say no to the ongoing drama of our lives, to what is acceptable and what cannot be tolerated and that is ALL it is. It is a big fat NO to noise and exhaustion and temper and work, bad feeling, regret and argument. An ailment, that says fix this, and fix it now for much as we want to, running away is never an option…

Domestic drapetomania, my darling, says I cannot go on like this, and it is both a wake-up-call and a gift.  


  1. tiffibug says:

    That is exactly the kind of fantasy I have. To just be somewhere cozy and relax while someone else does all the cooking, cleaning and laundry. Where I can just read or knit to my heart’s content. Then I would just end up worrying about home and how things wouldn’t be getting done. I’d worry about my wee one and the pets.

  2. I hear you. Had no idea the escape urge had a name… (I’m sorry Finley’s peace was shattered. If only we could have protected our sons to keep that bubbling innocence.) My cousin and I call that urge to hit the high road “having a Peterman Day” in honor of a local banker gentleman who simply went on break, got in his car, went missing for several days, and then surfaced in California. He came home and sheepishly went back to his life. He was our hero for a while until it was revealed he was secretly meeting a woman he’d met on AOL. Sigh…..
    Hugs… Hang in there….

  3. So this is what it’s called when I dream I’m on a beach in Hawaii.

  4. Alexa McCabe says:

    I sometimes dream of a little cottage by the sea where I can just be me ,alone with no one to do anything for,but walk the beach and dream my dreams 🙁

  5. I knew there had to be a name for my condition! yes I really really know how you feel,I fear I will lose the plot completely if I dont get out of this house soon!

  6. chrissie says:

    I have it a lot, I want to read the pile of novels and the ones on my Kindle and catch up on blu ray discs and I want to sit in the conservatory with chai tea and my home mags. After a while I start to think okaaay where is everyone ? I text my friend want a cuppa ?! No hope is there ?

  7. Amelie Jo says:

    Great read, thank you.

  8. Becky says:

    When I get like that and I cannot do one thing about it-I watch the Movie “Enchanted April” -Works every time. It is about 4 ladies on a month long holiday to a castle in Italy. One of the ladies calls it her “rest cure”. I love it. take careBecky

  9. Mrs Homespun says:

    Domestic Drapetomania, definitely something I suffer from, especially with there is yet another load of washing to hang out. The sameness of this task gets to me, yet not doing the dishes or making the beds. I long to escape, or have someone to do it for me!xoxo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content