Protected by the Placebo Effect

By Estelle Sobel Erasmus

Protection comes in many forms. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

My dad walked into my room the week before I left for college at Boston University holding a small package in his hands.

“Estelle, are  you busy? I’d like to talk to you about something,” he began tentatively, yet authoritatively. Knowing that I was leaving home, which was both a safe haven and a place of chaos had made me even more moody and excitable than usual.

“What is it?,” I mumbled, my nose buried in the pages of yet another fantasy fiction book. I  favored Star Trek fan fiction as well as anything involving magical circumstances, like Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time.

“I bought something for you,” my father said handing me the package.  “I got you Mace. When you go out at night, or find yourself in unfamiliar places, you can hold it in your hand, and always be prepared.”

I was so touched. My daddy wanted to protect me; and keep me safe once I was out of his domain. I eagerly unwrapped the package.

“Thanks so much daddy,” I said, cupping my hand gently around the blue velvet covering of the cylinder bottle. It looked innocuous; more like a large tube-shaped perfume than a  weapon that could maim or paralyze someone in their tracks.

That Mace took me through my four years of college. It was my ever-present companion when I went to frat parties, went out dancing to clubs with names like Celebration or the Rat Skeller, walked back from classes along Commonwealth Avenue, or said a firm goodnight to an annoying date.

The Mace was my connection to home; and I felt fearless with it in my hand or stowed away through classes in my purse.

After college I moved back home and eventually to New York City. One day I came upon the long forgotten bottle of Mace and impulsively decided to do the unthinkable–see how it would work.

I picked the bottle up; carefully turned the nozzle so the spray would face away from me  and practically vibrating with excitement pressed the nozzle.

A few drops of liquid dribbled out on to the ground. The Mace had lost its power; if it had ever had any at all.

But I retained mine…and…switched to carrying a small bottle of Aussie hair spray.

What “placebo” did you buy into and how did it affect you?



25 thoughts on “Protected by the Placebo Effect”

  1. Love that you’re carrying the hairspray instead of the Mace — multi-use but hope you only have to use it on your hair. I think the idea of carrying Mace would freak me out, although it’s almost like your dad was always with you, protecting you, which is beautiful.

    1. Lois,
      I don’t carry the hairspray anymore (but maybe I should again). I did use it once on a small dog that was attacking my dad, but that’s for another story.

  2. That is such a great story! It is amazing how many times the smallest things give a sense of security! I am glad you never actually had to use it, but I am often amazed at the things that make us remember the power that we have already packed inside of us!

    1. Hi Aida,
      I love the idea you mention of the power packed inside of us. It’s true sometimes we need a boost from outside or some item to make us remember that.

  3. Your father was a wise man…I never got a can of mace, pepper spray or anything else. Maybe my dad was too trusting. I don’t know. But it definitely would have given me a feeling of security, I think~

    1. Hi Sheryl,
      I think parents showed their love and protection in different ways. This was one way I felt my dad’s proverbial arms around me.

  4. I carry spray for bears…I think it also paints the assailant blue, too 🙂 You said you loved A Wrinkle in Time. Did you read the Newbery winner from a few years ago – When you Reach Me (Stead)? It draws on Wrinkle…it was fantastic.

    1. Hi Heather,
      I love that–spray for bears. I have to check it out. Are you sure it’s not spray for care bears:) I also need to check out the book you sounds wonderful. Thanks!

  5. My parents bought me mace as well before starting at GWU so many years ago. Yay for neither of us ever having to use it.

    1. Hi Elena,
      Love that your parents got it for you, too (it must have been a thing when we went to college), and I am very grateful that we both never needed to use it either.

    1. Ellen,
      I love that! I’m so glad I met your daughter at BlogHer; I can just imagine her with the can.

  6. I had a can of mace during my first few years living along in North Carolina. One night after drinking a little bit, a friend asked if she could see if it actually worked. I let her spray a tiny bit on the ground in the parking lot and she walked away coughing and teary eyed! So, no placebo effect for me but I’ll tell you what– I definitely walked a lot more confidently with it in my reach!

    PS- I love your dad. The stories you tell make me want him as my dad too.

    1. Carrie,
      Thanks so much for your kind words about my dad. He’s a great one! I’m glad you knew that your can of Mace worked. As for mine, well, we’ll never know will we?

    1. Hi Gina,
      I did use the hair spray though, on a dog attacking my dad. But, that’s a post for another day.

  7. When I began having panic attacks in my mid-twenties, I always had a paper bag in my purse in case I started to hyperventilate. I never had to use it, but it was always good to know it was there.

    1. Sharon,
      Wow. At least you had a plan. I’m assuming you don’t have those any more, hopefully.

    1. Carla,
      So interesting how many other people (like you) can relate. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I used to carry mace, too, and it made me feel somewhat safer. I was right down Commonwealth Avenue from you at Boston College! We could have gone walking through Harvard Square at night carrying the mace.

    Great post, Estelle!

    1. Cathy,
      It’s so funny, I forgot so much about my college experience, but remember that Mace can and the way it looked as if it were just yesterday. Would have loved to have met you back then.

  9. I’m glad that you never had to use the mace. Did you ever use the hairspray (as a weapon)? Funny what we hold into for security.

    1. Hi Helene,
      Actually I did once (on a dog attacking my dad) but that’s a story for another day:)

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