Equity versus Equality, or why “Black Lives Matter” instead of “All Lives Matter”


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by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

In our fantasy world, everyone has access to education, employment, healthcare, housing and support services like therapy.  In this fantasy world, we have achieved equality.

In the real world, the messy, imperfect one we all live in right now, access to all the best offerings of society are based on economics. The more money you have, the easier it is to go to college, to hire a tutor if you are struggling, hence get good grades which then sets you up for a higher paying job. The more money you have, the easier it is to live in a neighborhood with fully stocked grocery stores which makes it easier to eat healthy and be physically fit and live longer.  The more money you have, the easier it is to live in neighborhoods with quality public schools for the best possible education and socialization of your children. The easier it is to maintain stable housing. The easier it is to afford legal counsel and avoid incarceration or exploitation. The more money you have, the more likely you will have medical insurance that both provides you with medical care and prevents bankruptcy in the event of a medical crisis. The more money you have, the easier it is to pay for therapy when you feel stressed, depressed, or anxious. This helps you think about things in a way that decreases your discomfort and results in better overall health and productivity.

And it’s not just your money, it’s the money of your parents and their parents and their parents that sets you up for success: Many of us live in homes we couldn’t have placed the down payment on without parental assistance. Many of our children receive music lessons because of intergenerational money.

Meanwhile people of color have consistently been economically subjugated.  From slavery to chain gangs to sharecropping they were denied the ability to accrue wealth from work. From the segregation of schools which denied access to education, discrimination in hiring practices which solidified poverty, the redlining practices that eliminated access to better neighborhoods, to the refusal of banks to make loans to people of color.

The past four hundred years have involved extensive series of political and Supreme Court decisions that have echoed and reinforced discrimination and economic subjugation.

The reason why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important is not only due to the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers. It’s because the whole underlying economic structure of our country has been completely unfair to people of color. African Americans have labored without the just economic benefits of that labor for four hundred years. In a capitalist democracy such as ours, there is a direct line between personal safety, resilience and well being and access to money.

Black Lives Matter because for four hundred years, they haven’t been treated that way. I don’t know how to fix this systemic problem. I don’t even know the right questions to ask. But I do know it’s my moral responsibility to learn more about the Black experience and to better recognize the systemic barriers to equality.

Inhabiting Solitude


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By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

“All I want to do is eat chocolate cake and sleep.”

“I accidentally tried to hug my neighbor whose brother just died, and she shrank back like I was a cobra.”

“Some guy told me to stop petting his cat.”

These are weird times.

My therapist friends and I have all been messaging each other about the transition to telehealth in response to the pandemic.  We miss the immediacy and vibrancy of in-person sessions. Between audio glitches and freezing screens, we miss the ease that being in the same room as our clients provided. Like all of us, we are doing our best, figuring it out as we go along.

None of us know how long this situation will last. We don’t know how bad it will get. We don’t know if all of our loved ones will survive. We don’t know if the supply chain will be interrupted. We don’t know the long-term effect on the economy.

Humans like to quantify. We want to know what to expect and how to prepare. To feel safe, we want know what’s coming and how to endure or enjoy it.

And that is precisely what we don’t get to know right now. In the absence of certainty, many of us default to following the news as closely as we can. In this new landscape of invisible enemies, virologists and epidemiologists are the leaders. Doctors and nurses the front-line soldiers.

We must take this pandemic seriously enough to radically change our behavior for the foreseeable future. No more get togethers. No more movie theatres, or restaurants or nights out on the town. No more school. Every surface that someone touched is a possible transmission spot.

On the other hand, we still need to walk the dog, cook meals, vacuum, fold laundry. Focusing on small, doable tasks brings a sense of normalcy, of continuity to our lives.  We need to balance taking appropriate personal responsibility for protecting others along with continuing to have a full life that includes love, learning, exercise, joy, mindfulness, flavor, progress, and creativity.

As we drill down deep in to our time at home, with family if we are lucky enough to have them in the same household (and you’re right, it doesn’t always feel like luck) I wish for you an opening into realms you haven’t visited since childhood. I wish for you thinking time, staring into space time, imagining time. Dream time is slow and mysterious and a rich source of creative inspiration.

On the other end of this situation, we can emerge rested and connected to our deepest selves, ready to engage with one another from a place of deep gratitude.

Viral Fears


By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

Here in Seattle we have the unfortunate claim of being the epicenter of the US outbreak of the Novel Corona virus. Diagnostic criteria are still being refined, and confirmed cases increase daily. Most public gatherings have been cancelled, some schools have closed, and travel is being put on hold. This flu seems to be most dangerous for our elderly and immunocompromised, so it is unlike the influenza epidemic of 1918 which was especially lethal for young adults and children. It does however seem quite contagious.

For the majority of us, even if we get it and must quarantine ourselves, the most likely negative consequence is loss of income/education and a certain degree of cabin fever. These are inconvenient but luxurious concerns compared to death.

A good citizen is one who cares for the group as a whole. Even though we may be below age seventy and free of underlying health issues, we are each responsible for doing our part to care for the tribe that is the public. It is likely that a good number of us will need to quarantine to slow the progress of this virus.

Here are some measures that can be taken to reduce transmission:

  1. Wash all of your clothes each time you wear them. It appears that the virus can live on fabric for up to a week. The dryer is a germ-killing machine.
  2. Clean “high touch” areas such as door knobs, light switches, faucets and handles daily. At work don’t open doors or turn on/off faucets with your bare hands.
  3. Wipe your phone screen and computer keyboard daily.
  4. Wash your hands like an OCD person: hot water, twenty seconds of lathering, plus a paper towel equals clean.
  5. At home, switch out your kitchen and bathroom hand-towels every day. Or switch to paper towels for the duration.
  6. Try not to touch your face. This is hard! With every itch, I’m going through tissues like a fiend.

In preparation for your mental health needs, under self-quarantine:

  • Put together a list of projects for yourself and your kids in the categories of household, yard and bedroom tasks as well as creative/intellectual projects so you can still experience purpose and progress in your life.  
  • Pull out those books you’ve been meaning to read.
  • While you’re still healthy and mobile, get the ingredients to tackle cooking something new and challenging. An hour of prep is nothing for someone with two weeks of 24 hours to fill.
  • Maintain a normal sleep/wake schedule. Late nights watching Netflix plus isolation are a recipe for depression.

No matter what happens:

  1. The amygdala and limbic systems are the portions of the brain responsible for recognizing potential danger. The news is a constant amygdala stimulation event. The prefrontal cortex can calm the hindbrain down with conscious and soothing self-talk. Use your prefrontal cortex.

We will get through this.

New Year New You


By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

I’m trying to do this thing that I’m really lousy at. It stimulates all of my defenses: fatigue, defeat, distraction, avoidance. I’m trying to create a new web site, and to do it myself because that’s a thing now…normal non-tech people can write articles and use a template to create their very own website.

Thirteen years ago, I hired my best friend’s husband and he did a great job putting my website together.  But every time I raised my fees or wanted to add info about a group or list my latest presentation, I had to go through him. Then he went and got a full-time job (so rude!) on top of being a part time musician (selfish!) so I didn’t want to ask him to find the one free hour in his week to work for me.

I like thinking and writing. Unfortunately thinking and writing are abstract and real-world change requires decisiveness on the material plane. Paint colors aside (I’m really good at choosing paint colors) I fairly suck at the million-and-one decisions required to do complex projects. My partner recently built me the sweetest little writing studio in the world. In addition to building it, he also took on the design so that I didn’t have to decide layout or siding material or the slope of the roof. Those kinds of choices overwhelm me. And so it is with designing my own website. As I look over my articles from thirteen years ago, I realize my thinking has changed so I need to update them. I need to choose a new domain name. I need to decide if this picture should be centered on this zone, while losing this other zone. On and on the decisions roll.

I’ve decided that this year my theme will be boldness. I will be trying new things, scary things, things that help me grow and become more competent and to feel more alive. I will take risks and adventure forward because here I am in the middle of my life and I want to expand my possibilities, rather than retract into stale routine.

My hope for you, dear reader is that for this new, untouched year of your one precious life, you make a commitment to pick one under-developed area to grow and nurture. You’re not the same as me so your area of construction will probably be different. Maybe you’ve got boldness on tap and could use more empathy.  Maybe you work constantly and could slow down. Maybe you check your phone obsessively and could commit to putting it away when you are with others. Whatever you chose, I wish you success and joy in the pursuit.  Meanwhile, I’ll be working on my new website.

The Diva and the Doormat


by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

We find balance between the extremes Two common extremes have to do with how we relate to other people. On the one side, you have your divas. These are the folks who require an outsized amount of time and consideration to engage with the larger world. They are always running late. They need to curl their hair, paint their nails, and have the temperature just so. There was a rock band in the 80’s that shall remain nameless (only because I can’t remember) that had written into their performance contract that the stage be kept at a perfect 70 degrees for all their outdoor venues. They traveled with a thermometer.  They refused to play if the temperate was off by two degrees. These guys were major divas. Ironically, divas put themselves under massive pressure to look good and perform perfectly under all circumstances, and because no one can look good or perform perfectly in all circumstances, they try to control the circumstances which means controlling everyone around them. Family members, employees, neighbors and community members are all reduced to delivery tools in the diva’s insatiable quest for comfort.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the doormats. They apologize preemptively. They don’t ask for what they want. They back down immediately when challenged. They practically invite domination. These folks accept mistreatment because they have disconnected from their own self-protective anger in order to protect their connection with others. They don’t believe themselves to be worth sticking up for.  Doormats are the parents who beg their near-adult children to clean up after themselves. The women who stay with mean or unreliable men. The men who stay with cruel and demeaning women. Doormats behave in passive aggressive ways because they still get mad about mistreatment, and they still punish mistreatment, but they don’t have the relational power or the emotional skill to have direct conversations about their needs.

Many people flip between diva and doormat behavior, depending on their perception of the importance of the other person. If you want to see a bunch of doormats, watch the behavior of people around a famous person. They ogle, they fawn, they do everything except act like they might have their own important ideas. If you want to see a diva, watch modern hip-hop videos. They show off money, (doormat) girls, weapons, all the symbols of social importance and dominance.

If you want to be as emotionally healthy as possible, avoid these extremes. Also avoid people who exhibit these extremes.