Choice Solves Chaos


By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

The holiday season is upon us. I haven’t even finished shopping or inviting guests over and I’m already fatigued. I have social engagements for five out of seven evenings this week.  I’m also trying to bake a vat of coconut maple granola to give away.

Between going out for dinner with friends, dragging my kids to wholesome seasonal activities that they grudgingly tolerate, and generally attempting to trip the light fantastic, I will be sucking down a nontrivial amount of caffeine to counterbalance the exhaustion of social overstimulation.  Technically I don’t have to socialize like a Hollywood coke fiend or bring the kids to hear a sixteenth century Viennese Pianoforte, see zoo lights and visit downtown for the gingerbread house display. I want to do all these things.

A friend once told me about a little known category called an “ambivert” which is a person with equal extroverted and introverted traits.  That pretty much sums me up, as well as a lot of folks I know. On vacations, my favorite part is hanging out at the hotel room with my sweetie, a book and a cup of tea after sightseeing and before dinner.  I wouldn’t want to spend the whole day cooped up inside, but the counterbalance of explore-retreat lends adventure a cozy perfection.

Here I am in middle age and I still haven’t figured out the whole-life pacing thing, but I am starting to understand my need for variety and balance.  In my work as a therapist I’ve noticed that we course correct all the time. Work too much and you miss your kids. Work too little and you lose your sense of contribution. Exercise too much and you get obsessed and become rather boring company. Exercise too little and you become lethargic (and rather boring as well.)

Mental health is noticing when and where we are out of balance, and to GENTLY bringing ourselves back in alignment with our obligations, energy, and interests.  Gently means not talking meanly to ourselves, while still being honest and affirming choice. In truth, have too many plans this week, but I still have choices: I can enjoy it or just deal with it or I can cancel/reschedule/leave early. When we assert choice (I want to do all these things) we are less likely to fall into resentment, irritability or self pity.

Now I have to go. The granola baking/gift wrapping/hair curling requirements of this evening’s festivities hum an urgent tune.




Progress = (Yikes!)


by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

Last weekend I heard the very unwelcome sound of water dripping inside my house. I followed the noise, panic in my chest.  I crossed the kitchen.  Rain was leaking through the roof, through the attic, through the sheetrock, and landing with a gentle, dreadful, plink-plink-plink on the floor.  I made my own, much louder accompanying stream of swearing and climbed into the attic with a flashlight and a bowl.

Finding the source of the leak was not easy. There were several spots of moisture on the underside of the roof but a giant roll of fluffy insulation masked the landing. I had to wait until the weather cleared up and get on the roof with sealant and spray the heck out of the base areas around the vents, pipes, and skylights.

Each time something goes wrong in my house: rats! leaks! mold! I panic, thinking that there is no way I will ever be able to manage running a business, raising kids, keeping up a busy social schedule and to also tackle the latest problem.

I like my problems small and friendly and preferably well known in advance. Give me a gluten intolerant guest attending a spaghetti dinner. Or a Daphne O’dora that dies because I planted it in the wrong spot and then forgot to water it.  Give me a kid who refuses to clean his bedroom floor.  Give me a misplaced sports participation permission slip the morning of a wrestling match and which—surprise!—is discovered hidden under a pile of clothes on said messy bedroom floor.

And yet, somehow these crises—big in the moment and little in retrospect—always do pass. I scrub the mold off the walls. I antagonize the rats with traps that fail to catch as much as a whisker into either going away or becoming quieter residents. I seal the roof and start planning for a total replacement.

I think we are all more capable than we give ourselves credit for.  Or maybe we are more capable than we want to need to be. Capacity comes with experience and it grows when we tackle new problems. But these new problems, they piss us off. I don’t want to have to deal with the messy and chaotic and unexpected. I don’t want to worry about the roof or rodents or fungus walls.

But I feel good when I succeed in beating back one of the endless homeowner harbingers of decay.  A sense of progress is the best antidepressant not on the market!  I am happy when my house is clean and dry and warm and beautiful and I can snuggle under a blanket with a good book and glass of sparkling water.  But when I can do that after meeting one of the myriad challenges of Old House/Wet Climate I feel ecstatic.

Today I am grateful for whoever invented spray on roof sealant. I am grateful for a sturdy ladder and Mrs. Myers cleaning products and the plaster and paint that will allow me to disguise the water invasion. And I hope that right now, you have some sense of progress in your life too. I hope that whatever today’s struggle is, you turn it into tomorrow’s story of your very own awesome, badass, competent self.