I held my breath as the home inspector flipped through the pages on his clipboard. I couldn't help but notice that the faded edge of his yellow polo shirt had come untucked as we walked the nearly empty home. He clenched a pen between his teeth and yanked it out when he found the right page. As he spoke, he made little check marks off to the side.
"So, folks, you're looking pretty good here. Plumbing is good. Electric good. Being a fairly new home, no problems with the foundation or exterior. I'm not seeing anything major here, so you can rest easy."
I blew out a small puff of breath and looked meaningfully at Keith. We knew that this home inspection was the last hurdle before we could move forward with the new home.
"One thing you should know," the man said, suddenly looking up. "You have a problem with the skylight." He led us into the master bathroom and pointed up. "Right there. It's not mounted correctly. Watch this." He stood on the edge of the counter and, extending his measuring tape as if it were part of his own limb, proceeding to push against the skylight. It lifted slightly, even with such light pressure. "You'll want to take care of it. A good windstorm and it'll blow right off the house."
We thanked the man, signed his form, shook his hand and went on to purchase the new house and move in. According to our purchase contract, anything found on the inspection was our responsibility, not the previous owner's. Blissfully, we painted walls, wandered furniture stores, picked out rugs and bedding. We hung our photos and made the house our home. We never did get around to the skylight.
One night, the wind started howling and I could hear the tapping of rain against the windows. I woke from a dead sleep to hear, THUD! THUD! THUD! I woke Keith and we wandered the house in our jammies trying to figure out what the thumping sound was. A tree branch? One of the chairs on the front porch? A door? We couldn't find anything. We wandered into the bedroom, confused.
THUD! THUD! CRASH!
I looked up. Right above my head, I could see directly into the night sky. The skylight held fast on one side and the other kept flapping up and down in the wind, crashing against the roof of the house. With each flap, the rain snuck inside, dampening our floor and threatening our cozy little space. We couldn't climb onto the roof because A) We didn't own a ladder B) We didn't have any tools other than a basic hammer and nails and C) We really didn't have anyone to call for help. D) We didn't have much money. (Looking back, we probably could have tried a little harder to find a solution.) We put down a few towels and prayed that the rain would stop. It didn't. Let's just say it was a long night.
In the morning, we did what any typical not-very-handy 20 something would do. We pulled the car up to the house, stood on the hood long enough to shimmy up on the roof. We dried off the wet from the previous night and wrapped a whole roll of duct tape around the edge of the skylight. Fixed!
When we bought the new house in a new town, we had no idea that wind was a common occurrence. Mountains surrounded the quaint homes, but the ferocious gusts swept through the canyons and then pelted the homes in its path. After every windstorm, someone in the neighborhood lost a trampoline, or siding, or shingles. Every time.
The duct tape held for a while and we patted ourselves on the back. But as the wind continued to pummel the neighborhood, the duct tape began to give way. As soon as we heard some muffled THUDS again a few months later, we hopped on the roof and wrapped another roll of duct tape around the skylight's base.
I remembered the guy with the yellow polo shirt. "You'll want to take care of it," he had warned. I hated to admit it, but he was right. We needed to address it, not just duct tape it. I won't admit how long it took us to get to that point. Let's just say that there was a lot of duct tape visible from the road behind our house by then. Moving forward...
We purchased screws and found a bottle of gunk to seal around the skylight. We borrowed a screw gun. Eventually, we bought a real ladder. The work was doable and easier than we thought it would be. Once we took care of the skylight correctly, it never THUDDED again.
Let me compare this story to something else I've tried to bandaid or "duct tape" in my life: Mental health.
I've been fairly open about my own struggles with mental health. I've suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and harrowing events in my life that I am still working to shake. I don't claim these challenges as a badge of distinction or a plea for pity. Instead, I want you to see them as a hand reaching out to let you know that if you've ever struggled at all, you're not alone, even if it feels that way.
Like the home inspector, I vaguely remember doctors and therapists warning me that (after my car accident), I might need to talk to someone to heal completely. I nodded, but never felt it was necessary. I was handling it. Let's be real. I was duct-taping it, so to speak. I realize that now.
When the winds began to blow a little harder in my life and our family hit some rough spots, I could recognize the change in how I reacted. It became harder to get up and face another day. Stress eating became my new best friend. My mental health took a beating. THUD! THUD! THUD! I didn't feel like I knew what to do. Who would I even call? How much would it cost? Was it worth it? More "duct tape." I couldn't deal with it for many years.
Our family's challenges increased. What was once a "gale force wind" increased to a superstorm, a typhoon that didn't pound in little THUD! THUD! THUDS! It smashed me to pieces. It roared inside my head, YOU'RE A FAILURE! YOU'RE WORTHLESS! And every other horrible, awful thing you can possibly imagine. I knew I needed help. I couldn't stand it any longer. I won't admit how long it took me to get to that point. Let's just say that it took some minor miracles and unexpected nudges to schedule my first appointment with a mental health professional.
Even then, I didn't know what to expect. My only experiences with mental health professionals were movies. In a Crocodile Dundee scene, Paul Hogan whispers that a woman must be "nuts" to need a therapist. In Harvey, Jimmy Stewart is so much better outside of the sanitarium than in. In What About Bob? Bill Murray proves that he can tackle his anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors on his own. His doctor, Richard Dreyfuss, was the one who needed serious help. In Arsenic and Old Lace, only outlandish misfits who threaten themselves or others should seek refuge with professionals.
Before I put down my "duct tape," I had to face the stigma. Was I nuts? Did I just need to try harder on my own? Was I as messed up as Bob? What would people whisper behind my back? I'll tell you a little secret. The answer to all of these questions - NO! No, I'm not nuts. No, I didn't fall short. No, I'm not as messed up as Bob. I haven't heard anyone whisper, but frankly, I don't care.
I'll be honest - it's been easier than I thought. Has it been easy? Not always. But I'm making steady progress. Mentally, I'm anchoring myself to a solid foundation, one screw after another. Has it been worth it? A million times, YES!
Is there anything you are "duct taping" in your life? You might be aware of a problem, but not finding the best way to approach it. It might be a mental or physical health issue for you, or someone you love. Maybe it's not a health issue at all. Are you patching together a relationship or a circle of support? Your faith? Your trust? Your career? You tell me.
Do you have the correct tools on hand to address it? Really? Take a step back and look at it from another angle. How can you get what you need? Are you making excuses? Are you trying hard enough?
I'm a stubborn person. Always have been. God tends to give me opportunities to listen to him well before the storm begins. He beckons for me when the wind blows. He stretches for my hand when everything is so loud I can't hear anything anymore. I tend to learn my lessons the most difficult way. I'm trying to fix that too.
Put down the duct tape. Learn from my mistakes.
Invest in yourself and in the best tools for the job. From one fellow "duct taper" to another: You've got this. Let's fix this the right way. The best way.