In case you missed part one of this tale, here’s what you need to know.

My husband and I have known for a while that we needed to clean the deck and do something with the sun-room siding, but it never made the priority list.

And then I noticed the teeny hole in one corner of the wall.

It turned out that the little hole was symptomatic of a much bigger problem. If that’s not a metaphor, I’ve never met one.

The tale of the tiny hole

Our little home repair project turned out not to be so little. We thought we were replacing a panel of siding that was missing a tiny corner. As it turned out, we were dealing with some serious rot.

While we were discovering the full extent of the problem and working out a new plan of action, I realized just how symbolic it all was.

What you see is not always what you get

Just as the paneling had hidden the rot happening behind it, a veneer of wellness can hide a multitude of invisible illnesses.

It might be a facade put up by the person who is suffering, as so often happens with mental illness. Some illnesses cause pain and fatigue in a person who looks perfectly well outwardly. Other issues flare up unpredictably, taking down a fully functioning person in an instant.

Unless a person has opened up to you about what they are really dealing with, your perception could be almost entirely faulty.

On the flip side, when dealing with our own problems, we might find that what we believe to be the problem is really only a symptom of an underlying issue. We could be engaging in self-deception as a coping mechanism, or perhaps we haven’t had reason to look deeper.

There are things you know about and things you don’t, the known and the unknown, and in between are the doors–that’s us.

Ray Manzarek, co-founder of The Doors

Sometimes a patch is the right answer and sometimes it isn’t.

Originally, we had planned to patch the hole in the wall. This would have been perfectly fine if the problem we were fixing was the problem we thought we were fixing. The perceived problem was a hole that would allow mice to get through the hole and overwinter in our sun-room.

This is like putting a bandage on a cut to keep germs out while it heals. Excellent plan, mom-approved.

As we discovered, our problem was bigger than a mouse hole. Putting a patch over this would actually have made the problem worse. Not only would we have been trapping moisture and rot behind the patch, but we would have been covering up all evidence that there was still a problem.

This is more like putting a bandage on an infected cut. You’re not keeping the germs out, you’re keeping them in. Terrible plan, mom comes in with a hard no.

Sometimes you have to patch anyway.

Living in the northern part of the United States, we can feel the bite of the colder seasons already. Our vacation days have been used or accounted for, and we simply don’t have enough warm weekends left to properly deal with this problem.

We looked at our available options, and we chose to patch.

We pulled off all the old paneling and scraped and swept away all the rot we could. We cleaned the wood on the deck right against the wall to get rid of anything that was growing in it. We let everything on the outside dry as much as we could, and then we sealed everything up before the afternoon rains came.

In our bandage analogy, this is like cleaning the infected area, putting an antibacterial ointment on it, and then bandaging it to keep it dry and clean. You probably haven’t solved the problem, but with luck, you have kept it from getting worse until it can be dealt with properly.

If you ignore a problem it can get worse.

The best time to deal with a problem is when you first notice it exists. If you tend to a wound right away, you may never even need a simple bandage. Keeping it clean and dry is simple maintenance that can prevent infection. Yet even a small cut can develop into a serious issue without proper care.

If we had addressed the warped siding and the deck finish when we first realized they needed attention, we might have avoided the rot altogether. There may never even have been a hole!

The same holds true in a variety of situations. There’s a fine line to walk between focusing on problems and pretending they don’t exist. If you follow the path of awareness and preventative care, you will find fewer problems entirely.

Fix what you can, when you can.

Life is seldom so straightforward as walking the aforementioned path. It is clear, in hindsight, that we could have prevented the damage we are now facing. The plain truth of the matter is that we let these maintenance issues slide because they weren’t as urgent as other events in our lives.

It absolutely is easier to clean up a kitchen if you do it as you go, rather than doing it all after you finish cooking. However, life happens. Sometimes your toddler falls down right after you’ve put the bacon on. If your breakfast catches on fire while you are picking up the child, you don’t worry about the dishes that need washing. You take care of the child’s safety and you put out the fire.

When you are putting out fires in your life, you have to let other things slide. Often those things are inconsequential, but once in a while, they turn into major situations. When they do, the best (maybe only) way to deal with it is to start where you are and do what you can do.

Knowing the cause of a problem is important but assigning blame is not

When you are faced with a problem the goal is to solve it. You want it fixed, eliminated, or otherwise resolved, and the sooner, the better. Unfortunately, the less you know about the problem, the harder it is to fix and the more likely it is to come back.

Knowing when, how, and why a problem started is important. This information helps you develop a good strategy both for repair and for preventing a recurrence. Knowing who contributed to the problem is also useful, but there’s a great danger here. It’s a short jump from acknowledging a person’s role in a problem to blaming them for it.

In our tiny hole tale, my husband and I both knew the siding needed attention. He could have blamed me for not reminding him to check on it. I could have blamed him for not taking me seriously and checking it out sooner. Would any of this have fixed the problem we had on our hands? Not even one little bit.

If we had gotten wrapped up in the emotion of blame, we would have been draining our resources. We wouldn’t have had the mental or emotional energy to address the problem itself. This could have led to bad decisions or even to no decisions. Eventually, we may have come to a good decision, but not fast enough to prevent further damage.

Blame is quite the temptress. She tells you that if you blame someone else, you can be guilt-free. She might also convince you that blaming yourself is the only way to take responsibility. Ultimately, however, laying blame is about condemnation. It leads more easily to shame and anger than to improved behavior.

The knowledge of who contributed to a problem and what their role was is no less useful than knowing when and why it began. The key is to be sure you are using it to fix the problem at hand rather than getting caught up in pointing fingers. Stagnating in a place of blame not only wastes time, but it also creates a morass of ill-feelings which then spawn problems of their own.

As our home repair project has grown from bandage-sized into minor-surgery-sized, new layers of meaning have unfolded. In my final post on the topic, I’ll share with you how your problems might have easier solutions than you anticipate and what to do when you actually do find yourself over your head.

Until then, brightest blessings!

~ Sunny