May 13, 2008
Anxiety and panic sufferers, especially those who are new to the disorder, are as perplexed by the reasons for their fears as they are burdened by the anxiety and panic experiences themselves. While many realize that there is a reason their brains send up the emergency flares, it seems impossible to understand the nature of the emergency itself. Very often, incidents in the present or recent past (bad marriage, loss of a loved one, termination of employment, etc.) seem likely candidates, but even when these challenges are resolved, the anxiety remains. I recently received a letter from a young lady who was similarly perplexed -her life was so normal and free of stress, she found it hard to understand what therapy could possibly discover. Yet, therapy often is the most effective tool to do this work. In attempting to explain how and why therapy does, I curiously remembered the day I moved into the home I now occupy -and that memory helped her understand how the causes of our panic and anxiety may seem quite remote from our conscious self-understanding. Here's the story; I hope it works as well for you.
When I walked into the empty bedroom of the home I had just purchased, I saw the faint halo of a stain on the carpet in the center of the room. It was perhaps one foot in diameter, darker in the middle. It had obviously been scrubbed clean recently -I could tell by the way the carpet fabric was disturbed. Someone had done their best to hide a problem, and in dim light, it almost worked.
When I looked overhead to the ceiling, I could see the evidence of a stain there, as well. The cover-up was not quite as effective; the stain penetrated several layers of paint, and the paint itself was not an exact match to the rest of the ceiling. From the doorway, at an oblique angle, the stain nearly disappeared. But from any point inside the room, it was glaringly evident. Perhaps another coat of paint would fix it, for now. But of course, I wondered, "Where is it coming from?"
I climbed the folding stairs into the attic to investigate. After a few moments, I found a plastic pail sitting on the pink insulation. and tilted at an odd angle so that it could not hold much water. Underneath it, the insulation was somewhat matted, and damp. I pulled back the pink material to reveal the back side of the plasterboard ceiling of my bedroom and the area of the stain. The plasterboard was crumbing and very wet to the touch. It would not take much pressure to push a hole into the ceiling. I realized that someone had put that bucket there to catch a leak from the roof. But as the bucket filled, the weight of the water it held caused the insulation beneath it to collapse. The bucket tilted -and the captured water ran out. It has the opposite of the intended effect.
Now I looked overhead. I could see a darkened area where water had dripped from a rafter, and the underside of the plywood roof sheathing -the surface on which the shingles were applied. But I saw no leak, even though I probed by touch and inspected with a flashlight. A mystery. Where was the leak? There was no plumbing nearby -no other source of water that I could identify.
It so happened that I wanted to replace the roof anyway; the original roof, at 25 years, was visibly deteriorated as seen from the outside. In an hour, the salesman from the roofing company appeared and took measurements. He was quite an expert, and pointed out to me what the various signs of deterioration on the surface of the rook implied about conditions underneath. So I took him to my empty bedroom and showed him the stain, and explained that I could find no leak in the attic. He took a ladder off his truck, grabbed a caulking gun, climbed to the roof and made his way over to the approximate area of the leak. "Roof looks good here," he shouted down, then expanded his search. Directly, about 20 feet away, he came to the air pipe for the plumbing system. "Aha!" he called, pointing to the pipe. "The rubber flashing around the pipe has corroded -I can see down to the sheathing. I'll patch it up for now." He applied a generous bead of caulk and made his way back down.
I asked how a problem 20 feet away could possibly send water so far -over to my bedroom. "Easy," he said, "The water follows the seams between the sheathing until it comes to a place where the sheets are slightly separated, and that's where the water drips down. Its like water running down the outside of a glass when you tilt it slightly - it clings to the nearby surface."
I told him to forget the estimate -just come and do the job. We arranged that all the old shingles would come off, and any rotted or weak plywood sheathing would be replaced with new material. In addition, a ridge vent would be added to let heat escape in summer time -this would increase the life of the new roof by perhaps another 10 years. The objective was to give me a roof that would require no one's attention for 50 years. He took his leave with the promise to return in 2 weeks. The job would take 1/2 day.
That night, it rained. Hard. For hours. I went to the attic. No leak.
When the crew appeared 2 weeks later, they discovered exactly what the salesman had told me. When they tossed down the rotted sheathing panels, I could clearly see the path the water had followed.
The roof has been on for 3 years now, and I no longer worry about leaks. I've sealed and painted over the stain on the ceiling. Now, you must look very closely to see that there was ever a problem. The stain on the floor, likewise, has been vacuumed and cleaned so many times that it is visible only on very close inspection. The plastic bucket is now employed as part of my house cleaning equipment. I cut away the rotted parts of the sheathing panels and salvaged the good material which has been used as an outdoor table top and a panel for attachment of a hose reel. In the process of finding the leak, I learned a lot about the structure of my house. I even had skylights installed as part of the roofing project, to let in more light.
That leak was a tiny thing with enormous possible consequences, and the immediate source was not the ultimate source -it took an expert to locate that, make temporary repairs and then go on to a more broad-based approach that prevented problems in the future and gave an attractive new look and functionality. And I could see how, over the years, people had attempted various techniques to forestall or hide the problem. No doubt a special hurried effort was made when the house was put on the market -and people might be looking closely. As a matter of fact, the roof condition did result in a substantial reduction to the sale price -enough to cover the cost of the roof. I would rather have spent the money on something more immediately satisfying, but delaying other projects in favor of the roof was really the right move.
I leave it to you to draw comparisons between this story -and the roots and causes of your anxiety and panic. In fact, I invite you to do so by adding your comments below. The picture appearing with this entry shows where the bad sheathing (source and path of leak) was taken up and replaced by new. A larger version is under my Photos, together with a picture showing one use of that sheathing and other roof replacement shots. Thanks for reading - I hope you can take some meaning from "The Stain on the Floor."