The Emotional Phases of a Vital Home Repair

By on March 27, 2020

In February we had two vital pieces of equipment for this house go bad: The UV-light bacteria-killing water purifier and the two electric baseboard heaters in our living room. The importance of the first is self-explanatory given our water source is our well. It works in conjunction with a carbon water filter. Because electric baseboard heating is the most expensive type, we only have heaters on in the living room, kitchen and den. The two living room heaters are the main source of heat for this house.

I noticed after going through the same basic process twice in a two-week period that there is a series of emotional response phases all problem-discovering and problem-solving processes go through as follows:

– The shock from the unexpectedness of the problem because of how vital the equipment is and how we lose functionality immediately

-Alarm and a stressful reaction to the problem as we realize what has happened. At the moment we become aware of the problem, it feels as though the sky is falling, especially when it comes to the cleanliness and purity of our well water or a major source of heat during winter — which we were in the middle of — both of which are vital

– The stress level reduces some as we adapt our thinking to accept what has happened and we turn our focus on ways to fix the problem.  I generally move to this phase within moments of the initial reaction.  My buddy dwells on the “sky is falling” part more than I do.  The more we adapt, the less alarming the situation is, which is the main point of this writing.

– Asking people we know if they have any knowledge of the problem so we can avoid starting from scratch if possible (less stressful if we find that support and more stressful when we don’t)

– The more-focused but still stressful (spoiler alert: the stress does not completely subside until we know resolution is complete and behind us) and uncertain period figuring out the options toward a solution, like whether we should try to do the repair ourselves or get a contractor. I prefer doing things myself — because I like learning, applying what I learn and I don’t like to pay someone for something I can do — when possible and, while expecting quality work at a fair price done on time — with both being in line with the estimate — and in a professional manner, you can’t always confidently count on those things from a contractor.

– The (still uncertain but starting to get a foothold in moving in the right direction) feasibility assessment of doing the repair ourselves (options, availability and pricing and our knowledge base relative to the problem and our capacity to learn and increase that knowledge base) or how to search for a contractor to fix it and the criteria in choosing the contractor, which sorted itself out in the process of vetting as follows:   

With the water purifier, the first plumber would not stop the slight drip when we asked him to during the estimate visit.  He saw no necessity. After he left, it occurred to me that it would instinctive for a good, professional plumber to stop the leak the moment he sees it. I put myself in the position of being a plumber. Stopping the leak would be second nature to them and thus quick and simple because they’ve done it so many times. The second plumber casually fixed the leak without being asked as he was talking to us about the estimate for replacing the purifier.  The first plumber emphasized urgency and told us we could not drink the water until the purifier was replaced.  The second plumber was casual and and said our water was fine to drink until the replacement.  The first plumber’s estimate was higher than the second plumber’s.  Those three factors made the decision clear-cut, giving us a more firm foothold on the way to our solution.  One contractor was intentionally stress-inducing and the other diffused stress, not so much intentionally as that was his nature. You be the judge as to which was honest and truthful and which was not. If you are not honest and truthful, you are a waste of time.

– Setting the date and time for the repair with the contractor, which still is uncertain and stressful — something always comes up when working with a contractor — until it happens, but now there is clear hope in resolving the problem

– Running into unforeseen glitches that slow down the process, like the parts do not arrive in time or the contractor has to reschedule (both happened with the electric baseboard heaters), resulting in a rise of stress until the parts and the contractor both show up. We almost don’t feel as though we’re any closer to resolution than earlier in the process. A spike in stress level.

– The stabilizing phase when the repair is taking place, and we ask questions to understand the process and the thinking behind it. We feel better as we witness the repair happen and we start to feel settled the problem will soon be behind us. Still, we brace (and stress) ourselves for the possibility another problem may arise to prohibit the completion of the repair. Things happen.

-Upon confirming completion (the biggest drop in stress in the process up to this point), we pay the contractor, which is momentarily stressful when it should not be.  Again, I dislike paying someone for something I could have done but I had to be honest with myself and know we made the right decision. Trial by learning with vital pieces of equipment doesn’t make sense when you have the option of a competent and ethical professional. Practicality takes over and we happily accept making payment as a necessary pain, as many pains tend to be (like soreness from exercise).  There is always a price for things we want.

– We feel elated and cathartic when the repair is finished. The dark cloud has finally lifted.  At the time, we can’t imagine a more satisfying feeling than when the repair guy packs up and leaves our property.  We feel great not only in the repair but in that we handled the facilitation of it well.  The euphoria of the repair and replacement — especially because they look so much better and function better than the originals — far outweighs all the stress and uncertainty that led up to it and both are washed away in a tsunami of good feeling, a feeling we felt no connection to until it happened.

– We relive that good-to-great feeling every time we look at, think about or are given reminders of the replacements — which, in our case, are perpetual — and become more deeply appreciative of the function those things provide.  The idea of taking them for granted is out of the realm of our broadened perspective.

– We store the experience in our memory in the hopes we can apply what we learned to the next new and unforeseeable problem in any aspect of our lives. 

It occurred to me that this emotional-response cycle is a tiny analogy of what is happening now. We are adapting to a new problem and the transition period until the period of recovery is uncertain and unstable but, as people get used to the idea of what is happening, it is our nature to focus on the things we need to do to recover, both world-wide and on every level down to the individual.  Look at how many companies are stepping up, like the liquor-distilling company that is producing hand sanitizer. Along the way there are bumps where you don’t feel any closer to resolution than you did earlier in the process but you persist by resourcefully figuring out and implementing the things it takes to smooth out those bumps so you can move forward again. Among other things, life is about dealing with adversity.

If someone had explained this problem-to-repair emotional phase cycle to me in this type of detail (I’m now wondering if I slept during a class that covered this exact thing) it might have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress. DPW March 27, 2020

Our county here in NY is under COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown and, unlike every other place that has done the same thing, the police are immediately and strictly enforcing adherence and will ticket or arrest anyone not complying, for which I am relieved and appreciative. No milling around casually in public places like you see in other places under lockdowns. From the beginning, I didn’t understand why the lockdowns in those other places were not enforced immediately and in the same way. Too many people need much more convincing than those of us that are understanding and compliant.

Because we live in the woods with some distance and a lot of trees between neighbors, with only the woods and a brook across from us on a road with no streetlights and little traffic (and I’m always home a lot, anyway), we can’t really tell a difference. The same cannot be said in more densely populated places. Maybe some suburbs, I guess.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

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