When the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag started trending, I entertained myself by categorizing my personal issues. It helped me assign an appropriate weight to frivolous problems, but also recognize when something wasn’t trivial. Lately, I feel like I’ve got a host of problems that are defying neat and tidy categories: originating in #FirstWorld, but relevant beyond my upper middle class life.
Our backyard is plagued by rats. They arrived as our street was ripped up to install new sewers and have thrived because of our chicken coop. Chickens provide lovely containers of “rat” food and “rat” water and a handy structure under which to build a rat-opolis.
Compounding the base EEEWWW issue is the fact that our family does not kill things. We’ve allowed the mice family to live on our porch for years; the only one that died mistakenly ran in a screen door left open only to be played with to death by our cat. We capture bugs in the house under cups, and carry them outside rather than squish them. But now we are rat murderers. Two kinds of traps have killed 10 rats this summer, and now our neighbors have decided that exterminators should be called in, and I can’t disagree. The lovely people who live next door are on the brink of moving due to the wife’s hatred of rats, and I worry about the health of my family if there are still rodents running around.
Unquestionably, our rat problem was created by first world sewer replacement and exacerbated by our first world urban farm and will be manged with our first world dollars. However, our infestation has built my empathy for families that keep chickens to provide food for their family, but have no way to manage the pests and, even worse, no way to protect their families from the rodents and the diseases they carry. At least I have a house so the rats are in my yard and not running over my sleeping child.
Like many people, this new presidential administration has me reeling. I’m horrified by the idea of children losing their free lunches at school, threats to our clean air and water, and friends losing health insurance. Underlying all of those worries is a selfish concern about my potential job loss. As someone who works in renewable energy whose job depends on funding from the federal government, I spend many work days figuring out how to save the jobs of my team and myself. No federal budget has been passed yet, and likely won’t anytime soon, so the dark cloud of unemployment looms as budget requests shrink. This unemployment fear is heightened by my fear of Obamacare going away, because if I lose my job who is to say my family will have health coverage?
Granted, my husband has a job, he has health insurance, and we have plenty of savings. I’m better off than many who are already unemployed, don’t have a job and really will have no insurance if Obamacare goes away. As a result, I’m know I’m awful-izing, but the distance between me and a bad financial place are closer than they have ever been, and that’s scary.
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband struggles with depression, and he is in that cycle again. Thankfully we caught it early, and are hoping that early intervention will keep him from entering a downward spiral, but our family’s fears are enlarged when “Daddy isn’t happy.” Also, when daddy isn’t happy the fears of not just my job loss but his job security, pre-existing condition clauses, and poverty become larger than life in his head and in my ears. Mental health impacts all people, regardless of financial standing, and we are so fortunate to be able to get help for him, but I cringe knowing how hard this is for our family, when we are the lucky ones. What do down-on-their-luck families do?
Of course as my husband was admitting his depression to himself and me, I got news of an irregular mammogram. After extra screening – which is super comfortable let me tell you – I’ve been assured that what they found is probably benign, but I have to go back every six months for screening. (Oh, how I’m looking forward to even more super comfy screening.) I’m probably fine, and I’m so lucky to have insurance so that I can get mammograms in the first place, and afford the additional screenings. If anything ends up being a problem we’ll find it early, and for that I am grateful. Other women might not know they have a problem until their sugar crystal sized cysts grew to cancer sized lumps, and even then they might not be able to afford treatment.
That said, I did spend the first few days after my diagnosis facing my eventual death. I’ve got a young daughter I want to see grow up, parents who are still healthy, a book I want to edit, another book to finish writing, stories to get published, and a whole lot of life I still want to live. Oh, and jobs to save, remember those from earlier? The idea of cramming all of that into a few years terrified me, and forced me to think about my priorities. No big changes are happening yet, but I got a smack in the face that I’m not living forever.
So yeah, all of my problems above are #FirstWorldProblems. Angry making, worry inducing, miserable first world problems and I hate every one of them. But we have a rat plan, I do have a job and savings, my husband is getting treatment, and I’m being regularly screened. We are lucky because we’ve had good jobs, our employers provide health insurance, and we’ve managed our money well. Right now things are crappy at the Afthead house, but we will be okay.
While that should make me feel better, it also makes current events going on in this country so much more awful. What about all the people – heck the majority of the people – who are not as fortunate as our white family headed up by two engineers? Who is looking out for them, and making sure that the difficulties life throws at them don’t make them sick, destitute, crazy, or dead? Why doesn’t everyone deserve to be safe from rats, job loss, or mental and physical health issues? For my family’s sake I wish I wasn’t thinking about these questions right now, but for humanity’s sake I wish I had an answer.