Tipping Point

I always thought when you went over the tipping point that there would be a fall. Instead, I’ve learned when you go over the tipping point the point impales itself in your heart and holds you aloft writhing like an insect being prepared for a museum display.

Internally, I can’t understand why I’ve found myself stuck. All I’ve done is experienced two years of the pandemic in the most privileged way possible. I worked from home in my basement office while my husband worked from home in our bedroom, and my daughter attended school at home; then at home and at school; and now at school. We have money to pay for broadband, computers, masks, and COVID tests. I should feel lucky.

My mom is alive. I didn’t survive cancer. I don’t currently have cancer. My house didn’t burn to the ground. The opposite scenarios are all ones my friends have experienced since 2020. I didn’t get COVID. My daughter didn’t infect her grandparents when she got COVID. Thank goodness.

My co-workers think I’m a great boss and do great work. I’m working on a project to fundamentally reduce the climate change impacts of transportation system in this country. This week, my work was lauded by the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Transportation. I am at a career high point.

I know mental health. I’ve lived with a partner with depression for 22 years. I experienced anxiety during this pandemic in a vicious cycle of chest tightening, worrying I have COVID causing additional chest tightening and more worry that I have COVID. I was seeing the therapist at my doctor’s office until she quit. She never suggested medication. I took the quizzes every appointment. I’m not jittery. I can focus. I can sleep. I am fine.

Sometimes feeling bad is appropriate. Sometimes the combined strain of the banal — lost friendships, loneliness, dead pets — and a literal apocalyptic existence leave you feeling kinda crappy. I just checked my favorite John’s Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard and 5,802,066 people have died worldwide. I was tempted to round to 5.8 million, but 2,066 feels like significant digits. That’s 2,066 sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers, human beings. I can’t imagine 2,066 deaths much less the other 5,800,000. An antidepressant doesn’t make that go away. Every day brings new catastrophes. A quick scan of today’s headlines: war, border blockades, delayed vaccines for kids, and voter suppression. Awesome.

I’m supposed to work and achieve. I’m supposed to be a visionary. I’m supposed to lead, mentor, and manage others. I’m supposed to raise a healthy well-balanced child. I’m supposed to care for my family, my friends, and do not forget the all-important self-care. But what if self-care requires alone time to cry or scream? What if I’ve sucked up all I can suck and need to experience legitimate emotions during my endless daily cycle of bedroom, basement office, kid’s sporting events, kitchen, and back to my office for a few more hours before returning to my bedroom to sleep? When do I to take an hour, a day, a week, a month and fall apart because the world is a horrible scary place? And if I breakdown, then what? Do I pick myself up and start climbing to the tipping point again? This isn’t a brain chemistry problem. This is reality.

And here’s the thing. I’m not alone. If I look around there is a mountain range of impaled others. If I listen closely, I can hear a chorus of “I’m fine.” “I’m good.” “Doing okay.”

How am I doing? I am scared. I am exhausted. I am angry. I am stuck. And I don’t know how or when it gets better.

How are you?

Which world problems?

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.

Pending Unemployment

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.

Mental Health

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?

Physical Health

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.


A Quiet Frustrated Rant

Open any news site today and you’ll see reports on two different theater shootings.  The Holmes trial is in the sentencing phase, just miles from where I live.  The Houser shooting happened less than a week ago.  These two events have me ranting in a quiet anguished way.  Three factors make these events personal to me: proximity, gun control, and mental health.


July 19, 2012 I flew home from a work trip.  It was late.  I drove home, and from the highway I could see the Aurora movie theater where less than three hours later James Holmes would open fire during The Dark Knight Rises.  I was right there.  Holmes could have passed me on the road as he made his way to start killing.

This February my family and I stopped at a great restaurant in Lafayette, GA while driving from New Orleans to Houston on Mardi Gras Day.  I made the mistake of ordering barbecued shrimp, forgetting that they come with the heads still intact.  After beheading my lunch I enjoyed my meal just blocks from where John Houser opened fire in a movie theater and killed two women and himself on July 23, 2015.

There is something about proximity that makes horror real.  I was there.  I can picture both of these places.  I have swam in meets at Arapahoe High School and have friends who went to Columbine.  It makes me wonder, are each of us one step away from knowing a victim or knowing a shooter?

Gun Control:

I want there to be an easy solution to this problem.  I want some politician to stand up and say, “That’s it!  No more guns in this country, at all, ever.”  Except I don’t.  I am solidly torn on gun control.  I grew up with guns in my house.  I learned how to shoot, I learned to respect guns, and I fondly remember the hours I spent watching my dad and grandpa reload after target practice.  I enjoyed target practice.  If I walked into a gun shop today the smell of it would bring back happy memories.

My dad hunted.  As a child hunting put meat on his family’s table.  I don’t hunt and never have, but I can tell you that nothing will teach you to respect a weapon like watching your uncle and dad gut and skin a deer they have killed.  I have never questioned what a gun can do to a living creature.  I don’t like play guns.  We weren’t allowed to watch violent movies or play violent video games as kids.  We were taught to respect guns to the point that I still feel a little weird pointing a Nerf water gun at my daughter and spraying her.

There are people who believe they need guns for personal protection.  There are so many guns out there already that we can’t make them go away.  I can’t round up every kid in the country and teach them the power of a gun, install new morals, and make them respect weapons.  The problem seems insurmountable especially when there seems to be no middle ground.

Mental Illness:

The other thing Holmes and Houser had in common was a history of mental illness.  So there should be an easy solution there.  We just need to take care of the mentally ill in this country and we won’t have anymore mass shootings.  Well, let me tell that it is not an easy problem to solve either.  I’ve got close personal experience with mental illness in my family: depression and bipolar disorder have wreaked havoc on the Aftheads and extended Aftheads.  I can tell you that even when mentally ill people want help it can be next to impossible for them to get it, or for their families to get it for them.  There aren’t enough doctors, there is horrible stigma, the meds are expensive and can make people worse instead of better.

I’m obsessed with the news filtering in about Houser because it is all so true.  I’m not surprised by the loophole in the law that allowed him to buy a gun.  The rights of mentally ill people are slippery.  Even if someone is a danger to themselves and others, there is a limit to what you can do to get them help.  In the end, they are people and you can’t just go around limiting people’s rights, even if the people who love them are begging for help.  I’m not surprised by his brother’s comments that the shooting wasn’t a surprise, and his words resonate with a truth that only some unlucky families get to experience.  The kind of sick his brother was will rip apart families for a lifetime.  I’ve seen it happen.  Eventually you have to pick between your own life, your own family, your own safety and caring for the guy who just might end up being a shooter.  With little to no help, no support, and no power what is a family to do?  The problem is so big it seems hopeless.

The Solution:

This is a hard problem, and you do not make hard problems go away by ignoring them or doing nothing.  I know that.  We all know that.  So, we have to start a conversation that’s going to make everyone uncomfortable.  We are going to have to talk about guns killing people and we might slip up and talk about crazy people and we might end up with a solution that limits some rights.  This will all piss people off, but isn’t it okay to piss people off to make sure that there is never again a room of dead first graders?  (I’ll admit, as the mom of a daughter who just graduated first grade Sandy Hook is a horror story has a closer proximity than I can even comprehend.)

My favorite article about this topic is from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King.  It’s called Guns, and it’s worth the $0.99 to read it on your Kindle or $2.99 to listen to on Audible.  I have both versions.  Know that if you buy it you are supporting the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  You might not be into such a charity, or Stephen King, so I’ll highlight his three measures to curb gun violence:

“Comprehensive and universal background checks.

Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds.

Ban the sale of assault weapons.”

These seem so reasonable to me, and such a good start. Yes, people can still die if you have a gun that has a clip that holds ten rounds, but Holmes couldn’t have done what he did without assault weapons.  Sure, people can still steal guns or buy guns for their family members, but Houser couldn’t have bought a gun with stricter background checks.  King doesn’t provide a road-map for solving the mental health issues in this country, but he does ensure that when someone has a history of going to dark places they can’t buy weapons.  That’s a start and we need a start.  If there is a chance that someone is going to use a gun to kill another human being, isn’t it worth it to limit that freedom to make sure that we don’t end up being a country where every single person either knows a shooter or a victim?  Can we start taking some steps to solve the  hard problem before the next tragedy?

Loving People with Mental Illness

Last week was a rough week for mental health.  Up the road from where I live a woman cut a fetus out of a pregnant mother.  In Europe a pilot with a history of depression crashed a plane. There are many obvious victims here: the mom who never met her baby, her unborn child, the passengers of the plane, and the pilot of the plane. I empathize with other people in the shadow of these stories.

The pilot had a girlfriend and parents.  They probably know a bigger story than the one horrible decision he made.  They have seen his struggles.  They have talked endlessly with him about his fears, his problems and his dreams.  They may have wished his suffering would end at times, but they never wanted this ending.  If he was a good actor and hid his feelings they are hurt and sad and furious that such a thing could happen to him, and to them.  Their lives are forever changed because he is gone, hundreds died, and they are left with the loss and the burden of what he did, and the question about what they could have done to change it.

The woman who cut the baby out had a husband.  He took her and the fetus to the hospital.  What mentally healthy person would do what she did?  He is likely pouring over every detail of his life with her and wondering what he could have done to stop the tragedy, and his life is tainted by the ramifications of what his wife did.

Mental illness runs rampant and there is so little you can do if you love someone who is sick.  The stigma of mental illness is real and asking for help is a series of hard choices. Medicate and risk losing the person you love to a haze of drugs. Hospitalize and risk the person’s job, livelihood and reputation. Do nothing and risk your loved one injuring himself or others. While all this is going on you are stuck with a person who resembles your loved one but is hidden behind a cloud of anger, sadness and fear. You can’t get to him/her to ask what they need from you, what they want from you or what you should do. It is a horrible place to be.

I don’t personally know the people involved in either of these news stories, but I have been personally involved in depression, and I cannot fathom what these poor families are going through. It makes my heart sick.

Being a Grown-Up

Remember when all you wanted to be was a grown-up?  People would stop telling you what to do, what to wear, and how to act and you would be in charge?  Well, I hate being a grown-up.  Some weeks I’m okay with the fact that when I’m lying in bed throwing my booger filled tissues on the floor that two days later, as the grown-up, I am going to have to pick up the remainders of my cold.  Some weeks I can deal with the fact that I can’t blame anyone else when my sweater shrinks, we run out of diet Dr Pepper, or when the back door is left unlocked.  My husband and I use grown-up as the code word to tell our kid she can’t do something she wants to, like sliding down the booth to the floor of the restaurant to enjoy a fine whine.  “Be the grown-up,” the one sitting across from her will snark at the one sitting next to her.  The grown-up will have to haul her up, lecture her, and be the bad guy for the rest of the day.

This week grown-up went a little too far.  Do I go to my friend’s dad’s funeral or go visit my brother in the hospital?  Do I keep my cat on dialysis, at the cost of $1000 per day, or do I let the 7 year old feline we adore die a slow painful death?  Do I go see our family shrink so she can shed some light on familial turmoil or do I make that critical meeting at work that will build bridges and may set me up for my next promotion?  Oh, and the damn dishwasher broke, so I have plenty of time to ponder these decisions while I scrub gross cat food bowls and egg crusted pans.  This morning while I was scrubbing I really should have been working on that $700,000 proposal for work, but whatever.  The manual labor grown-up task won.

I don’t want to be 18, or 23 or 30 again, but I want one day as not a grown-up.  I want to go lay in the hammock because it’s a nice day.  I want to go meet my girlfriends for happy hour and not worry about when I need to get home.  If I decide I want to get drunk I want to get drunk.  I want someone else to pick up my snotty tissues for me if I do the not-grown-up thing and cry about all this crap going on.

Now, I have to stop playing on my blog and go do some dishes, or write a proposal, or call my brother.  Ugh!  Grown-up sucks.