Monday, August 9, 2021

‘Our first responsibility is caring for ourselves’


Rosie Seelaus

     Once I met a man who had no nose. Well, he had a nose, but it was made of silicone. A fake nose, held in place by magnets on four metal posts embedded in his face.
     He wasn’t wearing his artificial nose when we met, at the UI Health’s Craniofacial Center. He was sitting in the examining room of Rosemary Seelaus, an anaplastologist — a medical specialist who makes facial prosthetics. I shook his hand, trying to focus on his eyes.
     Our meeting rattled me, and afterward I had this thought: “I am NEVER ... going to complain about ANYTHING ... ever again!” Because this guy didn’t ask for whatever nasal cavity cancer put a big hole in the middle of his face. And he still woke up, brushed his hair, took his fake nose off his dresser and popped it into place, and went off to face the day. My woes dwindle to insignificance compared to that.
     But life doesn’t work that way. We live in difficult times. This plague showed up about February 2020, seemed like it was going away for about 15 minutes in June 2021. Now it’s August and it’s not only back, but starting to feel like the general crisis — medical, social, political — will never end. It’s getting to people.
     “In reality, I’m barely hanging on sometimes,” S.E. Cupp, whose column appears in the Sun-Times, wrote on Twitter last week. “I’m anxious all day every day about my kiddo, my health, my job, my parents, my friends, my causes, my community, my country … the truth is, it takes a huge toll. I’m sorry to vent and lay this all out there. But I’m burnt out.”
     That takes guts. I’m reluctant to say “I’m burnt out.” It would just spark a chorus of trolls. “You sure ARE, Stinkberg. Why don’t you go hang yourself?” Plus my boss pursing his lips. “Hmmm, he IS burnt out. I mean, three columns on picking up after his dog ...”
     But I can’t leave Cupp out there by herself. I feel obligated to stand with her, like the other slaves standing and saying, “I am Spartacus.” I am burnt out, too. I must have scattered a half-dozen typos in a single column last week. The copy desk plucked them out with tongs, a raised eyebrow and a polite “Do these belong to you?”

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  1. For me it was having friends who survived Pol Pot's killing fields.

    Nothing that happens to me in this Midwestern American life will ever come close.

    1. Indeed. I was just quoting Montgomery Gentry this morning. "Even my bad days ain't that bad..."

  2. "The worst is not, So long as we can say 'This is the worst'"

  3. "The world's a fine place..." "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

    I don't want to minimize other people's suffering, but in a historical context our current troubles shrink before those of the past. Who would want to revisit the 1920's flue epidemic, when a lethal disease far outstripped the capabilities of the era's medical science. Or the breadlines of the 1930s. Or the horrors of WW II. And of course it all depends on who and where you are. During that war I was a teen ager, consumed with teen matters -- do I dare to ask her go to a movie with me? How to pay for my YMCA membership to enable every free moment on the basket court. My widowed mother then was no doubt then worried sick about my big brother fighting in the Pacific and a Naval officer uncle working on preparations for the invasion in a Britain that was under siege in the second blitz.


  4. There's an excellent piece about burnout in the May 24th issue of the New Yorker. Apparently, the first coverage of "burnout syndrome" began when veterans returned from Vietnam in the Seventies, and the term spread to include the malaise of overwork that civilians had to deal with in the Reagan Era. It's only grown worse since then. I'm glad I'm not young anymore.

    A German-born psychologist, Herbert J. Freudenberger, began writing extensively about burnout in the Eighties. I read some of his works while burning out, at one of the big brokerage firms that no longer exist. Freudenberger died in 1999, at the age of seventy-three. His obituary in the New York Times noted, “He worked 14 or 15 hours a day, six days a week, until three weeks before his death.” He had run himself ragged. The expert on burnout...burned out. And he died of it. If that isn't the consummate example of irony, then nothing is.

    One last thought: When I was about nine years old, my family drove past one of those ubiquitous church signs that clergymen use for their pithy proverbs and platitudes. It read: "I cried because I had no shoes--until I met a man who had no feet." Visualizing a footless man upset me so much that I actually began sobbing. I'll say no more.


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