Nerdlette

Its not your mama’s stress [hoax?]

Posted in jalouse, nerdlette, this is fucking america! by nerdlette on 30 June 2008

An admitted foot twiddler, hard-worker, and fast talker, this nerdlette has long been told her problems–both physical and mental–were the result of an “over-stressed” lifestyle.

so it was with remarkable pleasure that I read Peggy Orenstien’s piece, Stress Test in the NY Times.

Orenstien argues that Americans, particularly women, over-attribute our diseases to stress. Much like hysteria and the wandering uterus, the ambiguous stress seems to have a distinctly oppressive undertone. Its so hard to do what you are doing–working, being a parent, being a modern woman–that you are harming your body. The insidious underlying suggestion–nature did not intend for you to be living the way you do. And your physical illness demonstrates that you are unfit to cope with modern life.

We of the postfeminist generation grew up being told we could do anything, be anything, if we just put our minds to it. Yet, if we have the power to create our own fates, wouldn’t the corollary be that we’re also responsible for our own misfortunes? And, in a kind of double magical thinking, shouldn’t we be able to cure ourselves using the same indefatigable will?

Susan Sontag noted that a culture’s maladies are apparent in the emotional causes it attributes to illness. In the Victorian period, cancer was “caused” by excessive family obligations or hyper-emotionalism. In the 1970s it was “caused” by isolation and suppressed anger. So the assertion that stress underlies 99 percent of illness may indicate more about the healthy than the sick. Stress is our burden, our bogyman, and reducing it is the latest all-purpose talisman against adversity’s randomness. And maybe it helps. Maybe meditating and letting go of my anger at people who drive for miles with their left-turn signal flashing would improve the quality of my life, if not its length. Or maybe it would be more the equivalent of forcing a New Yorker to live in rural Maine.

Living in very very laidback California beach towns, I struggled for years with the feeling that I was somehow “high-strung” or “over-anxious.” I felt emotionally immature or faulted in someway as I squirmed and read on the beach–took to hard partying and loaded on extra-curriculars.

When I left college, I adapted–found a job that put me in constant touch with outside visitors and researching outside places. It wasn’t until I got to New York, and found myself immersed in a city with almost endless cultural activity, that I realized I was not emotionally flawed–just really fucking bored!

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