Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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June 26, 2009

Check out Sara Robinson's great article on AlterNet: "We've Been Trapped Inside a Bad Health Care System So Long, We Don't Even Know How Much We're Missing."

The title says plenty, but the article says even more. It addresses what I think is the huge, huge, huge problem in the United States: that in so many ways we're collectively so demoralized and depressed that we can't imagine anything better. I'd love to see this article used as a starting point for consciousness raising (CR) groups. Consciousness raising works. It was the power behind the women's liberation movement -- and when CR started to falter, so did the women's movement. Without CR, the women's movement is just treading water. Organize a CR group, or a one-shot discussion! Meet in your kitchen or on your back porch, eat pizza and drink beer and talk about Sara Robinson's article! If imaginations aren't used, they atrophy, and the result is chronic depression. Forget treadmills; give your imagination some exercise!

In my late 20s and early 30s I worked for a big nonprofit. I liked the work and I liked my co-workers, but the corporate climate was just horrible: in most departments, as soon as you got a step or two above the staffers who did the actual work, you were dealing with incompetence and egomania on an organization-wide scale. By the time I left, my colleagues and I were having two or three drinks at lunch two, three, or four days a week because it was the only way we could deal with the extreme incompetence of our department head, which was being ignored by all the higher-ups. Most days I was biking to and from work, about 10 miles each way. I could gauge my stress level by how fast I made it home at the end of the day: the usual ride was a shade under 60 minutes, but when I was really furious I made it in 45.

That was my first and last big corporate job. Ever since I've worked for very small businesses, or combined two part-time jobs into a full-time week, or been (as for the last 10 years) self-employed. My health insurance coverage most of this time has been either useless (major medical only) or non-existent, but I've loved my jobs, been able to move on when I stopped loving them, made adjustments as necessary, and lived (so far) a pretty good and useful life. My health has been excellent -- something I attribute partly to "good genes" and partly to not having to deal with day-in, day-out stress for years on end.

Given my family history and my own temperament, I suspect I would have become a full-blown alcoholic in time, or sunk into serious depression. Minimizing my exposure to pharmaceutical ads and most science reporting in the mass media ("Study links eating spinach to rare form of cancer!") has helped a lot. I eat sensibly, but I sure don't make a fetish of it, and no way would I *ever* give up chocolate or beer. ;-) I do believe that the stress of living a life where uncertainty is constant and real satisfaction or happiness is a foreign concept helps cause or exacerbate many, many health problems.

What if we could take or leave jobs without thinking about health insurance? What if we could receive treatment for serious conditions and get on with our lives at the same time? What if a parent's health emergency didn't lose his kids their chance to go to college? It really is hard to imagine, but if we can't imagine it, we'll never get angry at how badly we're being rooked.


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