Getting us down

Ed Smith
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Back in 1965, I was finishing up a degree at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.

That little university, by the way — fewer than 2,000 students, only slightly more than when Other Half and I were there — has just been named the best small university in Canada for the 14th time, more by far than any other institution in any category. (I’m just proud, that’s all.)

OH and I had been married in the university’s chapel by that time and were friends with several other couples in the “married residence.” The husband in one of those couples was a fellow who had played football with the Montréal Alouettes.

Another friend (who died just a few weeks ago, sadly) and I decided we would ask Ed to help us work out, using the Alouette team drills so we could get in shape. He did, and we did. For that winter, we were so physically fit it was ridiculous. But man, did we feel good or what! And were our wives proud of us or what!

I really don’t know. They never said. At least, mine never said. Hopefully, they felt safe walking down the street with us after dark. And we all had a marvelous love life, or so Al and I told each other. So, when the evidence is all in, one has reason to be positive about the whole experience.

None of that is what I wanted to talk about. I have this terrible tendency to wander miles off the track, expect my readers to come with me and then find their own way back. Might be a bit too much to ask. It may also be the reason I’ve never won a Pulitzer prize.

OK, no more deviation.

We used to visit each other’s apartments for meals and fun and games. One night, Ed and his wife invited us down for dinner. We turned up at the appointed time and Mrs. Ed opened the door with her finger on her lips and going, “Shhh.”

Alouette Ed was engrossed in some program on the television, and we were signalled by Mary Jane not to speak until the program was over. We spent the next 20 minutes or so waiting for Ed’s attention to be diverted to us. Then he explained.

The program he was watching was a documentary on stress, on which subject he was preparing a major paper. He went on to explain that it was now a well-known fact that stress was one of the major killers in the developed world and was already an epidemic that could only worsen.

There was much more, but I mention this now because just this past week, a major health-care conference — in Europe, I believe, but I’m not sure — identified stress, a.k.a. burnout, as one of the threats to the economy of — you guessed it — the developed world.

What interests me is that 45 years after Ed and his paper on stress, the world is still singing the same old refrain, but little has been done to address the problem. Allow me to address the issue both from a cause and treatment perspective.

I was reading yesterday that regular users of Facebook tend to suffer more from depression than those who do not. I don’t know where they found enough people who don’t belong to that particular social network to make a comparison. But I can understand the claim.

From what I can see, much of Facebook tells of the wonderful adventures of Tom and Mary, or the incredible achievements of Jim’s son Harry who just earned his first million. If you’re not doing well yourself, none of these things will make your head swim with delight.

It does blow my mind that, according to that survey, 99 per cent of the world is depressed. I’ve been thinking of joining Facebook myself, but now … wonder what they say about Twitter.

A similar problem exists with television programs. The people portrayed in those admittedly brain-dead programs are, for the most part, youthful, good-looking people with lifestyles that would turn Prince William of Monaco green with envy. And they’re the pensioners.

When you know you’re old and ugly and can’t afford Cialis, that’s stress.

Solution? Watch British detective shows such as “Inspector Morse” and Agatha Christie’s “Poirot.” It will cheer you up immensely.

Morse has no luck with women and Poirot — well, Poirot is Poirot. Why will watching them cheer you up? Have no idea.

Hearing how many people won tens of millions of dollars this week on the Lotto does nothing but cause you grief if you’re in a dead-end job that pays $12 an hour and your yacht is leaking. On the other end of the scale, if you’re a front-line executive working 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, you’ll probably be dead by 50. That’s burnout.

It’s not my intent to play down the stress-burnout syndrome at all. I’ve seen it in too many people. On the other hand, I know people who seem to be entirely immune to it.

Burnout caused by stress is supposed to be the great killer of the coming years. If I could find what has kept Newfoundlanders and Labradorians by and large sane and mentally healthy over 500 years of disaster and grief, I’d bottle it. Then I’d make a fortune selling it over the counter to ordinary people like you and me, and to CEOs and corporate executives.

Hold on! I do know!

The same burnout solution is there for blue-collar and white-collar, for rich and poor, for young and old. It’s what saved us when we were “have-not” and will save us again when we are “have-not” again. It’s the button accordion and your buddy and his buddy and so on and so on. Simani said it best.

Music and friends!

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.  His e-mail address is

Organizations: Mount Allison University, Pulitzer

Geographic location: Sackville, Canada, Europe Monaco Springdale

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