Breathe. Just Breathe.

Frequent Citizen-Penguin contributor Joseph Peterson writes an open letter to anyone who has been labeled "weak" or "lazy."

Frequent Citizen-Penguin contributor Joseph Peterson writes an open letter to anyone who has been labeled “weak” or “lazy.” CONTENT WARNING: This student-submitted editorial contains serious subject matter regarding mental health, as well as profanity.

Posted on Categories Opinion

Photo by Fiona Robberson.

CONTENT WARNING: The following student-submitted editorial contains serious subject matter regarding mental health, as well as profanity. We at The Citizen-Penguin are not mental health professionals, and the advice herein is that of the author, not of The Citizen-Penguin or The Juilliard School. If you’re in need of help, please contact the Student Health Center, text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or if in immediate danger, call 911.


An open letter to those who have been labeled weak and lazy:

It’s easy to pretend that you are ok.

That you don’t hurt. That you aren’t overwhelmed. That you don’t ache in all of the places that you imagine it’s possible to ache.

That you don’t sign out a practice room just to be alone and cry. That you don’t put in 16 hour days just so that you don’t have to be alone with your thoughts your thoughts your thoughts. That you don’t self-medicate, because going to a doctor only makes it real.

Because your problems are safe in your head. Because dreams are scary when they come true, so you keep them inside.

It’s easy to pretend that you’re ok because that’s what is expected of you.  

We learn early on that we’re worthless without the right kind of work. Well, worse than worthless: We’re actively harmful. The lazy are destructive, abolishing meaning for the productive. The lazy are an STD, a virus, a plague…

Something doesn’t feel right? Just work it off, it’ll go away.

We’re a burden on society when we don’t work, whether this is due to the limitations of our bodies or because of a conscious refusal of undoubtable self-harm. It doesn’t matter the work, and it doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. Work exists to keep us busy and give us value, rather than for our own personal betterment.

It’s all just in your head anyway. A complicit frame of mind. A choice. You are choosing to feel bad. You have no reason to feel bad.

We work to exist. To earn our air, not just our bread.

Stop feeling bad. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

And so, since our humanity being tied with our productivity gives us existential dread, or at very least mild nausea, we convince ourselves that we work better under pressure. You see, diamonds are made under pressure, and diamonds have value. Pressure gives us value. Illness is a fantastic form of pressure, it turns us into diamonds…

Or something.

We value mental illness as a sign of artistic truth, fetishizing the struggle instead of fighting it. Comfort is an artistic inconvenience and the gravedigger of truth. This is a thought we internalize. The struggle itself is the value, so the more we struggle, the more we succeed.


We are alone because our success only exists at the expense of our peers. Our work is in a constant state of comparison. So-and-so just got this job, they’re sooo good. They’re doing better than you…

They are better than you.

It’s a moral thing. If someone does better than us, no matter how close we are with them, then we’re less good. If we win, then we are the good-est. If we don’t do anything at all, then we are the worst. We’re in last place, then.  

Labor is a competition. It is undoubtedly.

Maybe my resume wasn’t laid out quite right, or maybe they just didn’t like the sound of my instrument, or maybe they didn’t like my body, how I look, who I am.

Darwin wrote that, naturally, the weak have extinction coming to them. Natural selection, or something. Only the strong are useful. The weak just take up space. Useful space occupied by useless bodies. Maybe we are just a burden, we who refuse to be weighed down by labor.

Famous last words: More weight.

We struggle alone. Against each other. The best work always comes after one loses their mind, never before. Struggle gives us value. Our empathy is commodified. Even death gives us value. The greats die young and alone.

Always Alone.

Nobody but you knows what goes on between your ears, so it’s convenient to lie and say you’re fine.

My weekend was fine. Home was fine. I’m fine. I promise I’m fine. I don’t need your goddamn concern, ok?

I’m fucking fine.

Though, you know that this isn’t true. Only you know that your thoughts feel like death. That you feel like shit and you don’t know why. That you feel hopelessly numb, tired, and, worst of all, lazy.

You’re not fine.

You do hurt. Your body does ache. You are overwhelmed. That’s the true true.

We feel isolated and alienated. Ironically, these are the most universal feelings we have. We are alone, this isolation is truth. Everyone feels this way.

But that doesn’t affect our real value. We are not our labor alone. We are not productive machines. We are human beings. We bruise and we get sick. We have ups and downs. We are our surroundings personified.

We are more than our labor. We are, We are, We are!

We are not heroes for pretending we are ok. Lying only kills us faster. It is an act of violence to value our labor above us, so those who do are not our friends, in fact they are our mortal enemies.

It is a radical act to own our unwellness.

Sometimes we need help.

Sometimes just talking to a friend will do, but other times it’s more serious. A lot of us need medication and most of us need therapy. This is our humanity.

We are not machines.

Sometimes we just need to vent. Other times we need to go to the hospital so that we don’t become another isolated, tragic casualty.

We are human beings. And, just so you know…

We need You.

We need you for your humor and your empathy. We need you for your bad jokes and your awkward laughs, your uncomfortable silences and the mistakes that keep you up at night. We need your weaknesses more than your strengths.

And we really need your anger. It is real, earned, and there’s a lot that can be done collectively about it.

We need you because you are an essential part of our world, no matter what personal lows and social values tell you.

And most importantly, we need you so that we can make this world, not the bullshit idealizations we manufacture in our minds, a better place.

You are still you when you don’t do anything. So too when you actively do nothing.

Fuck value and the isolating violence it impresses on us.

Breathe. Just breathe.

Only then can we begin to loosen our chains.

Truly yours,


One thought on “Breathe. Just Breathe.”

  1. Not easy to do what you are doing. Your love of music isn’t enough all the time. We are always here for you💕♥️

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