Even When I’m Fatigued and Unproductive, I’m Not Useless

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by Young Lee |

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Standing outside a chicken hatchery, a man smokes a cigarette while watching his young son play. He and his wife are new to town and they both have been working at the hatchery segregating male chicks from the female chicks in order to make ends meet. It’s not glamorous work, and it’s certainly not a life the man wants for himself or his family, but he tells himself that “sexing” chicks is just a short-term gig until his investment in some farmland starts to pay off.

Moments pass, and the man sees his son turn to gaze at the smoke emanating from the hatchery’s incinerator.

His son asks him why the hatchery has a need for such a thing. The man explains that the flames are the ultimate fate of the male chicks; it’s the reason why he and his wife have been separating the chicks by sex. The female chicks are an investment for the hatchery. The male chicks are useless, the father tells his son. They don’t taste very good and can’t lay eggs. Thus, the males are unceremoniously discarded — turned into ash.

Turning to face his son, the man takes the opportunity to impress upon his young child the lesson in all of this: We must try to be useful.

This exchange between a father and his son occurs in an early scene of “Minari,” a semi-autobiographical film about a young Korean American family trying to turn their own version of the American dream into a reality. It’s one of many scenes from the movie that’s given me a lot to think about.

For me, the scene reflects a type of insidious logic that sometimes resembles my innermost thoughts when I’m searching for reasons to beat myself up. And I know I’m not alone.

Many of us have days when our self-loathing tendencies come out in full force, days when we feel like male chicks — useless and therefore deserving of whatever unkindness we may inflict upon ourselves.

For me, and perhaps for many others with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, such negative thoughts may arise on days when CMT gets difficult to manage. 

Some days, a mere trip and fall can send my entire day into a tailspin of frustration with myself. Other days, I struggle with the disappointment of being in a body I wish was capable of just a bit more. During the past few weeks, fatigue in particular has been troubling me — a common experience for many CMTers, but one that my CMT has spared me from for most of my life. 

Recently, I’d often get home from work fully intending to do a load of laundry and cook dinner, only to inevitably fall into my bed and open my eyes many hours later to a to-do list that had only grown while my mind was in dreamland.

It’s frustrating to feel like I’ve been unproductive or have wasted time. I think of a word: “useless.”

And that kind of thinking can sometimes be bad. 

It’s not that we shouldn’t be useful or that we shouldn’t want to be useful for others, it’s that humans aren’t chickens. And even if we live in a society that tries to tell us otherwise, a person’s worth is not purely based on usefulness, utility, or exploitability. The worth of someone’s work isn’t the same as their worth as a person.

Our feelings of self-worth shouldn’t be forever linked to whatever achievements or titles we have or haven’t gained in a system that has its flaws and oversights. Real love isn’t conditional love, and that should apply to self-love, too.

Humans — all humans — have inherent value and no one should feel like they deserve to be discarded, although many of us may be tempted to think that from time to time. 

It’s something I struggle to keep in mind: I don’t work to prove my worth or to be worthy of happiness — I work because I strive to show off the worth I know I already have. I have just as much value on my most productive days as I do on the days when I’m drained and need to spend a few more moments than usual in bed.


Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


Jerilyn Elise Miripol avatar

Jerilyn Elise Miripol

I have late onset CMT disease. No one knows anything about what will happen to me. I have to walk with a walker and am terribly imbalanced. And I was in a ballet company. I hope to be able to walk up to one mile. I have nerve pain starting at my ankle and traveling to below my knee only my right leg. Gabapentin does not work for the pain. What medication works and can I walk a mile a day if I keep exercising. Blessings, Jerilyn Miripol [email protected]
1520 Washington Avenue
Wilmette, Illinois 60091


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