Nevo: Reflections on my time as opinion editor and emotional burnout

Lily Nevo, Opinion Editor

Over the past two years, the opinion section has given me so much. It’s allowed me to articulate deeply personal experiences in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. It’s brought me incredible friendships, both with Daily staffers and readers alike. It’s provided space for me to advocate for the kind of support that often gets overlooked. 

But the joy of writing for this section makes it hard to acknowledge this is not a sustainable role. I wouldn’t trade my time as opinion editor for the world, but I cannot say this job didn’t, at times, break me. 

Yes, I experienced the usual hate mail and online criticism many opinion editors face. These moments are tough, but what is truly taxing is how the inherent duties of this role exist at odds with my personal recovery. 

We often fail to acknowledge the emotional labor that goes into public-facing work. It is one thing to read a story that contains triggering content, but it is another to sit with the story for a week, analyzing every word. I do my best to support the writers of these pieces throughout the editing and publication process, but often I fail to recognize that I am not taking care of myself. 

When Chanel Miller spoke as part of the Center for Awareness, Response and Education’s programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I asked her about just this: How do you balance being a survivor yourself while also being a public force for supporting survivors? 

She said she will never not be sad about what happened to her and what continues to happen to people everyday. When someone discloses a personal experience to you, it is okay to be sad because what they are describing is devastating. Yet it is also relieving to know that by telling you, the person has less of a burden to carry. 

In many ways, I am glad I am the editor responsible for these pieces. I know how scary it can be to send an initial draft of your story to someone you don’t know, let alone release it publicly. I also know what it is like to read a heartbreaking piece and to observe how students discuss it online. These days are incredibly difficult for writers and readers alike, and I try to do what I can to alleviate some of the stress. 

I also know that an editor without these experiences may not do the same, just as I am not as sensitive as I could be to the pieces on topics that I will never understand. In vulnerability, though, these little things can make all the difference. For me, writing about my experiences in this section was instrumental to my healing, but only because I felt supported by my editors and many readers. 

Representation and empathy are undeniably important, but they do not come without a cost. I am proud of the impact my own pieces have on survivors, and I am proud others found the courage to come forward themselves. Yet in this work, I not only feel overwhelmingly helpless, but I also feel like I am never doing enough. I know one story cannot immediately change campus culture, and I also know not everything is going to resonate perfectly with everyone, but I cannot help but feel like I am letting people down. 

For a while, I felt guilty about publishing triggering content because I know how hard it is to read. If people who are affected by these issues are harmed when we publish pieces relating to them, who are we really writing for? Yes, opinion writing is persuasive and often aims to change the minds of those who are unaffected by an issue, but we do not want to retraumatize in the process. Ultimately, I realized this concern paled in comparison to the potential impact of these pieces. Writing is empowering, and reading a piece you relate to, even if it is painful, can be comforting.

More importantly, when people share their stories of trauma, we have a responsibility to listen. If someone wants to share their story in this section, I cannot stop them from doing so because I believe it could be too triggering for readers. That assumption in itself is incredibly harmful.

I am immensely grateful for the writers who have written for this section; so many people feel less alone because of it. The power in these pieces would not be possible without their personal and shamelessly subjective nature, but we must also consider how the emotional labor required for their publication impacts all involved. Maybe this is a larger conversation on not expecting those with a specific trauma to be responsible for all activism on the issue, or maybe I am just burnt out. For now, I am excited to rest.

Lily Nevo is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.