It took me 10 years to get to the bowel specialist for a colonoscopy and a similar time for another potentially serious men's health problem.

I was fortunate that nothing too severe had developed, but my specialist told me stories of countless other men who all had a familiar story . . . they had been sick for 10 or 15 years with bleeding bowels (pushing haemorrhoids back in each day, not giving the blood a second thought, pressing on with work) but never saw a doctor until the eleventh hour only to be told it was all too late – their illness was so aggressive there was nothing anyone could do and they were diagnosed with 6 months to live.

Why does it take so long for men to see a doctor? When a partner, child or best mate gets sick we're there in a heartbeat to help out, yet when it comes to our own health we are slow to take action, if any. It’s very common for men to avoid the doctors. “Unless they're in a crisis, many will simply soldier on."[1]

According to 2014 survey containing data collected by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Men were half as likely as women to go to the doctor over a 2-year period. They were also more than three times as likely to admit going more than five years without a visit. And finally, men were more than twice as likely to say they’ve never had contact with a doctor or health professional as an adult. Ever.”[2]

That's crazy, but it’s a reality.

The effect that indoctrinating young men with the 'boys don't cry' mentality and trying to toughen them up so that they are ‘prepared’ for life has done more damage to men than we have ever realised. In fact the toughening up process, believed by some to be a sort of rite of passage to manhood, has actually destroyed many a man from the inside out.

Whilst many of us might look the part, successful in our own right through business or sport, musical prowess, a sought after lifestyle or some other niche – including being a family man – on the inside many of us are very unwell.

In 2013, the suicide rate for males in Australia was at least three times higher than females, death rates from motor vehicle accidents were nearly three times higher, and drug-induced death rates were over one and half times higher than those of females.[3]

What is going on behind this facade of so called success?

There is a strong link between the hardening up many boys are encouraged to embrace during their early years in life and the health crises we see developing in men in society today.

Men are brilliant, they can fix anything, come up with ingenious inventions, even carry each other through war to the death. But there is something missing that is crucial in our lives that keeps it all in balance – our innate ability to deeply care for ourselves . . . not just care for others . . . care for ourselves.

Recently, a T-shirt at a market stall read: "A Dad’s Dream is to one day make enough money to live as well as his wife and kids do". It was a funny one-liner at the time because in a way it’s actually true for a lot of men. They really do work very hard to give their family the highest standard of living possible. Yet it is a sad reality that beyond what we need to do to be a good provider, there tends to be a large lack of self-worth in men . . . so much so that we are willing to put our bodies under extraordinary strain and pressure, often when it is completely unnecessary.

Note, providing for others or being able to fix things is not a bad thing – in fact it’s one of our greatest strengths – but when we do it without making sure that WE are okay in the process, it tends to pave the way for very poor long term health. As men, we need to start valuing ourselves from the inside out rather than by how well we perform our external roles and duties in life.

Every man is born with exceptional natural qualities, is deeply caring, innately sensitive and at the core very wise; some men do behave badly yes, because they lose touch with who they are, but these qualities are still always there in each and every man – dormant or otherwise.

One of the reasons we tend to avoid the doctor’s is that we are terrified that if something goes wrong, we won't be able to work. Let's pause to clarify what we mean by work. For some men work actually means no work, or a lifestyle where being able to DO whatever you like is the goal. From beach bum to a billionaire, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the fixation, essentially they are all the same things – things we need to DO to keep us from stopping and finding out who we actually are.

We can get so identified by our work and by what we can do, that the thought of getting sick can be worse than dying itself. Why? Because when we get sick we have to stop, and when we have to stop we have to feel something we have not felt much in a very long time . . . ourselves.

Yet if we are honest, being sick can be the greatest blessing because when else do you get the opportunity and the space to reflect on your life without the usual interruptions or pressures of work? It’s actually a chance to heal and not just the illness at hand, but the lifestyle and the choices that got us sick in the first place.

Most of us have been running away from getting to know ourselves, our feelings, and our sensitivities our whole lives. It’s not surprising to hear that “. . . retirement can, therefore, represent a crisis for some men as [a man’s] source of self-identify is removed, together with the other health-affirming aspects of work . . .” and that “retirement can also impact on men’s social wellbeing, bringing unexpected isolation.”[4]

It is as if there is an unspoken law that being that provider, a leader, an employee or a breadwinner means that it’s okay to put you and the needs of your body last. In fact, it's like a code that most of us grew up with – the manly thing to do is to (apparently) sacrifice yourself. But at what long term cost?

As men, it’s time we challenged this whole notion.

Why is it that the guy in a football match who takes the most hits for his team can end up the hero?

Or the wealthy CEO who worked so hard for his fortune, but never saw his wife and kids in the process, is seen as a success?

I caught a glimpse of the World Cup rugby the other day and one of the props had blood streaming down his whole face from a very bad wound. The trainers were trying to stop the bleeding for the sole purpose of getting him back in the line out to play the match… Think about it. That is messed up.

If we want to make true change to our very serious men's health issues, we need to look at taking care of ourselves and doing it FOR REAL.

And we need to let our boys grow up knowing that sensitivity and feelings can be honoured, respected and become a part of everyday life. That if you feel like taking a pee sitting down, it’s okay. That if the way someone speaks to you hurts your feelings, you are allowed to talk about it. That if you find someone demeaning women in a conversation, you don’t have to laugh along with it. That if you feel lonely and no amount of booze or sport is helping, you’re not alone.

What happens with our bodies, our mental health and our relationships is just as important as work and achieving things.

A boy who is supported to care for his own body and his health will become the true man and role model our society needs – one that can beat the terrible afflictions men are suffering deeply from – because he knows who he really is and he is not afraid to live it.

References:

  • [1]

    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/02/19/1045330661997.html

  • [2]

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/06/14/the-reason-men-don-t-go-to-the-doctor-is-surprisingly-emotional/?ncid=edlinkauhpmg00000001

  • [3]

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4125.0~Feb%202016~Main%20Features~Health~2321

  • [4]

    https://www.uws.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/273085/Health_after_the_workplace.pdf

Filed under

Self-nurturingMedical treatmentIll healthMen's health

  • By Dean Pirera

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd