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Why More Men Need to 'Come Out' as Chronically Ill

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When I first was diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder and depression, I searched a lot of sites for help and support. There was one thing that was blatantly obvious. I noticed that men were largely absent from the conversation. Even in the support groups that I attended, men were scarce and the ones that did show up did not really participate. It left me wondering… why don’t men speak out more when it comes to their health issues?

Years later I would develop digestive problems and food allergies. I once again combed the internet looking for support and answers. I found great groups and Facebook pages that offered some help, but once again, no men.

I would read article after article — all written by women — and feel so relieved and inspired that I wasn’t alone in this world of doctors, diseases and medical problems. But then I started to think again, “Where are all the men telling their stories?” I knew I couldn’t be the only man struggling with mental and physical issues.

I think our society stigmatizes men more. We are supposed to be tough, strong, and resilient. I’m not sure men want to talk about their issues because maybe society programs us not to. We are supposed to just power through and not complain and bitch. It’s seen as pathetic.

Nobody likes to admit they have a problem or health issue. It’s not fun, but when it comes to finding answers and seeking help, why are men less likely?

I guess there are many statistics I could cite here, but there is more to it than that. I want to encourage men to come out of the so-called “chronically ill closet.”

I have heard all the lame and hurtful remarks people make. “You look fine.” “You’re a tough guy!” “You can’t feel that bad.” “Toughen up and try harder!” “It’s in your head.”

Women hear these remarks all the time, too, but for some reason, it seems implicit that men are not supposed to be ill or live with impairments. Or if they do, they should be able to just rise above them and carry on like all is well. As a man, I feel frustrated by this — almost discriminated against.

Today, it seems it’s a lot easier for me to come out as gay than to come out as having an invisible illness. If I tell someone I am gay, it’s almost no big deal. “Good for you,” they say. “Live your truth!” “It doesn’t matter, as long as you find happiness,” says another.

So, for all my fellow men who are chronically ill out there  — I know what you want people to know is that it doesn’t matter if they understand what it means to have an invisible illness. In fact, they probably never will unless it happens to them. What we care about, what’s most important to us, is that we are treated with dignity and respect. Yes, we are men, but firstly we are human beings. We are sick. We need to reach out to those safe people who understand. I am with you. I support you and I encourage you to come out and tell your story. Together we can help support one another and end the stigma.

Originally published: October 3, 2016
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