The thing that kills us is denial.
Every year 4 thousand men in the UK commit suicide.
Every year men die an average of 4 years earlier than women.
We die like this because we deny the responsibility we have for looking after our own health; we deny the responsibility we have to partners, family and friend; we die like this because we deny our own denial.
Last week I was ill. It was just a cold, nothing serious. So why is it that a week on I am still unable to breath easily? Why is it that I have very limited memories of meetings I actually chaired last week? Why is it that colleagues rightly challenged me in the week for writing gibberish? Why did I almost call for an ambulance at 3am Thursday morning?
Because I am in denial. We joke about manflu, yet when we are actually properly ill we deny it. We will take cold cures like Scooby snacks, get through tissues by the cwt, but most of all, we will keep going. No idea where we are going, but we must keep up the momentum.
This is not about some kind of gender essentialism, that most idiotic of tropes. I see women going down the same path of denial. I see it in colleagues. I see it in friends. We may well achieve identical lifespans for men and women, but at the expense of lowering them all to the same dismal level.
Denial is not just about bouts of illness. We also deny chronic conditions as well. I have suffered from severe depression all my life but only sought help after a medically trained partner confronted me about it. I failed to take responsibility for my own life, I denied my problem.
Denial is also about lifestyles. We live packed lives where health is compartmentalised. An hour on a Sunday for a park run, 15 minutes with the children before bedtime. Our life, our health in a calendar. And we think this is right.
Denial is also about emotions. We avoid deep conversations, we avoid meaning, we avoid emotional closeness. We have mates, we have pals, but do we have anyone we can talk to?
Denial is mainly about fear, the fear of knowing and the fear of not knowing.
So what do we do? What do I do?
Here are five things I am choosing to do, to challenge my denial of my own responsibility to myself and others:
- Make my health part of my daily life, not a bolt on, not a jog in the park, but like breathing. I think before I eat, I check my pulses — physical and emotional, I listen to my body and my mind
- I am honest with others about my health and about theirs. Not preaching, not some kind of zealot driving everyone away with my noise, but by being honest and open and listening
- I will ask for help when I need it, not pretend that asking for help is a weakness
- I will take responsibility for my health
- I will hug those who need hugs
What will you do?