person struggling to hold up a giant very manly statue head

The 4 Myths Of Men Living With Spondylitis

I had a student who absolutely LOVED me! He never left my side at school, and he wouldn't stop talking about me at home. Because of this, his parents made me a shirt that said, “Jed: The Man, The Myth, The Legend.” Later on, I would wear this shirt to school and students would ask me why I was a “myth” because myths aren’t real, and I most certainly am “real.”

This leads me to explain other myths about real people. The myth of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, or Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake.” Both stories are widely known, but probably never actually happened.

The same can apply to the myths made up about men and illness. These are the stories that have been made up, many seem to believe them, but most certainly are not true.

Myth #1: Men don’t get sick

The stereotype of the manly man is that we don’t get sick. It’s not that we are immune to all illnesses and medical conditions, it’s that we don’t have time for it! If we take a minute to be sick and heal, then we are not men. I don't know who started this myth. Maybe it goes back to needing to work every day during the Great Depression, but today, it is simply not true. Men are humans, and humans get sick! We can’t avoid it. And now we get sick leave, so there are no excuses for not staying in bed and recovering.

Myth #2: Men shouldn't talk about their illness

I get to do a lot of panel discussions, Facebook chats, and interviews. Not just because I am an outspoken member of the AS community, but also because I am the only guy willing to speak.

And this doesn't just apply to speaking, this also pertains to being part of a community and seeking help. As of right now my Facebook-based support group has 24,600 members, and 67% are women.

This percentage is very odd considering there are more men diagnosed with AS at this time. So, the reason for this discrepancy is that men don’t talk about their illnesses. By doing this, they will be admitting their weaknesses and that they don’t have everything under control.

But, as a man who started said Facebook group because I was looking for help and community, I am here to say: Asking for help and admitting your illness does not make you weak! Quite the contrary. By speaking up, it means you are trying to take control of your illness. And that, in my opinion, is very manly. So, please, join in the conversation.

Myth #3: No pain, no gain!

The “no pain, no gain” myth is one of the most dangerous ones in my opinion. It implies that pain is all in your head and you need to push through it if you want to succeed.

I used to feel that way. I played two periods of hockey with a broken wrist and walked on a broken ankle for two whole days before I sought medical treatment. And my excuse was simply that I had things to do and I wasn't going to let a few broken bones stop me. Idiotic. I was in pain. I wasn't performing my best. I should have just gone to the doctor. There is no shame in that whatsoever.

Know your limits

There are a few people in our community who are beasts in the gym and “don't let their AS stop them.” For their sake, I really hope they aren't doing more damage. Like I've said before, I don’t know what it's like to be them. Maybe they can powerlift without pain. But, if you are hurting and you think you are able to power through the pain, please listen to your body and take a break. This also applies to shoveling your driveway, carrying furniture, or giving your kids piggyback rides. You need to have limits.

Knowing when you've hit your limit is very difficult, especially when you’ve been led to believe that real men don’t have limits, and powering through will lead to results. But, as someone who has lived this myth and pushed harder than I should have, I am here to tell you, going beyond your comfort level isn’t worth it.

Take a break.

Myth #4: Lack of performance = lack of respect

This is another myth that I struggle with. The idea that your self worth is directly connected to your actions. We are supposed to be strong, tackle any task, and do it again tomorrow. If we don’t, what good are we? I do a lot because I don’t want people to see me as lazy, selfish, and worthless. Am I these things? Of course not! But, it's all in the image.

The Marines used to run an ad that said something along the lines of “We do more before 6 AM than most people do all day!” What a bunch of hyper-macho ableist bull! Don't get me wrong, the Marines are awesome, but stuff like that is what hurts us the most.

We are led to think, if I don’t do a bunch of stuff, I'm totally worthless! And then we obsess over this fact and get really down on ourselves if we can’t perform to our unrealistic expectations.

You do enough!

Because of AS, you might not do as much as the other people in your life, but, you do enough. And you probably do it in your own way. If you sit to fix the toaster, you are still fixing the toaster. If you ask for help to fix your car or any other “manly” task you want to perform, you are still getting it done. And if it takes you a few days or weeks, that is fine too.

You are not less of a man because you can’t do everything. Your family will still love you, and you can hold your head high.

Be a man and a legend

In conclusion. No matter your physical ability, you are a man. There is no shame in taking sick days, talking about your illness, taking breaks, and not doing all you think you should do. All of these things don't make you any less manly.

Be yourself, know yourself, and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask.

Be a man. Be a legend. But, leave the myth behind.

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