By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
September 8, 2016
Recently, a friend of mine decided to nominate me for the 22-Push Up Challenge. Essentially, this little movement is this year’s version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, with the primary difference being this is actually a “challenge” and worth attempting. Sorry, I find nothing challenging about dumping a bucket of cold water on your head. Doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days takes a little effort and the fail rate is certainly less YouTube worthy. Anyway, the idea behind this particular movement is about bringing awareness to the suicide rate amongst veterans. Now, the 22 suicides per day stat has been widely disputed, for some careful research has indicated the number is possibly bloviated. http://taskandpurpose.com/truth-22-veteran-suicides-day/ The Washington Post even wrote an article indicating the average age of veteran suicide death is near 60. Either way, this is a problem that might be a little skewed for the sake of publicity, much in the same vein as the Ice Bucket Challenge, which was mostly viral marketing for a disease that only strikes a small group of people unlike bigger issues like diabetes. But I’m not here to split hairs because regardless of the idea that it is only one suicide a day or 22 (I’ll let the internet gasbags battle over semantics and numbers), it is a burgeoning problem for such a small group of people. The worst part of this issue is the fact that an estimated 97% of the soldiers that committed suicide during the 1999-2010 study period were men, which is no surprise. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, one particular study group witnessed more soldiers dying of suicide in 2012 when compared to actual combat fatalities. So yeah, this is a pretty sad detriment that has secretly befallen the military, and frankly, I doubt a 22-a-day push-up challenge is going to change much. You see, there is a systemic problem that starts with congress and festers within the upper echelons of the various military branches. I could keep going, but this is a blog about health and fitness, not the standing fecal pool that is politics and the military industrial complex.
I’ll admit, there have been times where I actually thought about ending my life, especially during the often times troubling and lonely high school years. I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t in the cool groups…and that really bothered me. You see, like so many men before me, we have been conditioned to suppress our emotions, to be tough and to be emotionless robots. Seeking out the highest ranks in all walks of life is what we have been taught. We had to be James Bond, Steve McQueen, John McClane, or Rambo. We were either extremely low, on the tinker of collapse or we were extremely high, rescuing the day and the damsel in distress. The idea of vulnerability was getting angry over the beer selection or lamenting about not getting laid every night. If anything, this suppression of thought even kind of afflicted me. We had to be tough in front of our peers. Even though I was a momma’s boy I never wanted to disappoint my father by being a sissy. Heck, I had to be on the verge of collapse to finally admit something was wrong with me, like the time heat exhaustion hit me or the fact I broke my wrist and covered it up for a day before the sweating and high blood pressure started making me feel faint. I know I suffered a hairline fracture in my arm a few years ago, but I chose to tough it and never see a doctor to get it looked it. Anyway, there were so many days when growing up that I just never knew how to handle my emotions, mainly because I never really saw any good examples and I was rarely encouraged. I mean let’s face it, we didn’t want to end up like Ducky in “Pretty in Pink,” the emotionally available beta male that had to watch the woman he truly loved fall for the douche bag that was Blane. Or maybe Ted from “16 Candles,” the only guy in the school that liked Molly Ringwald, who ultimately fell for some typical emotionless alpha male. We didn’t want to be those people, because they exuded weakness. This was and still is projected heavily in all forms of consumable media. Being vulnerable meant this…not only would we not get the girl, the job and the respect, we would ultimately be doomed for the rest of our days. Now of course, like any societal norm that needed years to establish such paradigms, we had some moments where the hero was no longer Arnold and Stallone-like behemoths. We had that ill fated moment where being “emo” (i.e. sad for the sake of being sad) and now see a lot challenges to masculinity in the form of liking “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” (which oddly has a large military following). I bring the My Little Pony thing up because these “Bronies”—which is what they call themselves—were being mercilessly put down, with things being said on various boards like “No wonder ISIS is kicking our ass” and “We sure have a lot of faggots in the military…thanks Obama.” Yup, big words from a bunch of anonymous, out of shape cowards that probably couldn't run 100 meters without getting spelled. All the while, these same cowards could half heartedly be saying “Thank you for your service” to these military Bronies.
There was another interesting study that was released yesterday that also correlated some troubling statistics about suicide trends amongst men. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160906213132.htm When a proliferation of bad policy and deregulation finally tore the world’s financial sphere apart in 2008, a great many people lost their livelihoods. According to US statistics compiled in 2010, there was only 12.1 suicides per 100,000 thousand, which was up from 11 per every 100,000. The biggest jump was men between the age of 25-34 and 50-64, which is not surprising due to the fact one group might have been on the doorstep of advancing, starting families and accepting new responsibilities and suddenly losing their income, homes and possessions while the other lost everything they had saved, facing the horrors of age discrimination and the lack of high level jobs while all of the equity they built was suddenly devalued. It was a horrible situation for everyone. I maybe gained 40 to 50 pounds despite my lack of money and work. I wasn’t exactly working out or anything. I didn’t really start walking until 2009 when I got my dog Rusty. It hasn’t gotten much better, for the estimates these days are 13 or 14 suicides per 100,000, with the most affected groups being the military, people with autism, people within the LGBTQ community and men in the 15-34 age group. With so many opinions floating around about what makes a “man,” I’m sure the confusion and the self doubt can clog someone’s heart and mind. There are many days where I am glad I am not on the internet and have no television. Anyway, the 41 studies spoken about in the Science Daily article focused on some trends in Europe. While all across the board regardless of age, gender and social status, health was affected due to economic changes, suicide also witnessed a spike. We will probably hear more details in the coming days provided anyone does any research.
If anything, suicide amongst men has always been a problem, and that is not some understatement. Nearly four times the number of men kills themselves than women and it has been a steady trend for decades. Now I’m going give you some personal insight. If anything, food saved my life. Granted, I was gaining tons of weight and living a rather unhealthy lifestyle, the highs of lows of life were always countered by a bag of Skittles or pizza. That deep self doubt and hatred was there, but I never got deep enough to the point where suicide was a solution. Admittedly, when the money was low and I found myself eating Ramen or Chef Boyardee for long periods of time, some bad feelings did surface, but never strong enough to do anything about it because alcohol and soda were exceptional at countering ill feelings as well. The thought of death has pretty much been quelled since I started working out Parsons Personal Training, and I think there is a pretty good reason for this. I have stated this a lot and have done plenty of blog posts about this, but exercise is good for you, no matter how you look at it. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/08/24/exercise-helps-your-mental-health-depression-anxiety-now-what/
For me at least, the changes in my body and my physical health have allowed me to gain some confidence and perspective about a great many things in my life. That I am not weak. That I am not this “beta” male I have always categorized myself as. If anything, doing the things I do in the gym has allowed me to have a deeper trust in my body and in myself. I remember the first time I couple few years ago when I started jumping my father’s wall. I had stopped doing it because I had gotten so overweight, that by the end of the day I was too damn tired to do anything. We usually had my mother open the gate for us. Plus I was scared, wondering if I would even be strong enough to lift my body over the wall. I was scared I might bust an ankle or tear a knee ligament in the process, which would be a huge embarrassment for myself. Well, a year after I started working out at Parsons, I found out I could scale the wall once again…easily. We never bothered calling my mother again. Since then, I have had more confidence in myself in regards to the amount of weight I can lift. I also have that vulnerability thing coming back, where I know it is not a bad thing if I cannot lift a certain amount of weight and thus have to suffer the “indignity” of going to a lower weight. Or the “indignity” of resetting some goals and doing more functional work to loosen up my body and get it working in a more dynamic fashion rather than straight weight improvement. While I do have anxiety about my life and my money woes, I ultimately feel the change in my personal self and the way I view myself has allowed me to completely expunge all of these feelings about ending my life early, or eating myself to death like I have discovered through self reflection. I think a lot of men would feel this way if they too took on the sort of regimen and journey of self discovery like myself. Perhaps men would be more open with their insecurities, because one thing that weight lifting and fitness has taught me is how to deal with the setbacks and the changes. I am getting better at dealing with personal misgivings, and hopefully someday I can be really good at it, to the point where I can easily brush it off between water breaks.
Right now I am taking a unique approach for myself in regards to this 22 push-ups challenge. Every day I will seek something better for myself, and shoot higher. Initially, I felt doing a straight burn-out of 50 consecutive push-ups seemed impossible. Considering I am already hitting 40 after seven days, I have upped the ante to 100. Let me remind you, I have never done 50 straight push-ups, much less 100. I think it would be a noble goal and a much better commitment to the challenge I am partaking in. It might take me more than 22 days to do it, but I am sure I will be nominated again by someone. While I will do this for the sake of the challenge and for the sake of our military veterans, I prefer to do it for all men. I just think it is time to stop being a bunch of self righteous assholes and actually discuss the situation of male suicide in the same manner we talk about stupid and inconsequential subjects like football and which superhero we think is the coolest or whether one’s barbecue sauce is better. Like anything, there is never one solution, for it is a person to person basis. For me, it was the feelings of exclusion and weakness that really fueled my personal misgivings, and as I seek improvement in those areas and struggle with my weight, at least the darkest recesses of my mind have been shut down because I have actually learned to witness and process situations in that middle ground, the area between the highs of love and the lows of hate. I have gotten down on myself but not to the extent where it is world crushing.
Personally, I don’t see any shame in asking for help, especially when life is at stake. It took a lot of badgering from my parents to finally accept the fact that I was in horrible health and on the fast track to an early grave, and I can only assume it is difficult for any man to really talk about any capacities of personal weakness. I learned all of that now, and while I am still stubborn about asking for help in regards to money, I at least reach out when it comes to matters of the heart, mind and body. I know, I keep saying the health of men is a relatively forgotten subject, but think about this for a second. 186 thousand men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, with an estimated 26 thousand dying. While these numbers pale in comparison to breast cancer (240 thousand diagnosed, 40 thousand deaths), we never hear about prostate cancer awareness or see national fundraisers for such ailments. And while we are starting a conversation about veteran suicides, which adversely affect men, I think it is time to start advancing some of the conversation to all men. One thing I will always write about is the general health of people, but I will always be sure to point out the male perspective. Like I said, my theory about the health system in our country and the world is heavily reliant on stubborn, often times closed off men who are unwilling to change and unwilling to speak about their health problems due to the fact it might project weakness and pity from his peers. That conversation needs to change.
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.
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