When I first started on my journey of being retired I found out that I had prostate cancer. It was during this time that I found myself struggling to accept any kind of help from other people. For example, I would go to the doctor’s office and sit with my back to the wall and I rarely spoke to anyone else in the waiting room. On one occasion, another patient began to talk to me and he tried to give me some advice on how much water to drink before going into radiation therapy. At first, I just nodded at the advice and the man who gave it to me. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t need any help on how to drink water. But as it turned out, I began to use the man’s advice on how much water to drink and at what time before radiation therapy.
There has always been the legend of men not wanting to ask for directions when they are lost. I know that I am guilty of that and that many times I would just continue going the wrong way rather than pulling over and asking for directions. In today’s world, it is harder to retain that attitude because every phone and every car has a GPS device and a computer voice to guide you to your destination. It has been easier to talk to my phone and ask for advice on how to get to a location that it has ever been to ask a person.
There was a time in my life where I was unable to pay all my bills due to an unseen medical emergency. During that time, several friends and many family members offered me some assistance in paying the bills by giving me money. But for some reason, I refused to accept any help. There was another time when I had been injured and I was unable to take care of the chores outside the house. Once again, I had friends, family and neighbors all offer to help. And once again I did not accept their help.
When I first found out that I had prostate cancer, one of my employees offered me some advice about contacting the Veterans Administration for assistance. At first I dismissed any thought of contacting the VA. But the employee, continued to inform me that many of the Vietnam veterans had ended up with cancer due to Agent Orange having being used in Vietnam. The same employee would regularly check in with me and asked if I’d gone to the VA for their assistance in any of the programs that were available to veterans. At first, I absolutely rejected the idea of contacting anybody for help. I would just go to the doctor and get my radiation treatment and go on with life. Finally, I began to check into the information that the employee had been trying give me. I found that there were people in every level of government that could help me in getting both medical treatment and psychological treatment. After my initial visit with a VA doctor, it was very evident that I was also experiencing PTSD. This really surprised me and once again I found myself not wanting to talk to anyone or ask for any help.
The thought of my going to a psychologist or psychiatrist was really difficult for me to understand. In my culture men that went to psychologist or psychiatrist were weak and undeserving of respect. But after researching PTSD I had to admit that it totally affects my life. When my wife was told about the symptoms of PTSD, she quickly responded that that is exactly what my husband is experiencing. So now with some strong encouragement from my wife and my own acknowledgment that I had PTSD, I agreed to go to the psychologist and psychiatrist. As it is turned out, PTSD has had an extremely harsh effect on my life and I now work hard with the VA in the doctors to control my symptoms.
This brings me to my thought of the day. Why is it so hard for the men of the baby boomer generation to ask for help? I think it is because my father and my grandfather lived through some very hard times. My grandfather lived through the Great Depression and ended up living on a farm in Indiana just to be able to put food on the table for his children. Men of that era were really cautious about complaining because many of the people had absolutely nothing. Men during those years had to be strong as they were the moneymakers for the family and the protectors of the family. My father grew up on a farm and he also lived a very harsh life. He found a way to get his family off of the farm and into a house and a suburb of the city. He was a veteran of World War II. And that generation of men also found that they all had the opportunity to improve their lifestyle, but no one wanted to hear any complaints. The generation before them had lived in such harsh conditions it seemed almost un-American to complain. In both my grandfather’s era and my fathers it was a common and accepted practice that only the men got a job and made the money. One of the conditions of keeping a job was not to complain. There was no time for men to be weak or to need help from outside the family. I can remember that if any man would admit that he had mental problems and he went to a psychiatrist he was considered weak and he was ostracized from the community.
As I started out in manhood I carried with me all of the traditions of my grandfather and father. Even though the baby boomer generation began to open up to minorities and women being equal, it was still expected that the man of the family would go to work. In my case, I ended up being a police man and eventually a detective who worked undercover. During my years on the job I began to experience many of the indicators of PTSD. But I absolutely told no one. To admit that you have some psychological problems on the police department would quickly result in being assigned a demeaning and undemanding desk job. For example, if one stated that he had mental problems the city that employed him would quickly realize the liability of letting anyone with the problem out into the public and therefore assign the person to some sort of desk duty. Something like working in the evidence locker where policeman did not meet the public and is just a custodian of the evidence brought in by other officers. I think that is the reason the many police officers end up as alcoholics and some even become suicidal. It is because they are afraid of being labeled week and mentally disturbed and therefore unsuitable for duty.
I think the men of my generation, the baby boomers, continue the tradition of our grandfathers and fathers in believing that any request for help would result in being branded as someone weak and unworthy. As I mentioned earlier, I refused to receive help from the Veterans Administration. But after some research I found myself reaching out for help and receiving it. Although the VA is a large organization and nothing happens fast, if a person is persistent they are likely to receive the help they need.
But there are still a lot of men out there, from the baby generation, who refused to receive any help from the VA or any other organization. They reflect the traditions of prior generations. I commonly hear the thought that they did not want to be a burden on anyone else. I also hear the statement that the person is doing just fine and there are so many others that need the help more than they do. What is sad for me is that these men and women do need the help. But they adjusted their lives to try and conceal any kind of need for help.
I know how hard it is to reach out and ask for help. The help may be as simple as the fire department coming to your house to give you a fire alarm, or someone from an organization coming to your house to make sure that you have enough food. Some of the men from my generation absolutely refuse to go to the food bank because it’ll make him look weak. And if a man is weak he is undeserving of any respect. As crazy as that sounds, that is the condition of many of the men in my generation.
I have become an outspoken advocate about the men of my generation asking for help. For many of them they can be helped with some group just fixing up their house so there’s heat in the winter and cool in the summer. I’m sure many of you have gone to a neighborhood and observed a house that was about to fall down and yet you will see someone still living in them. I also really try to reach the men in my generation and encourage them to go to the doctor when they are feeling bad and after going to the doctor they must take the medicine that the doctor gives them. The men of my generation, including myself, seem to have a hard time remembering to take their medicine or even wanting to take the medicine, all because it could make us look weak.
For those men that are veterans, especially those of us who were in Vietnam, I recommend being honest about your condition and spend the time to go to the VA. Luckily for my generation, the general public is now supportive of the veterans of war foreign wars and because of that the VA system has begun to respond more positively to veteran’s request.
I still struggle a little with asking people for help. But I am blessed with a very caring wife and loving children who continue to support my outreach for help. They will do something as simple as reminding me to take my medicine.
In writing this blog I have met some amazing people. As I’ve mentioned before, there is Frank of Sacramento an amazing 91-year-old man who inspires me. And I recently met Dave another amazing man from my generation who is proud and strong. There are other men that I’ve met recently while reaching out for help at the VA. I hope that in the future years that my generation and following generations, will shed this tradition of not asking for help.