08/21/2014 10:22 am ET Updated Oct 21, 2014

Defending Self-Esteem

When I step into the trap of believing I am less of a person than I used to be, is that a thinly-disguised message from others or a self-generated attack on my own self-esteem? As Meredith walks beaches alone while I sit at the computer, when she shops in Provincetown as I sit at the computer, I do feel I am less of a person, less of a man. I, along with everyone else, am a product of my culture. Or is that a prisoner of my culture?

I believe the answer is both.

As a person, I feel robbed, as a man, inadequate. Those are very different dynamics. Popular culture is reductionist, and Madison Avenue groupthink creates the ideal man. He is only a modern version of the Marlboro Man and a logical next caricature. We, the infirmed, are not that guy. He is perched on a stallion, not a Segway. How do we compete with that creation? By ignoring it, I think, and believing that our world is well stocked with others who do not buy into what they see on television or read in glossy magazines.

As a person, control seems less tenuous. I understand my limitations and feel the pain. No one asked for this. Then it is time to move on, recognizing all we are and always will be, rather than bathing in disappointment. That is not so easy. But we have it in us. I did not see the world as I do today, could not write or express myself until I was sick. I am not overwhelmed by what I can do, but I have more or less stopped mourning my losses.

We should not lose sight of the fact that we fight two simultaneous wars on parallel tracks. We battle conditions that only know attack and will not retreat. And we fight the view of us as diminished and pathetically beyond repair. Pat Buchanan used to instruct us to keep our powder dry, but we cannot shoot at common misapprehensions of sickness and assumptions about our physical flaws. We have to sell what we really can offer the world in return for open minds.