From the Desk of Sarah Claus

This Father’s Day, let’s look at supporting MEN

Father’s Day is here.  And I want for you to celebrate it by supporting men.  Let me back up.

There are so many articles I thought about sharing with you:
ones on fathers experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety; ones about how to “celebrate” this day if you have an absent father; ones about men worrying about their body image; or ones covering new research about how men wish they could be more involved in caregiving.

My readers have probably noticed, though, I prefer to focus on what strikes a chord within myself.  For the sake of looking at men and women, I am going to use primarily binary language in this blog.  I hope that it can still resonate with any reader, though, as we each share so much responsibility for our society.

As a therapist, I am passionate about serving all adults, including men.  Some female therapists prefer to work with females, given the shared experience.  I get that.  However, it was at my last agency job working with a men’s program where I found my passion for helping men who–in so many ways–have been left in the dust when it comes to empowerment and emotional tending.

Some may scoff at that.  Empowerment?  Isn’t the “Me, too” movement about balancing out how hyperpowered men are in this world?  Shouldn’t we focus on women feeling empowered?

“Sarah,” you may challenge, “let us support women.  Men have had more than enough.”

I identify as a woman and I also identify as being in that weird generation between Gen X and Millennials.  I am proud to say that I was raised around strong women, and I continue to surround myself with those who mentor me.  Throughout my life, I have seen remarkable progress that women have made in becoming, well, “renaissance men.” We are told there are no limits to whomever we become.  We are told to be trailblazers if needed, and that we are as dynamic and capable as any human that has ever existed.  And there are countless scholarships, after-school programs, retreats, summer camps, and voices helping us get there.

On the other hand, I see men being told–not necessarily taught–to be more emotional, present, and heartfelt, while still being everything they once were.

Oftentimes, men have the pressures of being a breadwinner.  They should be strong and fashionable.  They should be gentle and strong.  They should be educated and intuitive.  They should go to work and they should be at home.  They should earn a living and they should support the careers of women.  They should be better fathers and husbands and they should just figure out how to do all it.  I know no person of any gender who is capable of living up to all of these expectations with any amount of sustainability.

As a therapist, I sit with men who have not gotten to cry.  I sit with men who do not get to know how to improve their estranged relationships with their children.  I sit with men who want to raise children–especially sons–with more tenderness than they were given, but they find themselves falling short.  I sit with men who do not know how to handle their emotions with more grace or range.  And I sit with men who do not know how to understand or heal from their traumas.

When I became a mother, I was astounded to see that there were countless groups for new mothers to adjust to this transition, but possibly only one in my large metropolitan area designed for men (and of course, it is a “bootcamp” format).  I was also astounded at the amount of time men were given to bond with their babies and to be with their changing families.  It seems so basic.

With the “Me too” movement, we proclaim that women’s voices and realities matter and that they must be heeded.  That is so true, and yet, we cannot discount men’s spot at the table.

We don’t have room for bigotry, but we do have room for men.  We don’t have tolerance for lies and oppression, but we do have tolerance for men.  We don’t have time for objectifying a person, but we do have time for men.

I am amazed by the tenacity of the men I work with.  They are doing the kind of inner work that many people shy away from.  I just wish more of society could see and celebrate that men–and in turn, fathers–are changing and growing.

May we all be a part of that growth.

By advancing women, we do not have to downplay men.  And similarly, by advancing men, we do not have to downplay women.

If we want our society to be relational with one another, then we must start by tending to all people in society.   Over and over, I remind each of us: we belong to one another.

This Father’s Day, let us–all people–reconsider how we consider men, and in turn, how we consider fathers.  So yes, let us celebrate Father’s Day by supporting our men.

In doing so, the water rises everywhere.

Sarah Claus, MA, LPCC is a psychotherapist in Lakewood, Colorado.  She works with individuals and couples in areas of addictions, trauma, relationships, communication, anxiety, depression, spirituality, and anger.  She identifies as an ally in the Queer community and in the addictions/recovery community.  Learn more here.

 

Celebrity Suicides: Our Response and Our Responsibility

This week has happened before:
When the headlines all focus on a celebrity who has suicided.

Two celebrities popular in different industries both died by suicide this week, and the media coverage has followed suit.  I struggle with the conversation musings:

But she seemed so happy.
A person has material success, so that person should be happy, and, as
Legally Blonde puts it, “Happy people don’t kill themselves!”
She was separated from their partner and was no longer connected with the money of their empire, so no wonder this resulted in suicide.
Ah, they didn’t get help, so that is why.
Ah, they were getting help, so they were ill and that’s why.
A person had worked through addiction, so maybe suicide was connected to that.
A person had a child, so suicide should never have been an option.

This week, I’ve seen some semblance of these comments above.  And I know that I am not alone in giving my condolences for those in the lives of Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain. And I also hold great compassion for the folks across the world who are just in shock and disbelief, absolutely, as well as for those who are feeling personally triggered.

But regarding the comments above, it’s natural to seek patterns so that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from suicide striking again.  However, these thoughts can reveal shallow or dangerous misperceptions of the realities around suicide.  Our recourse should not be puzzling over how these folks were not happy enough, but let us move the conversation to the next step.  Aside from big picture ideas like mental health budget, let us look how we individually and collectively put such pressure on one another to mask anything aside from happiness.

I would love for folks to feel happy a lot because that’s a great, fun feeling. However, I have lived long enough to have felt deeply unhappy, depressed, sad, angry, hurt, disconnected, and hopeless.  These “darker” feelings are not indicative of my flaws. Rather, they show my humanity. And while others may experiences these in ways that expand far beyond what I may have felt, these emotions remain simply part of the human experience.

In healing or otherwise cycling out of my own darker moments, I emerged with respect and appreciation for the balance and need for both isolation and connection, for both meaningfulness and meaninglessness.

We distance ourselves from people who appear depressed and we celebrate people who appear to be thriving in their happiness.  We don’t dwell on unhappy thoughts, almost living in fear of them.  Ms. Spade even made a brand by creating a well-curated collection of cute, structured, joy with clean lines.  Where did she–or we–give her space to go beyond that?  Her entire name had a connotation of being “cute.” And it is easy to be around the energy of “cute.” We click *like* for witty status updates and we *heart* the filtered selfies.  I do it, too.   And it can be very difficult–even draining–to be around the energy of “pain.”  Posts about how we are struggling don’t require a “like” button–they require an in-depth conversation.  Moreover, it could mean we’d have to look at our own pain.

I think about friends who checked in with me about Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety after the birth of my son.  I appreciated it so much.  They each included a comment about how I’m a psychotherapist, suggesting that checking in might not be very necessary, but I felt so grateful to have friends who knew that I rely upon my community to support me just as much as the next person.  I also appreciated it because these comments commonly came from mothers or others who had been humbled by depression or anxiety themselves to some degree, so in asking if I was struggling, they were connecting to their own experience of that struggle.  They get that none of us are “above it.”

There is much research around how our brain chemistry may put us at greater risk of suicide due to particular our prolonged bouts with depression, our nutrition and substance use, our inherited body chemistry, our developed body chemistry, and much more.  And some realities can overwhelm the person who is living them far beyond that person’s capabilities.  And some people may feel betrayed by their body’s chemistry.

Of course I don’t believe that Ms. Spade or Mr. Bourdain were just having a sad day. And I suspect that some people in their lives allowed for them to have a more well-rounded existence. I’d even venture to guess that there were people who had concerns about them. But I will not presume to know much more than that, and even what I stated could be untrue.

For those times of overwhelming realities or betraying bodies,  I believe that is when we need to have others remind us of hope, meaning, and connection.  Whether it’s a helpline or trusted therapist, or whether it’s our best friends or someone we barely know, we need others to help us feel revived. We belong to one another.  Psychiatry is working hard to help those whose body chemistries prevent them from having the lives they want to have.  We need a more grassroots effort, though.

This is my call for all of us–you and me alike:

How do we give one another room to be fully human?  How do we give ourselves permission to be fully human?  How do we give each of us space to be dynamic in both happiness and sadness, good and bad, angry and compassionate? How can we change our presumptions to allow everyone to have a possibly complicated relationship with joy and pain?

This could be your coworker, your partner, your minister, your boss, your parent or child, or even your literal neighbor.  This could be you.

I want you to know that I’m okay looking at your seedy underbelly with you, and that from where I sit, that underbelly is a part of your beauty, not in spite of your beauty, just as the smile you give me when you greet me.  You are not inherently broken when you experience darkness.  Moreover, you are truly whole. And as separate from me as you feel in that darkness, we may be able to connect most at that time, too.

So may we integrate and accept our polarities in ourselves and then in others. And in accepting your story and mine, may we embrace our whole selves and move through life in support of our whole selves.

***

“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories, to appear more or less acceptable, but our wholeness — even our wholeheartedness — actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”

Brené Brown

***

This link has five terrific options to support folks around severe depression. Please read them, use them, offer them, save them.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or need help, don’t wait and just reach out. Don’t wait. Reach out now.

For pie-chart lovers, couples, and chickenophiles alike

Some people are simply artists of inspiration.  They tend to be reflective thinkers.  Some may not even create, but they are what I call “artists of curation” where they pull together an assortment of images and posts for others to appreciate in a format like Instagram.

Each of the artists uses words, colors, or images to help fuel me, reframe my perspectives, get me to look with wonder, and help me simply appreciate my world.  Not too shabby, eh.

As a therapist, it’s key for me to continue to do “my work” so that I can be effective for others.  Because of this, I am constantly looking for those fresh minds who help me.  I find them in a range of media (interviews, poetry, social media), and some are better known than others.

Some help me giggle, and some help me remember heartache.  Altogether, they offer me a workout where I consider my flexibility, my assets, my growing edges, my focus and my balance–like yoga for my spirit.

In my new “Who Inspires Me” series, I’ll be sharing some of those people with you in case they could be of value to you, too.  You can see a tiny bit of their artistry here, but I encourage you to follow them via social media!

Warmly,
Sarah
@sarah.claus.therapy

Mari Andrew: profound and delightful

Mari speaks plainly, yet she does it in colorful, offbeat, and whimsical drawings, charts, and writings.  She’s developing quite a following for a reason.  She doesn’t shy from topics big or small.  She “gets” heartache, and she speaks to insecurities in a brave, humanizing way.

Follow Mari’s work at any of these spots:


Gina Senarighi: sassy & refreshing outlook for couples

Gina speaks Truth.  I came across her work a few years ago when dreaming of what I wanted my private practice to be like.  As she works primarily with couples, her blogs and social media words help to “keep me in check.”  She is inclusive and creative in her work as a relationship coach.  I was stricken by her passion for social justice, for supporting her clients, and for her ability to get to the core of issues.

Look here to follow Gina:


Chickenspluspoetry: naturally

Nature sure can beg to get our attention: tornadoes, my loyal Australian Shepherd, rainbows.  Chickens, though, dart and linger, sometimes with no apparent rhyme or reason.  I are lucky to share my home with some backyard chickens, so this Instagram account reminds me that two seemingly unrelated ideas–chickens and poetry–can complement one another beautifully.  It also teaches me to expect the unexpected and find meaning in the world around me.

One place to catch this show:

Now, I will admit the sad part of this particular account has been dormant for the past year, but maybe if we all “follow,” we can give its owner a nudge to keep with their noble task of #chickenspluspoetry.