From the Desk of Sarah Claus

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.

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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.

A Holiday Gift: 5 FREE Self-Care Challenges to Carry You Through This Week

Sometimes my clients think that self-care requires more time or money than they have to spare.   Usually, though, getting overwhelmed at fitting in self-care is a good sign that you would actually benefit from that self-care.  These past two sentences only become more true around the holidays.  Let’s remember that it does not have to be time consuming or expensive, and that it’s important.

Here are 5 challenges for you to consider this upcoming week of holiday time.  Check them off and see if you can encourage your loved ones of all ages to try them, too!

Challenge 1: Breathe in Sunlight

Next time you feel the sunshine, stop and take five deep breaths in.  Colorado is known for its sunshine, and even when it’s overcast, the sunlight is powerful.  Feel its warmth and strength.  Let it infuse you and boost your Vitamin D.  Doing this throughout your week for 5-15 minutes per day may help you with seasonal depression, inflammation, blood pressure, muscles, and brain function.  If you’re getting more than that, be sure to consider sun protection during peak hours.

Take it to the next level: Step outside for your five breaths every day outside.

Challenge 2: Silence

If you love holiday songs, this might be a true challenge.  While you drive, leave the music off and stay off the phone.  Pay attention to what you see and hear as you drive.  In doing this, you can tend to whatever arises in you.  Notice those thoughts and feelings that arise when you’re in silence.

Take it to the next level: Invite others in your car to enjoy this silence practice, too.

Challenge 3: Guiding Words

Remind yourself of how you want the holidays to feel for yourself and for those around you.  Is it about feeling flawless?  Warm?  Busy?  Relaxed?  Connected?  Energetic?  Why are those feelings so important?  Choose some words to guide your approach to this month.  Now, as an event or a thought arises and conflicts with those guiding words, just notice it.  You can step away from the guiding words or stick to them.  It’s your choice, and there’s no right or wrong.  Just remember that how you choose to approach the holidays is your choice.

Take it to the next level: Share with with someone what your guiding words are and explain why you chose them.  Let them know if there’s a way they can support your path.

Challenge 4: Nope.

Remember that self-care isn’t always about what you DO do, it’s sometimes about what you don’t do.  Simply say, “No, but thank you so much for the offer,” to an invitation to join something when you feel spread too thin or simply do not want to attend.  No excuses are needed!  Give yourself permission to feel obligated to taking care of yourself rather than meeting the social obligations.  And if you’d like, you can explain that you’re gifting yourself and/or your family with fewer commitments this season.

Take it to the next level:  Think about what you think you MUST do over the next couple weeks.  Now, cross 1-3 items off that list and give yourself permission to say NO to yourself!  

Challenge 5: Walk More.

Okay, this sounds like a sneaky one.  The others require little to no extra time, but now I’m asking you to find time to exercise?  Well, I’m asking you to move.  Start small.  Answer honestly, are you able to take a walk around the block today?  Or could you add a block to your regular walk?  Could you park ten spots farther away in the parking lot?  Could you walk through the house each time you find something that needs to be put away a few more times than you usually would?  Or, if you’re working this week, could you walk to talk with someone instead of sending an email?  Adding 5 minutes of walking a few times throughout your day has been proven to improve one’s mood, decrease one’s appetite, and lessen one’s fatigue.

Take it to the next level: Move for five minutes every hour.  Set a timer if needed, or if you like accountability, get a partner to do it, too, for your first day.