Asking for Help - Not Waving but Drowning

By Concentric Counselor Christian Younginer, LPC, NCC

Not Waving but Drowning

By STEVIE SMITH

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought   

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   

(Still the dead one lay moaning)   

I was much too far out all my life   

And not waving but drowning.

I believe this poem verbalizes well a common societal pressure. That is, the need to be happy externally, even if drowning internally. As we go through our day, met with multiple “How’s it going?”, we invariably are trained to answer “fine” or “great”, without the slightest thought. The question we’re left with is: how would anyone know I’m drowning, when I always give them a friendly wave?

Asking for help can be deceptively difficult. Frequently I hear from clients that asking for help shows weakness, or is shameful, or too vulnerable. So, we strengthen our resolve, buckle down, and soldier on at the expense of our wellness and happiness. We become run down, exhausted, and deflated. Imagine a balloon trying to remain the same size, while its air slowly leaks. We receive messages from our families of origin, our employers, and consumer culture that tell us to harden. But the harder we get, the more brittle we become. Rather than naming our need for help, we’re now drowning with work, emotions, schedules, and isolation. 

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Ultimately, this issue of asking for help comes down to a person’s struggle with taking care of themselves. Wellness, self-care, asking for help, boundary setting, etc all live in the same neighborhood: taking care of the self. A former supervisor of mine offered this metaphor:

You board an airplane, take your seat, and the flight attendant begins the safety protocols speech. They get to the section on the oxygen mask. They say, ‘please secure your own mask before attempting to assist anyone else.”

Why is that? Well, you can’t help anyone if you’re dead. The same concept applies here, albeit with less grim consequences. How can we expect to function, let alone help others, when we run ourselves ragged?

To return to the topic at hand, one way of taking care of the self is asking for help. Seeking therapy is a form of this. I often name the courage it takes for a client to find a therapist. As we know, it’s hard to find help for ourselves- especially for our mental health. As if the unfortunate stigma isn’t enough, busy schedules and work demands can get in the way. If therapy is two steps too far for you, there are smaller ways to open ourselves to the help of others.

We don’t have to instantly open up and adopt this idea. Rather we can take smaller steps that feel safer. For example, if we have created a default answer of “fine” when asked “how are you?” by random people, then that may have filtered into closer relationships. Those relationships where it may feel safer saying “Actually, I’m struggling.” So, what if we remove the automatic ‘fine’ from our vocabulary? Rather, when asked by a close friend or family member, “how are you?”, we take that question for what it is: an out-stretched hand to a drowning person.

 I think it is unfair to view this poem as an indictment of those who misread the author’s anguish. Rather, I believe it is a call to stop waving when we’re drowning. To let those looking out for our safety, save us. Only from this place of moaning, cold death does the author finally feel safe saying she was much too far out all of her life. If only we, the onlookers, knew this we could’ve helped.

 It is ok to feel you’re too far out. It is ok to feel like you’re drowning. There are those who want to help us, but only if we let them. When we don’t ask for help, we deny our friends and family the gift of being able to help someone they love.

Men, Loneliness, and the Substance Substitute

By Concentric Counselor Myron Nelson, LCPC

We know it is true when we take stock of our lives, although it is easier to simply ignore. We do not have the same number of friends that we used to. We definitely do not have the same number of close friends, friends we could call in an emergency. Whether it is technology taking up more of our time, a culture that promotes handling problems on your own, or some other reason, it is clear we do not connect in the same way.

Due to factors that will be explored in this blog post, half of the population is more vulnerable to the Great Friend Migration. Men, myself included, are bombarded with societal forces that encourage segregation. We are instructed to cope with problems silently, internally. Isolate yourself or be shamed. We are taught to detest emotions, push them down or aside but do not let them grow. Best to not spend time with other people if we are in an emotional state.

Consequently, our problems grow bigger, the stress becomes heavier, and the emotions continue to build up until we are neck deep. Keeping quiet and keeping it to ourselves, we fall deeper into our own thoughts. Expecting that other people do not want to be burdened with our issues. We drift apart from friends because we do not know how our problems could possibly fit into their lives.

What’s next? We turn to something that can help. Something that makes us feel better, it’s reliable, it’s dependable, it does not judge us, and it does not share our secrets. Alcohol and other drugs can become a refuge for emotional pain. They can buffer feelings of anxiety or depression and temporarily give us the mask we want to keep the facade going.

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Alcohol and drugs can slowly become something we depend on but that dependency is dangerous. What starts as a solution to the problem becomes its own problem. Substances attempt to fill the void that other people used to, but they will never be enough. Substances can never talk back to us and make us feel cared for and understood. They cannot debate options with us and challenge us to be better. Substances offer complacency but relationships give us acceptance and growth. It takes courage and a leap of faith to connect with another man and share your problems but it is truest the solution.

The irony is, that we all want to lean on each other but are scared to lean first. It is society’s expectation about men and men’s expectations about society that propel this problem into an epidemic. When we let our predictions go and venture into reality, it’s clear that other men feel the same way we do and we can meet each other with compassion and caring.

Men are not inherently isolating and society is not inherently cold. Expect that other people feel the way you feel. Expect that as a man you will experience things that other men experience. Expect that others want to know about your struggles because they want to be able to lean on you too.

If you find yourself experiencing The Great Friend Migration, convincing yourself that filling your loneliness with substances is better than the alternative - opening up, reaching out, and relying on a male friend, I encourage you to stand up to your shame, choose connection, and lean it to a friend.

Simple Meditation Steps For All Ages

By Concentric Counselor Michelle Taufmann, LCSW

These are the instructions for the basic meditation on the breath that I teach clients. Meditation on the breath is a simple, classic form of meditation that has been used for thousands of years to strengthen one’s focus and ability to sustain full awareness.

First, sit on the floor on a meditation pillow, or in a chair. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight, but not rigid. If you are sitting in a chair it is best to sit forward with your back away from the back of the chair (rather than leaning back into the chair). You want
to assume a posture that facilitates being alert, yet relaxed. Next, close your eyes, or if you prefer, lower your to a gaze about a foot in front of your feet on the floor. The purpose of closed eyes (or lowered gaze) is to remove visual distractions from the field of perception. Now, take a moment to relax your head, neck, shoulders and arms by rotating them, tensing and releasing them, and/or shaking them out; these parts of the body tend to hold a lot of
tension.

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You are now ready to begin the meditation on the breath. Start by noticing your breath as it comes into and out of your body. The experience of the breath coming into or out of the body is most noticeable in the following areas of the body: at the nostrils (the sensation of the breath going into and out of the nostrils), at the chest (the sensation of the chest rising and falling, and at the abdomen (the sensation of the abdomen rising and falling). Choose one of these areas on which to observe the breath. It usually works best to choose the area of the body where the sensation of breathing is the strongest for you. Now, simply attend to the breath. Think of it as being present to the experience of breathing. Your attention on the
breath should be light; you do not want to concentrate or think about the breath.

Once you have stabilized your attention on your breath, sit in this way for the designated amount of time. Ten minutes is the recommended amount of time for beginners. If you are like most people, you will fairly soon notice that your mind has wandered. When you notice
this, gently let go of the distraction, whether it is a thought, sound, or  internal sensation, and bring your attention back to your breath. Continue in this way, returning your mind to your breath each time you become aware that it has wandered. Remember to do this with
patience and gentleness.

Try not to become frustrated or judge yourself if your attention wanders frequently. Frequent mind-wandering is normal and to be expected, especially for beginners. Becoming frustrated or judging yourself for not being able to sustain attention on the breath is simply further distraction from your meditation practice and should be dropped as quickly and gently as other distractions are dropped during your practice. 

With practice, mediation of the breath will strengthen your focus and ability to sustain full awareness.