His Name is Clark Kent
He may wear an S on his chest and leap tall buildings at a single bound, but even Superman had a weakness. Kryptonite, the radioactive rock of his home planet, would bring Superman to his knees every time. Kryptonite for the caregiver is not a rock, but a mindset, wherein we think that we are Superman. With such mindset, we view taking care of the needs of others as more important than taking care of our own. We go and go till there is nothing left in the tank and we find ourselves stranded on the highway of great expectations.
I never recall Superman ever asking for help, or refusing to rip off his tie and glasses when duty called. Perhaps Clark Kent developed his Superman mindset early on from too many episodes of Underdog, “Here I come to save the day!” Looking back, I realize that for years I have had that same mindset. I raised my four boys on the family motto that “We are the Can-Do-Koons. We are on a quest to be our best.”
I have never liked asking for help, but I have learned over the past five years that to maintain my own health so that I can help others I must take care of myself and be willing to receive the help of others. It’s not an easy reality for me to accept. Just last night I had to finally blow off steam to a friend and I then apologized for “dumping” on him. He responded by saying, “Well first... I didn’t hear any dumping!! We all need someone to talk to and vent, as the suicide prevention trainer you know this. So, as a friend, battle buddy and one who has been there, please feel free to vent as needed.”
Sherry too, has always had that Superwoman mindset and found it hard to ask for help. One of my greatest regrets as a husband is my own failure to recognize those times when she was asking, but I didn’t have ears to hear. She has carried a heavy load because of the work I do. There have been many times in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep because I had been called to aid someone in crisis with a gun. In many ways, I see how she has suffered from secondary traumatic stress that was induced vicariously through me. I have seen the same in the wives of MPs immediately following the Dallas and New Orleans tragedies this summer. Several ladies told their husbands they had to choose – them or their career, because they couldn’t take it anymore.
I am thankful that, like me, Sherry has a few good friends that allow her space to vent. Such friends are a rare blessing. They do far more than they realize by simply being present in our lives. Through such friends we find encouragement and renewed strength to press on. They don’t try to change the subject when they find out what I do. I learned early on that with many people I can’t talk with them about what I do. I even had an individual that was so full of superstition that he would not give to the cause, because he was afraid it might open the door to a spirit of suicide in his life and family. I hope that individual is getting counseling somewhere.
The bottom line is this. I am thankful for a few good folks who allow me to just be a Clark Kent; no cape, no S on my chest; just a Clark Kent. They may be few, but a few is enough. The reality is that Superman does not exists. What makes an individual soar to great heights is not superpowers and a cape, but the ability to surround oneself with other ordinary human beings that realize that we are better together and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
During this season of Thanksgiving I give thanks for those that allow me to just be me!
As an AFM Board member please take time to read the following articles
Taking Care of Yourself as a Counselor
Combatting Burnout in Non-profit Leaders
How to Avoid Burnout When You Are Saving The World
New Law from US DEPT OF LABOR
It Is Your Lane
Several years ago, a friend was attending a chaplain led breakout session on grief at a Veteran Family Conference. After a few minutes, she raised her hand and asked what can you say to us about grief for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. The facilitator turned red-cheeked and appeared flustered as he responded, “That’s not my lane.” Excuse me chaplain but it is your lane.
As the Executive Director of AFM, I know that my lane is suicide intervention. However, I also have enough driving experience to know when I need to pull off the lane and into a rest step. Several years ago, on a one day 14-hour drive to Lackland Air Force Base I was so tired that I started seeing things that weren’t there. It was a rather dangerous situation; one that I will never put myself in again.
As we travel down the suicide intervention interstate I recognize my own need to pull off for a rest and to refill the tank. It has nothing to do with veering off course. As I have sought counsel from various colleagues and mental health professionals they have implored me to do so.
My personal life mission has been and will likely forever be to build resilience and restore hope. For the most part my mission is accomplished through intervention of individuals at risk of suicide. At other times, it may be in counseling a couple struggling in marriage, participating in Holiday-Help-a-Vet, going with a few vets on a 20-mile bike ride, doing a Warrior Chapel weekend or Better Marriage Challenge retreat. These other things are in keeping with my personal mission and the mission of AFM. Because the bottom line is these are the things that build resilience and often they are the very thing need to restore hope not only in others, but in myself.
One local counseling office that I refer people to does not allow their counselors to do more than 25 hours a week of counseling. In the director’s opinion, it is not conducive to the health of the organization, the counselor or the client. The counselor needs time for other activities. My typical week usually is way above that safety threshold. Adding in admin, marketing, fund raising, planning workshops, public speaking my work week averages well over 60 hours. I do not begrudge that amount of work in the least, but I do recognize the importance of balance.
For this reason I will be out of town and unreachable effective November 21 through 24. During that time I will be enjoying beautiful lake views surrounded by my family. If anyone is in need of help for suicide risk please call 1800-273-TALK or 911.