(32) Men’s Mental Health Matters Too with Gretchen Hernandez

Listen to the episode HERE.

INTRO:  Hello deep thinkers, this is your host Agrita and welcome to Mind Full of Everything, the podcast that questions the deeper and bigger things in life, from intersectional environmentalism to self-development and everything else in between. I got the wonderful opportunity to talk to Gretchen Hernandez, a men’s mental health coach and founder of the My Freedom Grove podcast. Gretchen believes that with the rise of feminism and the gendered roles still prevalent in society, we have essential prohibited men from expressing themselves or seeking professional mental wellbeing help, which only feeds into toxic masculinity further. Through forming a private men’s facebook group Unshakable and providing a platform for men’s personal journeys, Gretchen ensures that when it comes to removal of mental health stigmas, men should be included in the conversation too.

Agrita: To start off, it would be amazing if you could tell us all about your journey of becoming a men’s mental health coach and what really inspired you to specialise in men’s mental health. 

Gretchen: Oh sure, I would be more than happy to! First I want to thank you Agrita for having me on your podcast, it’s truly an honour.

Agrita: You’re welcome! 

Gretchen: So, I started my journey to become a men’s mindset coach and founder of My Freedom Grove through an intersection of things happening in my life and also a change in my work position. So I was working in a pharmaceutical company and I had been in the corporate environment for 25 years, starting off as a microbiologist and then going into a system specialist and eventually into all of the business analysis and process improvement. So, in the 2016 timeframe, business was changing. Government wanted us to lower the cost of pharmaceutical products and my company wanted to have a big change. So, they wanted to change all of the leaders from a traditional leadership mindset into servant leaders where they were empowering all of the folks, all of the employees, to have an entrepreneurial mindset. So that was also different for the employees, to have an entrepreneurial mindset as opposed to an employee mindset. So, they tasked my group with becoming coaches, cultural transformation coaches, in addition to all of our lean business transformation. So at the time in my life, I was also going through a lot of stress. I was always the strong person in my life. I was the one that everybody always turned to when they needed help. 

Agrita: Yeah. 

Gretchen: I had folks in my life that were dealing with depression, with anxiety, with PTSD. My children, one of them, has autism and other one has Tourette’s and OCD and both of my sons had become suicidal. At one point my husband was suicidal, my mom was suicidal, and I had been battling depression for about 30 years, so I kept trying to help save a whole of them as best as I could, and the pressure of needing to help everybody at home and then needing to help everybody at work left nothing on my plate for taking care of myself. I had been reaching ou,t trying to get some support through the different counselors, but our insurance was impacted so it was two years I couldn’t get any therapist or counselor, anyone to give me any help, so I was still just trying to push through. So now I had this new thing at work where I needed to transform 1000 people’s mindsets into becoming almost like a different person. I now had all of their emotions popping up. A lot of fear over if they would lose their job or not because there were going to be positions that were getting laid off. And here I was being tasked with being a coach and I had never been a coach before. I had been a project manager. I had been a business analyst. I had been a system specialist. I had done all of these different things, but I had never been a coach, so I decided to go and do some research. It would be nice if the company had provided us some training (laughs), but they didn’t, so I was fortunate enough to find the life coach industry. I didn’t even know that life coaching was a thing. And I discovered Brooke Castillo and The Life Coach School, and she taught me all about cognitive behaviour therapy and how our mind processes the world. And I got to experience watching her coach other people and watch how she was doing it and learn a lot of her techniques. So, in order to practice and become a good coach, I decided to practice on myself first and what I found was that I was actually resolving a lot of the things that were causing me to have depression and anxiety and I started to practice on my family of being a coach instead of being a rescuer. It was a little bumpy at first, but it started to work out better and their depression and anxiety actually started to get better. So then once I was able to really hone-in that skill, I was able to take that into my corporate environment, incorporate those types of tools and I was helping people left and right to not only change their mindset and change how they were viewing work and strategy and how to contribute value, but I was also helping them to manage their depression and anxiety. I was in the fortunate situation where I was assigned to a group that was comprised of 154 men (laughs). So, I had executives plus I had the full workforce and so I got really experienced at helping men and I would do it coaching in group settings as well as 1-1 behind doors. And what I found was once we were 1-1 behind doors, then the men started to feel very comfortable opening up to me because they knew I wouldn’t expose them (laughs) to anybody else and share with me the things that were really going on. I could empower them with learning these different tools and techniques, coach them through some of the things causing them pain, which were all thoughts and their mindset, old belief patterns, 

Agrita: Yeah. 

Gretchen: And then they were able to go back out into the workforce and feel really great about themselves. They had increased self-confidence. They were having better relationships with the other people at work and we started to get into some of their relationships at home too. They were finding the same techniques could apply at work as well as at home. So, I thought if I could do this for people in this one corporate environment, what could I do for the men of the world? So that’s when I decided to start dipping my toe into trying things out in the world and I started off with blogs and I was getting really good responses from that and it was men that were starting to come my way. At first, I was just thinking I would be a coach for women and then it was my husband who brought up, what about the men? There’s never anything out there for the men. Pay attention. I thought, you know what you’re right! All of the coaches that I was seeing out there were all geared for women and women empowerment, and it was almost looked down upon [for men]. There weren’t any men organizations anymore. So I thought you know what? It’s time someone took a stand for men and created something just for them. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, I stepped into that space. 

Agrita: You also have a lovely podcast called My Freedom Growth, that’s how I found you. So, do you think that really has helped in catalysing your advocacy around men’s mental well-being and the amount of men that are reaching out to you? 

Gretchen: Absolutely. I took a two-pronged approach with creating that podcast. So, one was giving many lessons that are all like logic based, and most men like logic based things that are step by step, but I also incorporated interviews with other men because what I found was that most men believe that they’re not allowed to talk about their feelings. They’re not allowed to talk about the hard stuff, that they’re just supposed to suck it up and then move on. 

Agrita: Yeah

Gretchen: What I found was when I found the empathic men out in the world, the compassionate men that were willing to be vulnerable and share their story because they knew it was going to help the other men out in the world, I had them come on my podcast. I had them share their story because when they do that, it dissolves the shame around one sharing their feelings, sharing the hard stuff, but also they’re starting to talk specifically about their specific circumstances that were going on and the specific thoughts that they were having and that is where the magic really happens. Because there are so many men that have repressed a lot of this and once they hear another men talking about it, all of a sudden it brings it to the surface but in a safe way. Nobody else knows that they’re listening to this, and they can start to listen to the man’s journey for what thoughts that he had. And the listener starts to recognise and identify with that and say “yeah, those were the thoughts I had too”. 

Agrita: Yeah! 

Gretchen: And then I helped to get them to share what were their new thoughts. What were the journeys that they took to get to the new thought? And how is that? How has that changed their life now? And so now those men are essentially getting coached, right? So, it’s like the listeners get to hear someone else, and they in turn get some relief from that also. So, with that, men started to realise that I was a safe person for them. I wasn’t there judging anyone, I was there truly out of compassion and wanting to help them to heal. Also, if they had things that were more of a process-based problem then I wanted to help them with that too because a lot of the men programs that are out there tend to focus on their behaviour.

Agrita: Hmm.

Gretchen: And shaming them on their behaviour that isn’t fitting with the rest of the world. That’s not the approach that I take. The approach I take is focusing on what is the pain that contributed to the behaviour that they may not want to have anymore. What’s the pain? Let’s resolve that pain. Men are human. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: They just deserve to be treated with a lot of compassion. If they’re in pain, let’s help them resolve it. 

Agrita: Exactly

Gretchen: And then the world is going to become a lot better place. 

Agrita: What I really love about your work is that you emphasise on the whole community feel. So, if you are coaching a male client and they will be telling other people about their stories, it’s kind of like they’re coaching them to become a better version of themselves. You also have a private Facebook group that men can go onto and share their personal details in a safe, stigma-free and nonjudgmental space. So, it would be great if you could tell us some success stories of that Facebook group and how it’s helped men in unleash whatever they’re feeling.

Gretchen: Sure, I would love to. So, the Facebook group is called Men’s Feelings Matter. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: And this is private so people can search for it and find it, but they can’t see what’s inside of it unless they are an actual member and I’m the gatekeeper on that. So, I make sure that it’s only men that are coming in. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: And also I make sure that people are being nonjudgmental with each other because a lot of times they’re not even aware that they’re doing it. 

Agrita: Yep!

Gretchen: So yeah, they get the opportunity that if they do show up that way, that I kind of pull them aside and we might have a little chat over Facebook Messenger, we might jump on a zoom call really quick so that I can help coach them through that because I want them to be part of the group. But I also want to make sure that they are being safe, right? 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, safe environment for them, but it’s also that they’re being safe for the other people in the group. So, with this group they of course get to post whatever they want to can, videos, it can be just text, whatever they want. Some are grabbing memes off of the Internet – 

Agrita: (laughs)

Gretchen: – that are describing what they’re going through. And it allows the other men to connect and go “yeah, that was me too” and knowing that there’s someone else that has gone through what they’ve gone through, it’s very special right? Because we feel so all alone at times thinking we’re the only ones that went through this. There’s also a support group, a video support group that happens once a week, so the men get to be on this call, interact with each other, and again, it’s a completely safe environment and they get to share what struggles that they had that we can also talk about it. My goal is that when they leave the call, they feel a lot better than when they got there (laughs). 

Agrita: Yeah. 

Gretchen: It’s been working out really well. So, some of the benefits that’s happening, there are men that when they first came to these calls, they thought well, I’m just going to be here to support other people. They weren’t really showing up for themselves thinking “I need support” because they’re so used to always being the strong one in their lives, yeah? They just never really considered that they could use the board. So, since the format of the meeting is that everybody shares something that they had a struggle with and what was a win. When it comes to their turn, they have to think about what is something that they struggled with and it might not be comfortable and they might pass because they’re not used to talking about their struggles, but they get to hear other people validate them right out in the world when they share a struggle. They might find that they’re getting invalidated. 

Agrita: Yeah 

Gretchen: Or their struggle saying, “oh, that’s no big deal”. That’s not the case here. This is where everybody’s struggle is real. Your pain is valid, you’re important, and you deserve to speak up for yourself, and we’re going to be here to support you 100%. So, with that we’ve had some men that have been able to talk about things that they’ve never talked about with anybody else. Some really personal things and since it’s an all men group, with the exception of me, they’re able to talk about some of the more private things like even their masculinity and their sex drive and talk about maybe cancer things that they’ve gone through and how that might affect what they’re going through. We’ve had men that I actually have 1-1 coaching with, so they’ve already signed up for private package with me, we’ve been working on things and then they were able to come bring their breakthroughs and share with the other men in the group. 

Agrita: That’s lovely!

Gretchen: Yeah. One that happened recently, it was just such a beautiful thing. It was a relationship with a parent. So, we have a man that has been struggling with his relationship with his mother and he recently had a really great breakthrough and he decided he wanted to share this in the group, because again, we talk about what’s a struggle and what’s a win, and for his, he got to start off with what was the struggle that he was having and then what was the win that he had as a result of all of the coaching. What this did is it opened it up to all of the other men and they started talking about their relationships that they were having with their moms. And it started to bring up some of those thoughts that got planted in them when they were just young kids that have affected them throughout their whole lives. And the thing with our mindset, as we collect all of these thoughts throughout our whole life without thinking that they were always optional thoughts someone can just present it to us, we have the choice to believe it or not, but as kids we don’t know that nobody teaches us that. But now that we’re adults and someone teaches us that that’s a possibility and here we have this great shining example of this man that had a breakthrough ’cause he realized, oh, I’ve been having this thought about myself the whole time and I’ve been having this thought about her the whole time and they were always optional, so now I’m choosing to believe this other stuff instead and I feel so much better, now the other men get to practice that too and start to examine what are some of the thoughts they were having and do they want to challenge that or not? 

Agrita: This is why it’s so important to talk to different people. Because there are so many things that happen in our lives that we don’t really consider as major, especially when it comes to mental health. So, talking to other people and realising that the struggles that they’re going through, you are also going through them as well, but not kind of realising that it’s a common issue and you’re kind of pushing it to the side, so talking to other people is so important. When I was talking to you last week on Zoom you mentioned on your podcast that you have kind of three pillars for your podcast and you ensure that every single episode includes those three themes. So, what are they and how do they help you with coaching men? 

Gretchen: So, I found that there’s three themes that tend to pop up for men, and so one is around being their authentic self. So, they’re trying to live up to an outdated rulebook of what a man is supposed to be, and they’ve been conditioned throughout their life on what a man is supposed to be, and if they’re not living up to that then they should feel this intense shame about themselves that contributes to their depression, their anxiety, a lot of their frustration. We’re seeing a huge rise in the men suicide rate, so by peeling back all of those layers of these outdated rulebooks, we can start to find what is really them. They’ve been showing up in a way that was never authentic and sometimes it’s not even working for them, but they feel like they have to do it. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, we can start to peel back those layers and say no actually, that was never necessary. You don’t have to be that, you can actually feel pride in being exactly who you are, but trying to figure out what that is, tt’s a bit of a journey. The other one is relationships. Relationships are all around us. They can be at work, they can be out in the community, they can of course be in our home, and so being able to learn some basic behaviour tools, and how to have conversations with people and how to self-advocate and how to know how to resolve some of your triggers and how to recognise when you’re triggering other people, all of that becomes really important because you can develop any relationship you have into an amazing relationship, so that’s definitely one of the big pillars. The other one is on living your purpose.

Everybody is born with something that they’re really good at, or they develop it throughout their life. Not everybody is good at everything, but everybody is good at something, so helping men to figure out what is that thing that they’re really good at, even if they’ve been trying to hold themselves back from doing it, because maybe they’re worried about criticism from other people. But no, they’re actually here, they have that purpose, and when they can find it, and when they can feel free to go after it, then all of a sudden it lights this fire inside of them. Because before they might have been having an apathetic life, or they might have just been pushing through and doing the daily grind an after a while, like sure, you might have all of this success, you might have a great job, it might be paying a lot of money, but it’s not something that actually lights you up inside, so helping them define what their purpose is, and it can be something that is at their job but maybe they’re doing a different type of job. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: Maybe their job needs to transform and I can help them with that. Maybe they want to start a community group or a movement out in the world and that would like them up. I help them with that. There are other men that would like to go and start their own business, they’re ready to be their own boss, but they don’t even know where to start. I could help them with that too. So those are the three pillars that I try to anchor. All of the episodes are around it and it might alternate back and forth between those topics, but those are the three main ones.

Agrita: I think finding your purpose is so important, but I do think that women talk about these things more. Men kind of feel like they need to know everything by themselves. They don’t need to be discussing with other people, you know, what is your purpose in life? What do you want to achieve? So, to encourage men to open up and ask, well, what is it that really makes you excited about life? What is it that really makes you drive for change? Perhaps in society? You know, we need to be asking those questions to men and not just women. 

Gretchen: I agree. 

Agrita: And encouraging them to open up about what it is that they really want to achieve in life. 

Gretchen: And oftentimes it’s something that they don’t expect. They don’t see coming. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, I mentioned talking about the struggles that we’ve had in life. A lot of times the struggles that we’ve had in life are the exact things that have developed our skill sets to go after the purpose that we wanted. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So for example, one of the men that was on my podcast on the Men Too episode, he was a child sex trafficking survivor and he was abused by his father and his brother. He has now turned that into his own purpose, so he evolved. He learned how to survive, but also, he learned how to start talking about this and then he realised his purpose was to try to help other men to also be able to talk about it, because that’s when the healing happens. So, he started his own art club where he has people that are, I think he calls it Warrior Knights, where people can bring in their artwork; its men and women and their warriors, and that anything that they’ve had right, could be a cancer survivor, it could be an abuse survivor, but he provides them a space where they can come in, show all of their artwork and then as one person starts to share their story, it does the same thing as what my support group does, it allows other people to start being able to share their story. 

Agrita: I have an episode where I talk to women about creative trauma therapy and the importance of art, and it’s just so amazing to see how you don’t need to be explaining your pain in words. You can explain it through pictures through any sort of artwork. So, I think art is just so beautiful, in that sense. 

Gretchen: Oh absolutely. 

Agrita: I think your entire work is kind of built around resilience and making people stronger, and your website really beautifully says how Redwood trees, you kind of were inspired by how they are unshakeable and resilient to the changing climate, changing environments. I think the members of your community, when they realise that it’s okay to be vulnerable and it’s okay to share your pain, that does make them resilient and stronger. So how do you help men to openly be vulnerable because that’s something that men aren’t really taught to do. 

Gretchen: Right, well, there’s two ways. So, one is having them share their stories in a smaller group like the support group, but also in the men’s online coaching group Unshakeable, they have the opportunity to be coached by me 1-1. Then they have a community group where they can share what it was that they went through. Part of that also it goes into an entrepreneurial track, so as they decide that they want to be entrepreneurs out in the world, now they’re starting to understand that when you connect with someone on a pain point that it creates a deeper relationship. So, they get that opportunity to practice sharing their stories of vulnerability, doing it as experiments to see well what happens with people when you do share that and are you going to with everybody in the world, or are you going to choose which ones, like how can they start to identify out in the world? Who needs to hear from them at that exact moment? So, I have one of my courses in that group membership program is called Defense Mechanisms, so when you understand all of the psychological defense mechanisms that people are using, it’s almost like a flashing sign of going, ah this person is using this defense mechanism and because they’ve learned what are all of the common pains that are associated with that one, and then how would you coach someone through it? They can then pick exactly what pain they went through so they can connect with that person and help resolve that pain. Now they might be doing that through any type of a business that they create. It doesn’t have to be just some type of a coaching business, although many of my business clients they do want to start having a coaching practice because they realise that they get so much benefit out of it that they want to turn around and do that for other people, want to pay it forward. So, the second part of that is giving them the opportunity to again have the interview on my podcast. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, the podcast can serve two different functions. They’re sharing their story, but now they also, once they decide they’re going to have a business where they’re helping people, they can share their stories, so again, they’re practicing it, they’re starting to overcome some of the stigma that they might have around it. And then how can they then plug their information so that people can find them? So, for example, I have one client who is a schizophrenic coach. He lived with schizophrenia and he’s learned how to overcome it and live a productive life with schizophrenia. Now he wants to be a coach for families of schizophrenic patients. Having that lived experience is so much more important than someone that’s just read about it in a textbook because he’s going to know exactly what they went through but trying to get through the stigma of saying hey yeah, I live with schizophrenia, it’s not necessary, it doesn’t have to be a stigma. Because he knows this inside and out better than anybody else, so of course people are going to want to go to him. 

Agrita: Yeah. I also agree about providing people that platform to come forward with whatever they’ve experienced and use that as a tool to help other people. Not everyone is confident enough like you too kind of be at the forefront of all of this, so I think is so important to provide that platform to those that perhaps didn’t have that confidence in the first place to finally get that kind of stage and let everybody know about what they’re experiencing. I’m a strong environmental justice advocate and when I first reached out to you for this episode, you immediately linked the environment to our mental wellbeing and how it’s affected you and it’s affected your family as well. So have your clients being negatively affected, perhaps by the environment? Also, it would be great if you could tell us how you’ve been affected as well, because this is a major intersection that many people just don’t understand or just don’t pay attention to.

Gretchen: Right, I’ve only had one other client so far that has mentioned that the environment has impacted him. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: I don’t know if most people are aware of it like they might feel the effects of it, but because they haven’t done a deep study of themselves to try to understand what’s everything impacting their mental health. But they may not have pinpointed what it is. So for my client, and we shared a very similar background of living in areas where the temperatures are now over 100 degrees for a large number of days out of the year, and then with out in California, the increasing amount of fires – 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: – you set almost on edge all the time. You have to constantly be ready. Have all of your bags packed and have an escape route planned so having your brain always in that fear mode. That’s definitely fight flight or freeze type of a moment that starts to create some PTSD in you because that trigger is always there. Every time you see a new news report of a fire or you are driving on a freeway and all of a sudden you see the smoke off in the distance or all of a sudden you’re getting text messages from the emergency response saying there’s now an evacuation in your county. Having that always happening, you can’t relax, you can’t feel safe, so kicks your brain into over drive and you’re always on edge trying to figure out, ok, what am I going to do? And it’s like this tape that plays over and over in your mind trying to figure out how you’re going to keep yourself safe. And especially if you have a family also and then if you have a business, you have a business continuation plan, what would you do if all of a sudden you can’t be there to do your job and people are depending on you. 

Agrita: It’s so sad when I see on the news that people have lost their homes and businesses. Everything that they’ve invested in. I can’t imagine the pain to go back to where your house was and it’s not there anymore. 

Gretchen: Yeah, and it’s all of the memories. 

Agrita: Yeah, like you said, healing stars from your home and from yourself, and if that foundation has been destroyed, it’s really difficult for someone to kind of bounce back from the event. 

Gretchen: There’s a certain security with having your childhood home. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, I remember the first time that I experienced seeing my own home burned down, I didn’t even live there anymore, I grew up in and I lived in this old farmhouse. Nobody was around it and after we moved out overtime, it got condemned and the Fire Department started to use it as their practice house. So, we drive out every once in a while, just to go and reminisce. We had lived there for about I think six years or so, this is where I grew up. I mean, this had all those memories of, you know, being on the swing set and playing in my tree house and playing with my dolls. Like, all of the great things and I went back and my house was burnt and my swing set was burnt, it just it felt like such a violation. And then I went back a second time and everything was burnt all the way down to the ground and you feel like your history is just erased

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: So, the only place that you have left for those memories is in your own brain, in your own memory and in photo albums. Well then, if you happen to lose a home and you’ve lost all of your photo albums too. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: Then what? Luckily, we have a lot of online repositories, but we may or may not have time to go and put all of our photos there. So, trying to think of those things ahead of time and that’s just, that’s not a reality that I grew up with. You know, the reality I grew up with is once you build it, it stays there. You maintain it, it stays there. All of your stuff is home and safe. You don’t have to worry about losing it. And now that this is the constant reality, it’s put in our face, 5 to 10 times a year, this is our reality: that nothing is permanent anymore. That you have to constantly try to back up and provide all of these other ways of having your memories and feeling safe.

Agrita: Especially when life has become so fast paced and everyone is trying to keep up and then you have this burden that you know, you could come home one day and it’s not there anymore. 

Gretchen: Yeah.

Agrita: The mental pressure is just increased, especially with the fact that we’re in a climate crisis now. And obviously not everyone has caused it, but the ones that have the power and the money, and are emitting the most, because of those people, it’s affecting us as well and it’s just, it’s really hard to kind of grasp and accept. 

Gretchen: There’s a lot of folks that don’t know how we would even fix it, now that it’s this far gone. 

Agrita: That’s very true. 

Gretchen: And being stuck in that victim chair, not being powered to know what you can do. And you know, there might be some simple things that we can do like recycling, but then there might be extra recycling restrictions, like the United States, you can’t recycle plastic bags. 

But plastic bags are everywhere exactly. 

Agrita: Yeah! 

Gretchen: That’s definitely contributing to it, but you had touched also on the fast pace of everything. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: We might be able to recycle things, but we have to slow down and we have to actually wash them like our melt painters or our canned foods. We have to slow down and wash those. And a lot of times people feel so pressured to perform at work or do all of these extra tasks. We keep setting the bar higher and higher with all of the tasks that we’ve piled on ourselves that we can’t do a simple life anymore. We can’t slow down and take care of what we have. 

Agrita: Totally agree. Also, this kind of change and responsibility in a sense where governments are telling us to work on our habits and to work on our lifestyles, when actually if they made recycling easier for example, or they invested more money into green energy, the amount of change that would happen would be great. Of course we need to be individually trying to improve our lifestyles and to make them more “green”, but in the end it’s more of the top down approaches that will really help in resolving issues like the fires in California. 

Gretchen: Yeah, there’s, I know that one of the things that we’re looking at in California now is around our forest management, and now that I live out here on the coast, I’m surrounded by trees. I have a forest on one side of my house and the ocean on the other side. I’m surrounded by trees that have Spanish moss that have flown through the air, and one Spanish moss lands on these two 100-foot-tall trees, it starts to kill them. So, when I look around at the forest all around me, I see a lot of dry kindling for these fires, so when I first moved into this house, we have 3 trees that are very dead looking and when the storms come they start swaying. I mean these are 200-foot-tall trees and we had some of the branches fall off and hit our house and hit our septic system and break it. I called to try to find out how much would it cost to cut down these trees and I had never experienced cutting down a tree before, I mean it kind of seems counter intuitive, right? You want to keep your trees, but when they’re dead it’s time for them to go because they can cause a lot of damage. They’re also kindling for all of the fires. It was $8600. Just to take down 3 trees. So, when I’m looking around my neighborhood we have hundreds of trees that need to come down, but how can homeowners afford doing that? My neighbour right next to me has about 30 trees that need to come down. I have three. I started trying to find if there are any government grants out there and I couldn’t find any, like how do we help homeowners? I called my homeowners insurance to see would they help and they said they’d only help if the tree actually fell down and destroyed my house and at that point they pay $500 per tree to have it removed. 

Agrita: Wow, so they’re waiting for something bad! (laughs)

Gretchen: (laughs) Exactly, it’s like, well, what about the preventative measures?

Agrita: (laughs) Yeah!

Gretchen: I’m predicting that we’re going to see a rise in the demand for people to get trained in tree cutting, especially these large ones. For the longest time, we’ve been focused on trying to get everybody to go to college and get into all of the STEM jobs, I’m one of them. I started off as a scientist and then got more into the technology part of it, but we’ve forgotten that we still have all of our labour trades that were super important. So now we’re starting to find that we can’t find plumbers and we can’t find electricians because the new rules that we were putting on everybody was to go into these high tech type of jobs. 

Agrita: Yeah, so true! 

Gretchen: There was almost a stigma that was applied to doing the labour ones, but now we’re finding that that’s starting to cause us problems. We don’t have enough people that are skilled in it are now starting to retire, and they don’t have anyone to fill those jobs afterwards. 

Agrita: Again, affecting people’s mental health because the jobs that have that stigma associated to them, people aren’t doing them, even though they do want to pursue that career. And then the people that need those services are not getting them. So, it’s like this repeated cycle, stigma is such a bad thing. 

Gretchen: Exactly, and one of the things that pops up a lot with the men that I talked with, people look to the men assuming that they have these skill sets that they would know how to fix things. They would know how to do the plumbing and electrical and cutting down trees. And nowadays, in our Generation X and Generation Z and millennials, they don’t have that skill set because that was deemphasised so that they would go and learn the tech. But now it’s also stigmatised that they are now being judged that they didn’t learn that. When do we incorporate that back in? 

Agrita: Its never ending, is it right? 

Gretchen: And there’s nothing saying that women can’t learn that. My mom was a carpenter back in the 1970s. So, I learned about how women can do anything. So, I started learning how to do a lot of these jobs. So, in my household, I’m usually the one that does do all of the fixing and that was something that my husband had to definitely work on, on how he felt about that because he wasn’t taught how to do those things is. His father left early, his mom started to learn how to do those things, but he felt so bad about himself that he didn’t learn, so she was doing it. And then I’m doing it and he’s beating himself up that he’s not doing it and I’m like it’s just a task, right? It’s just a task, anyone can screw in a screw. Anyone can cut a piece of wood. It’s not gender specific.

Agrita: Exactly. I feel like women are really are at the forefront of change in all different sectors. If we start to break gender norms, if we start to do things that we want to do, regardless of what society is telling us to do, men can feel so empowered by that. So, I think the role of women is so important it. 

Gretchen: It is but we have to make sure that we’re doing it the right way though

Agrita: Yep.

Gretchen: So, I definitely noticed I’ve been, I’ve had the benefit of being supported by a lot of other women, so we’re all about women empowerment helping each other to rise and to be able to do anything to just take on the world. I’ve found that there’s a segment of that population that they view empowerment as “yay women, but let’s bash the men” (laughs).

Agrita: Yeah, I wanted to get into this part of the episode! (laughs)

Gretchen: (laughs) Yeah, so the male bashing, we don’t realise that when we do that as a way to try to empower ourselves, that we’re actually causing a very bad negative impact to men and their mental health.

Agrita: Yeah. 

GretchenIt’s possible to empower both genders. So, we talk about that we want to change the gender stereotypes for women, and women can do anything, yet when are we going to stand by our men that are now doing other gender roles? So, I have some folks in the Mens’ Feelings Matter Facebook group that are single dads, like we don’t see that very often. We see single women or single moms and we want to support them and do all of those things, but when it’s a man, they’re not given the same type of support. One of the discussions that the men had in one of the support groups was, this was when a dad takes his daughter to the park, all of the judgmental looks of the people around that they’re assuming that the man is up to no good

Agrita: No way!

Gretchen: Because he’s there with a young girl, yet he’s a dad with his daughter. Just, you know, trying to get her out, having physical activity, and having a good time. Single dads that need help in paying for food, so in California we have what’s called WIC, it’s women, infants and children, it’s a way for folks that are single parents that have low income to be able to get supplemental income so that they can go out and buy food. But when you’re a single dad, that’s not available to you. The assumption is that if you’re a man, you’re making an income and that it’s substantial income, being a single parent is hard. You may have a good job. You might not have a good job. But then you have daycare expenses because you’re the only one there to take care of this kid and daycare expenses are really high. I know at one point I was paying $1700 a month. For two kids to be in daycare. Well, you have to have a pretty high paying job to be able to do that and pay to keep a roof over your head and have food. So, if you’re a single dad and you don’t happen to have a job that pays that high, and you have all of this extra expense and then you go to get support that is normally allotted for a single parent, you’re told no ’cause you’re a man, how is that helping anyone? 

Agrita: A lot of child care services are actually made for mothers, whether it’s single mothers or anything like that. I haven’t really seen those support mechanisms for dads, especially single dads, so yeah, it’s really confusing. It’s like we’re telling men to be more compassionate and considerate, and when they do all of those things, we just want to bash them for it. 

Gretchen: Yeah. One of the topics that comes up a lot with my men’s group is that when they try to talk with their spouses about their feelings, that the women shut them down and tell them that they’re being narcissistic, or that they’re only thinking about themselves and they’re being insensitive to the women’s feelings, and that they need to just suck it up and they need to be there for the woman. 

Agrita: That’s crazy!

Gretchen: What’s happening is that the dynamic is 100% support the woman and her emotional state, and zero support for the man. Where is the man supposed to go there? There’s this stigma about men going and getting any kind of mental health services. Coaching for men is relatively new and men are gonna feel like they can’t spend any money on themselves for emotional support. 

Agrita: Yeah.

Gretchen: Where did they go? And yet (laughs), when they show up not having their emotions intact, they’re judged for that. But women, they get to have all sorts of maintenance and support. So how (laughs)? I like to introduce the concept of taking turns in a relationship. When will the woman take a turn to be there for the man and emotionally support him? And then when can the man take a turn and be there for the woman? And that has to be a conversation between the people in the relationship, that they actually want to do that and what would that look like? So, there’s a lot of boundary work that can happen to set that up, and it’s for a shared result, right? So, they have to align on what they want for themselves as a couple, as opposed to “well, no, you don’t care about me, no you don’t care about me”. You know, it’s not this tug of war thing. It doesn’t [come out of] anger, it comes out of love, that you actually love each other and you want this together. 

Agrita: I think the main reason why relationships fail, especially heterosexual ones, is that people become quite self-centered. So, it’s about you caring for me and me caring for you, and not kind of finding that healthy balance of okay, there is a specific time where I should listen to my partner and my partner should listen to me. Like you said, it’s about this shared feeling in the relationship and a lot of relationships fail because people don’t understand that, the women can get that outlet of their emotions and what they’re feeling, but men don’t get that. And if a man is bottling up his emotions and his experiences, it can turn pretty nasty very quickly. 

Gretchen: Yeah. Well, and this happens in all relationships. So, I also have gay couples that I coach and it’s really interesting, some of the dynamics that they talk about, it’s the same stuff that’s happening in heterosexual relationships. And then when I start talking with people that are having relationship issues with their parents or with their kids or with people at work, it’s the same thing. We’re not taking time to sit down and go okay, what is person A’s needs? Okay, now what’s persons B’s needs? And then, how can we meet all of those needs together? 

Agrita: So, it’s all about having that compromise, in a sense? 

Gretchen: It it’s not necessarily even the compromise. It is the problem solving, the creative problem solving. It is possible that everybody’s needs can be met, it’s just you have to be creative in how you meet those needs. You don’t actually have to not have your needs met. That’s what compromise is about. It’s, how do you get your needs met in a very creative way

Agrita: Yeah. I think timing is also really important, depending on what someone is experiencing and when it’s the right time to let out your emotions and what you’ve experienced. Because a lot of the time, people don’t see that someone is suffering and they put on their pain on them without kind of being considerate that they already suffering. Perhaps listen to them and then find a good time where you can tell your pain. 

Gretchen: That, it definitely goes back to the taking turns. That’s one of the things that I like about that weekly support group, is that we are taking turns. Everybody gets a turn to share, and it might only be 5 minutes each, depending on how many people show up, but everybody is important. Everybody gets a chance. 

Agrita: You are a coach for men’s mental health, but do you think it’ll be good if you could stretch out to women as well, especially those women that don’t understand that men have a right to say what they’re feeling and they need that space, but they don’t know how to give them the space? Or perhaps that they don’t see that it’s a major issue that they’re not getting that space? Have you helped women in the past, or do you want to? 

Gretchen: So, the answer is yes to all of that! (laughs) So, half of my listeners to my podcast are women, and I offer 1-1 service, and group services, the 1-1 services I make available to men and women, and I find that there are more women that are reaching out for that right now than for men. I think it’s just because they’ve already come to the realisation that it is really important to invest in yourself and invest in your own brain. Invest in your own mental health. So, I do want to make sure that there’s spaces available for the men, but absolutely want to support the women too. I would love to be able to create the women’s version of Unshakable because honestly, the program itself and the six courses that are included in it are applicable to everybody. It’s just trying to manage it from a bandwidth perspective, so currently I’m a solopreneur, but eventually as I have more clients coming in, I’ll be able to hire employees and what my hope is, is that some of the members within my programs will want to become those employees. So, I have the opportunity to develop them more in the programs that I have and then once they are able to take on some of the duties that I do, then it can open up me a women’s version of Unshakable. 

Agrita: That’s great! What would you say to those people that say that if men have, throughout time, as long as humans have existed, been able to, you know, be at the top positions and to essentially rule the world in the form of patriarchy, what do you say to those people, when it comes to giving men that space to open up, a lot of people say to me “well, if we’ve always heard men, why should we continue to hear them?” That is the main thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve been guilty of having that mindset as well at one point. So, what would you say to those people? 

Gretchen: This is a very good point, because I’ve had to consider this one too, and it’s really more of the conversation that the men are having. We’ve had that traditional leadership style, which is just push through it, just do it, do whatever it takes. Self-sacrifice. That’s not the conversation to have anymore. That does not help mental health whatsoever, so we need to find the men that are willing to put mental health first

Agrita: Yeah. 

Gretchen: Those are the compassionate men that are willing to share their stories, share their vulnerability, share about their mental journey and the impact of how living using a traditional leadership style or traditional work style or those traditional male role models, how that negatively impacted them and how they chose to be authentic instead, and to go with compassion first, and now what their life is like. When we get those men talking, that’s when the world is going to start changing. That’s when the world is going to start healing. 

Agrita: Thank you so much Gretchen for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’m so happy that you’re joining so many other women and men to redefine feminism and to let people know that feminism is not about hating men or bashing men. It’s about supporting both genders, so I’m very, very glad to have talked to you today. 

Gretchen: Thank you Agrita. I really appreciate having this opportunity to talk with you and to answer these types of questions. 

OUTRO: I absolutely loved talking to Gretchen, she has such a soothing, reassuring voice and words things so beautifully. I don’t think I could have talked to anyone but her for understanding the stigmas around men’s mental health and how to be a better ally! Check out her podcast My Freedom Grove and if you are a man listening, check our her support resources. Thank you all for listening, remember to subscribe to the newsletter, follow me on Instagram, FaceBook, Twitter and Pinterest, and support the podcast through buying my eco-friendly pin badges and writing reviews for the show. Please do keep safe and don’t feel ashamed to talk about your mental health. Until the next episode, happy listening!