What is Daily Mental Health for Gay Men?
Recently, on a Monday morning, I woke up ready to face the week and preparing to get my head in the game doing my work as a gay men’s specialist psychotherapist and life/career/relationship coach. I had my usual morning routine, and a thought came to me about what is involved in adopting a good mind-set for the week.
What is “daily mental health?” I asked myself.
This differs for people in different circumstances, ages, geographic locations, privileges, challenges, and the balance of life-enhancing experiences versus life-detracting experiences, such as hardships or trauma.
As I thought about what is daily mental health, especially for my client population of gay men, I came up with some various ideas to share with you:
1. Each day, we navigate interpersonal relationships that affect our mental health, whether enhancing it or detracting from it. Whether that’s with a partner/spouse, roommate, sibling, parent, boss, coworker, neighbor, friend, or customer/client. Each relationship means something significant to us, probably in some kind of mix of good things and bad things we associate with each of those people. We might have a coworker whom we think is kind of an egomaniac, and we exercise caution about waiting to roll our eyes only when he can’t see us to do it. But, then, maybe he’s hot, too, and it’s a daily treat to see what Mr. GQ is going to wear today. Each interpersonal interaction we face probably has an up side and a down side that make us respond and react to that person, internally and externally.
Wouldn’t it be nice if part of putting our head in the game to face each day were to be focused on the positive aspects of those interpersonal experiences? Can we forgive and try to overlook Mr. Braggart’s latest bravado monologue and just focus on how fun it is to admire other things about him? This is true for everyone. It’s a lot less depressing if we deliberately focus on the positive traits of others. Gay icon Dolly Parton even has a billboard out (maybe it’s some organization just quoting her; I don’t remember the purpose of the billboard) that has a photo of Dolly with the quote, “Find the good in everyone.” Old-time country wisdom, but if it works for her (pretty obviously), we can adopt that for ourselves.
2. I’ve discussed before about the importance to our mental health and Quality of Life about managing our resources of Time, Energy, and Money. We all have those, maybe just in different proportions. We all get 24 hours a day – that’s why Time is the Great Equalizer – but we each have a different number of days allotted to us in this lifetime. Energy and money can vary greatly, from person to person and also from era to era in our lifespan.
What if we were to focus – again, that word that we use to exercise our best approach to idealized/maximized mental health as we start each day – on managing those resources of Time, Energy, and Money in empowered, balanced, rewarding ways?
Good Time Management is not only a mental health variable, helping us to feel less stressed out and less of what Louise Hay used to call “poor in Time,” if we’re always rushed, which is almost synonymous with stressed. We declare, internally, that we are the owners, keepers, and managers of how we allocate and distribute our time to tasks with ourselves (alone) and with others. When we are empowered in Time, we feel like we are making the decisions of when to start something, when to stop it, and how to do it during that duration. Are we balancing Time among work and play? Are we balancing it among immediate, short-term, long-term, and very long term goals? Are we spending Time in rewarding ways? Even at work, work is not play, so work might not be overall as rewarding or fun as play (although for some of us, it is), but maybe it’s enjoyable because we feel productive – or, such as when I do this (create content for my clients and followers), I enjoy the thought and hope that spending time doing this might be helpful to someone, and that feels good almost as much as something I might do personally or recreationally. It’s a different kind of “rewarding” way to spend Time.
Energy spent in empowered, balanced, and rewarding ways is very similar, because, again, we are reflecting on our values and making sometimes moment-to-moment choices on what to spend energy on. Lots of self-help and advice resources repeat the caution that we are probably happier if we spend energy on things that are rewarding, versus spending energy on more negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences that bring us down, such as ruminating on how someone has wronged us, or perseverating on something we did “wrong” that we regret, or rehashing something in the past that can’t be changed anyway. Our energy is a finite, precious resource before we feel tired, or spent, or exhausted, and we have to rest up, either for break or a nap or a good night’s sleep, until that energy is replenished, like when we plug our phones in to charge. People are like that. I feel about 10 percent battery by the time I get ready for bed.
Money is always “the big one” when we talk about spending it in empowered, balanced, and rewarding ways in our daily tasks. It just costs money to live, for things we “have to” pay for, like housing or electricity or insurances or transportation or food, and for things we have “discretionary” spending for. A good question to ask when we approach Money is to think twice and test ourselves to make sure that we are spending our discretionary money, at least, in ways that speak to our values. Sometimes we are, and that’s great, like sticking to a budget and feeling confident about that. Other times, we realize that we are “wasting” money, meaning spending a disproportionate amount of it on something that does not have a commensurate priority in our own value system – we’re being “ripped off” by what we’re paying for what we’re getting. Spending too much on alcohol can be a common way I hear gay men complain about money, because our culture can be so focused around that.
3. Another part of our mental health each day is to live with a self-awareness of what time it is, as I like to call it. It’s probably dorky to spend too much time on this (guilty as charged here), but it can be interesting to think about where are living in our time in History. What is a current atmosphere of our arts and culture, politics, economics, climate, laws, and customs? How might we be the same people, but living in a different era, like it was the 1920’s? For gay men, maybe our gay self-expression would be pretty darn validated, like if we lived in relatively progressive times like 1920’s Weimar Republic Berlin. But if we were living during Red Scare 1950’s, gay men would be victims of a broad sense of threat about being “found out” as gay and socially, physically, politically, and economically persecuted for it. We wouldn’t be different people, but our Time in History affects how we would have experienced our own mental health because of the effects of the Epoch of our time.
What about phase of life? Is our mental health on this fine Monday morning we’re talking about here better, or worse, than it might have been 5, 10, 15, even 20 years ago, depending on how old we were then. Do we speculate about what our mental health might be like those same 5, 10, 15, or 20 years in the future? Would our mental health be affected by the traffic of our space-car having traffic from the Sea of Tranquility Pod to our office in the Appennine Mountain Region when we’re all living on the Moon? Who knows!
We can all “feel” the same throughout our lifespan, which is something I’ve learned from older relatives. Hint: Old people don’t know they’re old. I mean, they do, but they tend to overall think like they did when they were young. That’s why older people can feel “shock” when looking in the mirror in the morning sometimes. My great-aunt, walking into the Day Room at her nursing home when she was having her 100th birthday, said, “Where does a hundred years go??”
Our mental health can certainly be affected by the Time of Year. If we are sensitive to Seasonal Affective Disorder, the lack of sunlight (depending on where we live on the globe) can unfortunately exacerbate Depression. If it’s our birthday, maybe there’s a spring in our step from being in a celebration mood (let’s hope it’s celebratory and not depressed). Maybe it’s getting cool enough outside that we can finally wear our favorite Fall jacket again. Maybe it’s warm enough that we can skip the jacket or hat and just head out for the day as is.
It can be orienting to our Sense of Self to consider the history, phase of life, and time of year it is. Our mental health can even change in the course of the day; I often feel energized and creative at night, when I do most of my writing, rather than first thing in the morning when just getting access to coffee takes an inordinate amount of real estate in my head. The trick is to try to find something to enjoy about our current times, which can be challenging, and our phase of life, which is unlike whatever comes before it or after it, and the time of year. You don’t really enjoy a pool party in February or try to build a snowman in July (again, depending on where you live). Our mental health is served best when we try our best to just enjoy “where we are.”
4. Our daily mental health is also certainly affected by any kind of chronic psychiatric disorder or disability or condition we live with. Good mental health on those kinds of days is adopting a mind-set that helps us feel empowered to cope with our symptoms that we might not be entirely able to avoid. For most psychiatric disorders, it’s usually about symptom management and adaptive coping strategies, more so than symptom eradication (if it were only that easy). No matter which of the “acronyms” we have – MDD Depression, BPD Borderline, ADD, OCD, PTSD, or others like General Anxiety or dealing with the effects of substance recovery, we are reminding ourselves daily to either seek out new tools to cope with our symptoms (that’s where therapy comes in, hint-hint), or we are re-focusing to practice the tools we’ve already learned and put them into practice anew, each day. Our we activating and using our Cognitive tools? Can we reframe a negative thought, that maybe pops into our head rather intrusively, about ourselves, the world around us, or our future? Aaron Beck, the father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (my favorite technique to use, among others) said that the genesis of Depression is those negative thoughts, repeated, almost relentlessly, from one or more of those categories. But if we can stop, re-think, re-frame that negative thought into something more neutral, or even positive, we can lessen what’s called its “depresso-genic” effects. Re-write that automatic negative thought that pops into your head to lessen its effects.
Can we identify a coping behavior to do when we have symptoms? Do we need to active Progressive Muscle Relaxation in anxiety? Do we need to do mental behavioral rehearsal to take the sting out of anticipating a stressful event, like giving a speech at work? (My ex-boyfriend, who is still a very good friend, is a coach for that, by the way, “the_business_speaker” on Instagram, based in Sao Paolo, Brazil). Do we need to “ground” ourselves by paying attention to our current surroundings, if a traumatic thought is intrusive and distracting us? Our we practicing what’s called Medication Adherence, and getting the daily doses of our medications so they can optimally do their job, not just some, when we’re only getting partial benefit. Daily mental health means remembering, and implementing, the things we are learning in therapy; that’s our homework.
5. Good mental health can be about self-discipline. This is a tough one, especially for people (like me) with ADD and distractibility that wastes time is NOT our friend. We have to remind ourselves, with daily practice, to conduct our lives according to our Values, Priorities, and Goals of the day. We try to be ready to cope with intrusive distractions and events that “go wrong” in the day that we didn’t plan for. Those things throw us off track in our mental focus, our behavioral “list” of things to do, and even our mood. Stop. Pause. Breathe. Re-focus. Retake control. Re-commit to what you were doing. Gym workouts can be that way after we got chatting with someone. We work toward our goals daily when we have goals for the immediate, like, this afternoon, the short term, like this week or this month, and the long-term, like the rest of this quarter or this year, and very long term, like finishing up our degree or professional credential in a couple of years.
6. Part of our mental health is similar to this, about Focus, when we engage in Deliberate Work, because there’s a time for that, down to business, no distractions, and in Deliberate Play, when it’s not about earning a living, being productive, being ideal, or even “behaving ourselves.” Gay icon Katharine Hepburn said, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” People with OCD (also like me!) have to remind themselves about this, and believe me, it takes work to remind yourself to play sometimes! Deliberate work and deliberate play is a big thing that separates us from being kids; it’s a big part of that “adulting” word you about these days, which means you have to accept responsibility in order to get where you’re going. I was raised by a strict disciplinarian, and I frankly don’t recommend that, honestly, because it was not fun. But I do believe in a healthy – key word, healthy – self-discipline, because that yields rewards down the line. Slow and steady wins the race, which can be true in professional development, building a business, evolving a relationship, and managing your finances. “Act With Intention” is another adage, or “living with determination” is what we hear from a lot of people we admire who have achieved something that maybe we’d like to achieve ourselves, like writing a book or building a nest egg.
7. Mental health is also about a self-awareness of who we are in our Past, Present, and Future. These things are most valuable if we focus on the best aspects of each, not the negative things. From our Past, we can’t dwell on past traumas or the bad stuff, even thought we do need to identify, acknowledge, validate, and express our feelings (again, therapy can help with that). But we also want to focus positively on what we have learned; what have we done or enjoyed in the past that maybe we can appreciate about ourselves, and borrow some of that in the present or future.
In our Present, there would be plenty to be really bummed about if we based our mood on the latest CNN news update, which is designed – we have to remember that – designed to provoke our negative emotions because those get our attention to sell their advertising which is what their business is all about. What can we enjoy now? Is it a meal? Is it spending time with someone we like? Is it something we can watch or be entertained by? Is it something we can read, and learn today, that we didn’t know this time yesterday?
And our Future: plenty to worry about. Anxiety is often the product of just saying “but What If…” followed by some kind of fear scenario or negative circumstance. But just as we can say “What If” followed by a negative prediction about our future, we can also say “What If” about a positive scenario, as long as we’re at the business of speculating. Somebody said (look it up and comment if you’d like), “I’ve been troubled in my life by the thought of my many trials and tribulations – most of which never happened.” Futures are tough things – we may or may not have much of one. Stuff happens. But whatever it is, we have to live with the anxiety that we don’t know – and that’s OK. We don’t know what’s inside a wrapped gift, either, but we can learn to enjoy the anticipation of unwrapping it, because regardless of what it is, the reveal is part of the fun. And even if it’s not exactly what we wanted, maybe we can re-gift it or put it to some kind of good use. And if it is what we wanted, we get to celebrate, and cherish, and acknowledge it.
Shirley MacLaine famously said, “I deserve this,” as she accepted her Academy Award. That sounds a little more immodest than I would have chosen to be, but you can hear the pride, and relief, and joy in that, knowing that she probably tried the hardest she could, bringing all her acting skills to bear, on early mornings and long days on a movie set trying to get 100 things to go just right, and when it was time to celebrate – well, it was time to celebrate. Yep. It’s true. I worked hard. And I deserve this.
There are probably a hundred more tips, tricks, and mind-sets we can put ourselves into to maximize our mental health at the start of each day. But maybe some of these are the ones just right for you. It can make a difference – which is why we do the work to work on ourselves. Because our day is worth it. This life is worth. Life is a gift to us from our Universe, but we do with it is our gift back. And we deserve this.
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For help in your mental health or well-being, each day or any day, consider therapy or coaching. Therapy is for guys in California, the state in the U.S. where I’m licensed to practice, or life/career/relationship/sex coaching can be from anywhere in the world, if you’re still awake in your time zone. Visit GayTherapyLA.com or GayCoachingLA.com for more details, call/text 310-339-5778 in the U.S. or on WhatsApp, or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com. I’d be happy to help.