One of the positive stereotypes that are assigned to gay men (as welcome respite to so many negative ones) is that we have good taste. Our sense of our clothes, grooming, cars, and homes are respected to be stylish, up-to-date, and of good design and quality. But is this so for everyone?
Recently I was working with a client yet again on a theme that comes up fairly often in my practice, and that is the effect of someone’s home on my client’s mood and outlook. If your office or your home is not a place that is conducive to feeling good about yourself, it can make depression or anxiety worse. Our homes, ideally, should be a reflection of ourselves, an extension outwardly about what’s going on on the inside.
Think about the great set designers of Hollywood films and TV shows. Most of us know (through first run, or re-runs) what Mary Richards’ apartment looked like in Minneapolis – homey, tasteful, a bit conservative, kind of like Mary. And we know what kookie neighbor, Rhoda, and her apartment looked like – beads, brighter colors, kitsch. Or we know the tropical, feminine look of Blanche Devereaux’s house where “The Golden Girls” lived. Or the macabre, stylized bizarre flair of “The Addams Family”. In each of those cases, and more, the set reflected the personality, values, culture, and even the socio-economic status of the characters who lived there. Does where you live reflect these aspects of yourself? If not, maybe there is some work to do to bring your home environment in congruence with your character and ideal mood.
As a psychotherapist in full-time private practice, specializing in gay men, I find that gay men’s sensibilities includes just a little “extra” investment in how our looks and our home affect our mood – perhaps more than other demographics. We seem to have a direct line between looking good and feeling good, and that includes our home. If we’re frustrated by things that are, as I used to say in frustration about my condo building’s common areas when my husband and I first moved in, before extensive remodeling, “filthy, broken, or outdated”, then we need to make a commitment to changing them, as best we can with the means that we have.
My clients range from younger men who have to make the most of not many resources to fix up an apartment in an “OK” area of LA, or even a room in someone else’s house or apartment, all the way up to some of our country’s most talented and high-end designers and architects. But in each case, we explore how making changes to our physical home environment is really a part of taking care of ourselves, particularly where depression is concerned.
A home that is “filthy, broken, or outdated”, or even just not to our taste, can exacerbate feelings of sadness, hopelessness, withdrawal, helplessness, demoralization, or amotivation. If there is clutter, we feel “un-clear” to approach our problems head-on and take the actions we need to take, cognitively and behaviorally, to improve our quality of life. Louise Hay, one of my favorite New Age authors/speakers, says that when we clean out our closets, we’re really clearing out our minds. My former personal assistant was a professional organizer, who, between acting roles, took on organizing gigs of many kinds. She and others like her provide valuable services to help you feel liberated from the tyranny that is clutter and disarray. Several clients who have undertaken this task, for either their home or office, report that they feel relaxed and freed to have their physical environment in order, and it can open our minds to possibilities, new points of view, and a fresh start, unburdened by the “clutter” (physical and emotional) of our past.
As an Adjunct Associate Professor of clinical social work in the graduate MSW program at USC, I teach about the “person-in-environment” theory of social work. It posits that we must always consider the cultural, geographic, historical, and social context of our clients and what they are facing. Having depression when you live in a big-city high-rise is somewhat different from having depression if you live on a farm in a rural community. The practice of life-coaching, which I also provide (in my office and via Skype) teaches that life often gives us “tolerations” – little pains in the neck that aren’t that much by themselves, but collectively, they add up to undermine our quality of life. Addressing these tolerations – taking at least some time, attention, energy, and money to address them – can have the effect of “lightening our load”, one thing at a time.
Think about how you’ve been feeling lately. Have you been depressed or anxious? What is your subjective mood, especially at home, most of the time? Now, think about what are the “tolerations” in your home? Is something broken that needs to be fixed? Does something not function as it should? Is something the wrong color that needs to be modified or replaced? Is something missing that you really need to add? Is something not “done right” that needs to fixed from a craftsperson point of view? Is something dull or chipped that needs to be painted? Is something cluttered that needs to be cleaned out? How might changing or fixing some of these affect your subjective experience of your home? Or, maybe it’s time to move to a new place that better reflects “where you are” at this stage of your life.
Self-empowerment (my favorite word in my practice) means that we are not helpless in this life; we have the power to change a lot of things (and, as the saying goes, we also need to cultivate the serenity to accept the things we truly cannot change – although I think there are relatively few of these. We can always change our attitude, about anything – especially if we focus on gratitude). Self-empowerment involves our thinking and behavior, sure, but it also extends to our ability to change, to some degree, our appearance, our finances, our job, our social life, our habits, and our homes. How do you think you could increase your sense of self-empowerment about improving where you live?
It is our right, our responsibility, to have a “goodness of fit” with our home environment. Since we pay for it, everything from “low rent” to “jumbo mortgages”, it’s up to us to make our house a home. We make our bed, and we lie in it. That’s self-empowerment.
As our “friend” Dorothy says, “There is no place like home.”
Ken Howard, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist and life/career coach who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, for over 22 years. He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you to thrive.
For help improving your personal or professional life, whatever your current challenges are, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy sessions, at his office in Los Angeles/West Hollywood (near Beverly Center mall), or via phone, or via Skype, anywhere in the world. Call or text 310-339-5778 or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com for more information.
Ken is also available for expert witness work on legal proceedings involving gay issues, all LGBT issues, HIV issues, and issues concerning psychiatric illness or disability, as well as organizational consulting for non-profit organizations, corporations, college campuses, and conferences.
To get your copy of his self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!, click here. It’s your “portable therapist” for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.