Monday, December 15, 2008

Advice re: depression anxiety stress holidays home

It’s been a while since I wrote some advice for those dealing with ordinary or clinical depression or anxiety, so I’d like to make that the focus of this posting.

Additionally, since so many people are undergoing severe economic stress, and right before the holidays, these audiences converge and anyone can and should apply what I will explain here.

It’s also going to be a topic regarding understanding human nature and society’s effects (both good and bad) and, as if those topics were not enough, about hobbies and decorating.

The approach I want to take is to start with the opening underlying principle which is that many people are depressed, anxious and stressed because they no longer understand their own authentic motivations and sources of fulfillment in life. In other words, many people are highly critical of themselves and others in areas they should not be so concerned about, while ignoring and thus not cultivating the good, relaxed and easy going parts of their life. I spent years in a corporate world where ninety percent of people’s assessment of your worth was how early you got to the office, and how late you stayed after everyone left. Needless to say that growing societal attitude has had terrible ramifications, and much of the boomerang of those types of fallacious assumptions about individual or community worth is yet to be felt. So I decided to explain a basic human drive that everyone has, one that is good and should be honored and satisfied in an authentic and open way. You’ll see that by denying this drive, the yearnings it represents spills out in behaviors that are not as healthy, such as addictions, focus on material goods on the one hand yet depriving one’s self of other material goods on the other hand, and strange policies such as “spending one’s way out of economic problems.”

Every human has a homing instinct, a desire to have a home. This is true even of those of the homeless who elect to live that way, because they will select “their” place in the park, or under the bridge. Even the homeless who elect to be mobile have cars or carts that are arranged to suit their sense of “place.” But people feel that homing instinct in different ways, including by gender. People need to stop shying away from discussing gender differences and preferences out of fear of being “politically incorrect.” If one refuses to discuss what genders honestly prefer, when given choices, that is like saying it does not matter if a woman prefers something, or a man prefers something, there should be only one choice on the menu. So if you look at how the universal drive and urge of a homing instinct operates within individuals by group, you will see gender, age and social milieu differences. Let’s start with women.

Women tend to have a “nesting instinct” as their preference for expressing their homing instinct. “Nesting instinct” has become a “bad term,” demonized by feminist oppressors who think that nesting only refers to that feudal and ‘bad’ desire to have babies. But that is not true, even if that has through the ages been the obviously manifestations. First of all, do you not notice that squirrels live in nests year around? They make big fluffy nests out of leaves that are almost like round quilted hives on the top of trees, thus keeping them warm. Crows are known to adorn their nest with all sorts of manmade objects, such as pieces of metal, jewelry, cloth, and all sorts of “junk.” These are just two of the many animal kingdom examples of a “nesting instinct,” which is to create a home that is uplifting, satisfying and nurturing, even if one is the only occupant. Unrecognized this is why so many women are “shopaholics” and addicted to shopping. Shopping is the act of gathering those items that one is going to use to adorn one’s nest (including one’s own bodily outfitting, such as clothes and cosmetics, but that is a different slant on this topic and I’ll reserve it for future discussions). Whatever women are shopping for or just browsing, they are highly motivated by their own “nesting instincts” and that is a good thing! The problem is that without recognizing that one is motivated by nesting instinct, oddly enough one tends to buy things that detract from the pleasure of the actual nest rather than enhances it. I’ll discuss how and why that happens in a bit.

Men also have a “nesting instinct” but with a very different slant. We used to describe it in the old saying that “a man’s home is his castle.” Men tend to view their home as being “home base.” Thus they are also attracted to obtaining objects that enhance the home, but these will be different types of objects and, in general, they dislike the actual task of shopping with one big exception: men love to shop for “gear.” Because a man’s home is his castle, and also his “lair,” and his “base of operations” or “home base,” men love to obtain “gear” to outfit his castle. That, in general, is the only thing they will gladly go through prolonged shopping experiences to obtain. Even men who love to decorate and style their homes, and there are many of them, tend to have a very functional drive in their styling. They tend to gravitate toward styles and decors that express, even unconsciously, the “gearing up” of the home. This is why they think that a large flat screen TV enhances the décor of a room, while many women find that it’s not the most attractive of objects.

Now, I have had a lot of gay friends in my past and I would be remiss to not explain what I have learned from them about their preferences. There is the joke about having “gaydar,” the ability to detect if someone is gay and while there is some truth to that in the topic we are discussing, one must be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Gay men have the same “nesting” and “home as castle” instincts as straight men and women, but all the one’s I’ve known have had a twist to the “home as castle” feeling. My gay friends and colleagues have all had a focus on the castle as being not so much their base of operations but as an integral part of the cleanliness and purity. Some of you who have stereotypes about gays may find that to be surprising, but it is true. Now, I am speaking anecdotally of my friendships and acquaintances with gay men going back to the late 1970’s, and this was when most were still in “the closet.” What I learned from observing them, visiting their homes and apartments, shopping with them (total fun) and receiving gifts from them for birthdays and so forth is that they have what one would think of as “the best of both worlds” in regard to how they combine the “nesting” objectives that women have with the “base of operations” that straight men have. But because they have such a focus on cleanliness and purity as being objectives for their base of operations, they have much less of a “gear” interest than straight men. They are not rigging out their home as either the lair for when one is under “siege,” “retreating to the cave,” or as Batman’s technology wonder. They tend to want a base of operation that they can rely on as being clean and pure and are thus more interested in maintaining a clean and ordered home and less interest in the latest remote control device or hunting gear. Do not mistake that as being “feminine,” because when I’ve seen my gay friends, trust me, it is like combat rather and frilliness. Gay guys I have known, in general, prefer greater order and cleanliness in their home style than women or straight men.

We all know that young people also have the homing instinct, but it tends to take the form of “their room,” which is their place of privacy during especially the adolescent years. Girls tend to make it their ‘self esteem nest’ during those fragile times of growing up, while boys tend to make their room ‘their lair.’ Now, I am going to talk to you about something very serious, because as you remember, this is about depression, anxiety, stress and other problems, and not just about decorating style. When children do not have their homing instinct satisfied, they join gangs. Yes, children want their own rooms and privacy, but they want a stable and sane home even more. Children of broken families in tough and poor neighborhoods and, alarmingly, increasingly in suburbs, will direct their unfulfilled homing instincts toward gang membership. Their “castle” then becomes their gang’s blocks of control, which is their “turf.” This is why you see young men totally destroy each other when they think one “strays” onto “their” patch. One cannot solve the gang problem without understanding that young boys and men join gangs for a large part driven by that unfulfilled need to have “their lair” and “their home is their castle.” When a father figure, “the good king” is absent, there is no castle and they will seek one elsewhere. Girls then follow them, because their ‘self esteem nest’ is no longer in their home or apartment, especially if they too suffer in a broken or dysfunctional family unit. They then derive their ‘self esteem nest’ from being where the gang bangers are in their “castle,” in their portable “lairs.”

So I have sketched a quick profile of how everyone shares the need for satisfying their homing instinct, even if one is a street person, and whether one is male or female, straight or gay, young or old, rich or poor. One of the large sources of depression and anxiety is when the “home” that one has does not match the profile of what one emotionally needs.

Women have been the first victims of this problem where they think they are satisfying their individual “nesting instinct” but are instead fulfilling societal expectations. To put it simply: too many women spend too much money on things that they think are making them happy but are actually barriers to their obtaining things that would make them happier. Women have become efficient shoppers, and they are good at finding what they are looking for, but many of them buy things and create homes that do not fuel their spirit, uplift them and nourish their well being. They want those things, which is why they fall for all sorts of “spa” products and so forth, but they have broken the feedback loop, which tells you if one feels “better” or “not” after each home or décor decision. Let’s look at some different examples.

Women will paint the walls of their rooms with colors they have chosen to be “trendy,” “stylish,” “unique,” or for “special effects,” rather than paint them the color that makes them feel good whenever they are in that room. I mean, you don’t have to be a Feng Shui expert to figure that out, yet I’ve now seen forty years of women who don’t even recognize if their choices actually make them feel happier or not. Here’s how it works and all of you women who are honest will recognize exactly what I mean. When you paint or decorate a room, you stand back and view it with the perspective of “how it good or impressive it would look to an arriving guest.” You even stand in the doorway, as if you have just “arrived” and see the room for the “first time,” to get the overall impression. That is an example of the “third person” mindset that society has brainwashed everyone with, especially women.

See, here is how it is with me, so you can compare. I can live like a real slob. For example, I tend to have my clothes strewn all around my bedroom, and choose what to wear by what is clean and what is available. However, when I style or decorate my home, including the placement of even a piece of functional furniture, I do not rest until I have put it in a place where I feel “better” in the every day viewing and living among that object, rather than worse. For example, when I pause while typing this, I look up to rest my eyes and face a wall where there is a table that I made, with both decorative and functional objects. I will not accept any object or arrangement that does not give me uplift and comfort to look at, and I will immediately change anything that does not “contribute” to the joy of the room. Many women I know are the opposite. They fight the battle for neatness but they let themselves be surrounded by objects and décor-often horribly expensive-that surreptitiously drags them down. This is an especial losing battle for women who are battling depression. They are so used to feeling bad that even when they try to style their rooms they have that “third person guest standing in the door” assessment rather than adding an object that gives them real pleasure. Also, people in general who have suffered a trauma in life have a particular dilemma about objects that “remind” them in a bad way and objects that “commemorate” or “heal” in a good way.” You see what I mean?

This is why goofy little old ladies, such as my mother, will have the same couple of objects in the same place for forty years and be content: because they found the formula of objects and arrangement that always makes them feel “better” when they are in that room doing their normal activities. That generation is a dying breed, and you can learn from them to be very cautious and conservative about “adding” anything to one’s décor to ensure that you are only adding items that are uplifting, supportive and joyous.

Now, most of us, including most certainly me, cannot thrive with the same arrangement day after day for decades. In fact, being a somewhat frantically busy artistic sort, since my décor is my art it tends to change every day, since I use my arts and crafts projects and supplies as décor themselves. But here is the first tip that I want to offer, and it’s taken from traditional Japanese culture and spirituality.

Have one place in your room where you enjoy having a picture or a painting. Rather than hang all of the pictures you own and enjoy, rotate three or four of them in that one location every few months. This is something I have done pretty much all of my life, in dorms, apartments and houses. Traditional Japanese have an alcove, a kind of place of honor for their favorite art, and every few months they change what is the painting or scroll that is displayed there, drawing upon favorites that are kept in storage. An obvious system would be a favorite painting or scroll that comes out matching each new season.

The key is that these are paintings or pictures that YOU love and feel better looking at, not what the imaginary third party visitor would be impressed with as stylist. (Though it often has exactly that effect, because what makes you honestly feel better tends to provide an authentic style that people admire). This is the reason why I would have many pictures and paintings in the attic, but rotate several of them a few times a year. Another tip is to have an easel and use the easel to display a favorite picture, as with the easel you can bring the picture off of the wall and into the room at pleasing locations for more three dimensional viewing and participation. I bought a very inexpensive raw wood easel at Wal-Mart that I assembled and painted, and use it even in my small apartment for that purpose, and I have just rotated onto it a new picture that I bought at the antique flea market this week, and moved it to a different location.

So what I am advising you all to do is to be aware of and follow these principles:

1) Whether it is décor or functional, find the placement for each object in your home that adds rather than detracts from your feeling of joy, comfort or satisfaction while in that room. Be aware that even unconscious decisions can drag you down. For example, if you are stuck having something utilitarian in the room with you, such as a vacuum cleaner, throw over it a favorite and beautiful piece of cloth, such as a remnant that you buy in the Wal-Mart sewing area. Don’t settle that something glum or utilitarian “must be” in a certain location and exposed to view.

2) When you make decisions, including painting, or the placement of even one object, no matter how cheap it may be (a lot of my decorations are dollar store and inexpensive), sit in the places where you would normally sit in the room and determine placement on that basis. Do not stand in the door and “imagine” “where it would look best” to some “guest walking in.” Figure out where it looks best and gives you the most joy exactly as you are engaged in your every day activities.

3) Be very cautious about displaying mementos of traumatic events and losses. For example, if you display photographs of your loved ones who you have lost, couple the display of those pictures with uplifting objects nearby. For example, when I display a photo of my deceased dad or stepfather, I will place those photos near objects that remind me of things they loved (like my stepdad loved fishing so I will put his picture among fishing motifs) or I will be sure to place objects that express salvation and faith, such as art of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, alongside. Do not feel that one must continue to suffer loss through the way that you display your loved one’s décor: that is the LAST thing that they would want for you. Respectfully store away the mementos that are sad and display only the ones that contribute to your joy of memory, not keep you chained in suffering and sadness. This includes displaying even expensive objects that come from a sad period in your life. Store them away for your children or sell or give them away. Do not tolerate a “downer” object or décor in your home. You would not believe the expensive objects I have thrown away following this very healthy and spiritual principle.

4) When you are shopping, never pass up an inexpensive object that you see that is colorful and makes you think, “Wow, that is so cute!” For example, in a dollar store I saw five small plastic storage containers, each with a different color lid (blue, green, purple, yellow and pink). I totally did not need them but loved the color so since they were cheap I bought them and have them on display on a bookshelf. Keep your eyes open, even if you think that you are there only to get one item, and scan the shelves for things that make you go “Aw, that is so cute.” I don’t mean sappy statues of clowns and cats, LOL, though nothing wrong with that. What I mean is that a style, a color or has a motif that you had not thought of before and just gives you cheer to look at is often a great investment.

5) If you have to economize because of the economic downturn, do not feel that you are losing options in decorating your “nest,” because often you are opening them up. Here is an easy example. Suppose that you are someone who used to enjoy buying fresh flowers and can no longer afford to do so. What I do is that I invest in (usually dollar store) silk, artificial or dried flowers and rotate fresh arrangements. You may actually end up having more in quantity and frequency of new and pretty arrangements than you did when you bought a fresh flower arrangement once a week. Trust me; I’d rather still be growing my own flowers or buying fresh flowers, and I’m not trying to turn people away from making those stimulating and beautiful expenditures if they can. But if you cannot, remember that with very little skill and not much expenditure you can make really unique arrangements, ones that you can change on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. I save pretty and droll containers, such as Joy dishwashing plastic bottles, and use them; it is not necessary to buy expensive vases.

As I said, men tend to have much more of a “gear” orientation to their homes and I think that is great. One problem is, however, that the “gear” for many men has transformed from being cool activities to mindless electronic “entertainment” and web surfing. This is one reason that men sometimes get stuck in less than ideal activities on the Internet. Men are action oriented and attracted to gear. Men therefore get computers and video games. Men, during this Christmas and other holiday season, think about honoring your “inner gear” but in ways that are more traditional. I’m all for big screen TVs and watching sports (I had a dog who used to watch football games with me), so definitely do not stop the “gear” urge, such as you can afford it, for sports. But be aware that the computer is surreptitiously hooking onto your “gear” urge and directing it away from where you might have once more better invested. For example, guys used to love having their own home carpenter or auto repair “lairs” and would spend time in there instead of being on the computer. It used to be so easy to shop for guys because they loved gear such as new tools, and would certainly let you know what to get them. Ha, there is a run on guns lately because of concern that the new administration will tighten up gun laws and availability. Rather than just stock up, how about having more of a hobbyist or affectionato view of guns? That is a male equivalent problem to the women’s “third party view” of how their home “looks” to an entering guest. Here is what I mean.

Guys will stampede because while women “imagine what the new décor will look like to some imaginary guest” rather than get what makes them happen, guys feel that alarm bell go off in their “home is the castle” mentality. If I hear one more right wing radio nut job gloat about how many Uzis he has stockpiled “just in case” I will scream. I’m not saying to not buy guns. I am saying to recognize that it is your “home is your castle” mentality that is clicking in, rather than actual rational thought about what may or may not happen. Buy the guns but do it as a hobby, something you invest some time in appreciating, not as a “doomsday” scenario. Now, I have credibility because I grew up in a hunting family and I learned how to shoot a rifle in target practice in college and I enjoyed it a lot. Male depression and anxiety is exacerbated by not recognizing and honoring your “home is the castle” instinct. There is danger in overreacting and under reacting. Men overreact when they become convinced of alien invasion, liberals denying gun rights, buy into the vision that if riots broke out that they really could “hold out and protect the family” (if it gets that bad everyone is in trouble), and so forth. This is why men are particularly susceptible to depression and anxiety that is from a kind of fear of the future mentality. Women get bummed out because of self esteem and lack of love. Men get bummed out because they have inappropriate triggering of their “home is the castle” mentality while not honoring that mentality in genuine and productive ways.

Thus I equally enjoy counseling men and women about how to recognize the validity of their own interior and exterior “acquisition” and “decorative or gear” needs. The trouble with many popular home improvement shows (and I do enjoy them, though I have no TV with which to watch) is that they buy into and enable the “gear equals electronic escapism” problem. Sure, if a guy has a hobby the home improvement shows will do something to acknowledge it, but they fall far short from truly honoring every guy’s “home is his castle” and genuine “kit” and “gear” mentality. “Back in my day” guys had real home workshops that were fabulous and they actually used them. That was how they relaxed, found absorption in real activities, had hobbies and built knowledge and skill, not by being glued to the computer or video games. Boys would know they are growing up by how much their dad, uncle or grandfather would let them help in the home workshop. Guys knew how to do all sorts of things “back in my day” including having home hobbies such as winemaking (it doesn’t all have to be traditional woodworking and so forth). Guys would love to work on old radios or other “gear.” After dinner, rather than racing to the stupid computer (which of course did not exist then) they would dash, as soon as the lady of the house would let them, into their workshops to work with their “gear.” They’d sort through their fishing tackle, or finally get around to adding some accessory to their car (guys used to do that themselves instead of going to a pro, because half the fun was learning how.) A lot of guys also were avid gardeners, and found something to do year around as not a chore but real enjoyment. Alot of guys also worked on model plane and ship kits. I knew guys who knew how to build those ships in a bottle. Some guys built their own musical instruments, such as making a guitar. Others painted, even if it was "paint by numbers!"

So guys used to select activities, and thus their home gear and furnishings, along the lines of their “home is castle” mentality and had cadres of fellow family members, neighbors and friends who enjoyed these “real” activities. Women would browse discount stores; men browsed the junkyard, ha. My stepdad was constantly “stocking up” the tool area of his workshop with “just in case” tools, nails and screws and other “gear.” My mother, not a patient woman, didn’t understand that this is totally good, even if one never “needed” every bit of that gear, because this is a guy’s form of making a home. There’s something very normal and not depressive about a guy who enjoys making sure that he has everything he needs for his family, and who considers that relaxation and fun. He keeps his shotgun cleaned and stored not because he thinks that one day aliens or hungry desperate neighbors will besiege the house and he needs to fend them off. He does it because he is a hunter and has a gun because that’s what responsible men do and are interested in, not because of anxiety or depression. So guys take a deep breath and honor your castle and your gear by figuring out what you actually would enjoy doing that is “real” and not depressive or “pretend” and do it. If you have been downsized and are out of a job, give yourself a break by learning something real along the gear line, rather than being bummed out on the insane and pretend world of computers and video games. Women, don’t be “self improvement” nags and instead, encourage your gear guy to follow his moat into his real work shop, hobbies, friends and interests, rather than making him think that porn on the computer or going to the bar might be a better option, LOL. The Sears tool department used to be the Mecca of Christmas (to mix my metaphors in a hopefully inoffensive way) because so many guys “back in my time” wanted tools for real, and not virtual or gamey, hobbies and interests each year. Kids would often follow along and learn from their dad, and I don’t mean how to grow marijuana plants, make meth, or build bombs.

After many a Christmas we would see spring up in our neighborhood a real basketball hoop on a tree, and real families would shoot real hoops. They’d be astonished if we told them that in the future it would be all video games.

I hope that you have found this interesting and thought provoking. The overall theme is to be aware that everyone has a homing instinct, and that it is the warping of this instinct that has caused a lot of problems today. When one is not aware of and honors one’s genuine homing instinct, it still spills out in dysfunctional ways, such as being a shopaholic, retreating to addictive computer or game usage, or gangs. Further, one allows one’s own home or apartment to be styled in a way that is depressive, even if one thinks one is being “decorative” or charming. Too many people have even their humble abodes styled “as if” instead of “that sure feels like home.” Start changing that this Hanukkah and Christmas, even if … and especially if… you are under economic pressure, and you will see what I mean.