Mental Health House

by Katie Bounds, MSW, LCSWA

Growing up, I always had a love and fascination with home design and HGTV, and that admiration for the art of home improvement has not disappeared. To this day, I love watching people remodel their spaces- whether it’s one room or the whole house- to perfect whatever the look they’re going for is. It’s always been so interesting how that initial look from ten years ago is never how the home stays on television. People are constantly keeping up with the latest trends & redesigning & remodeling & adding more & removing more & changing the direction & so on and so on.

It’s this mentality of “well this has been nice, but now what?” or “now I’m bored, so how do I improve this?”

If I’m not careful, I’ll catch myself looking around my home displeased so often wanting a perfect home like you see in a catalog. Learning that that may not be realistic can be so frustrating and disheartening. My home has always looked lived in. I’ve never had a model home, but that has never stopped me from goal setting to achieve anything remotely similar to what I’ve seen on a screen or in a magazine. There is something so satisfying about feeling like you’ve achieved the aesthetic. It almost makes life as a whole feel better and more manageable. Before I know it, I’m swallowed by ideas of how to make everything better to achieve some level of perfection, and now I’m stuck in this never ending cycle of changing the goal, remodeling, setting a new goal, getting frustrated, feeling like I can’t keep up, and then settling.

Something that once had the potential to be so fun is now exhausting.

What I’ve learned about creating a home is that there are so many more steps than just setting the next redesign goal. Goal setting is great, but it often leaves me and so many others stuck in this never ending cycle of raising the bar before we can celebrate the fact that we have reached the past twelve bars we’ve set for ourselves. Goal setting is great and is a huge part of creating a home, but there’s so much more to making a home your home than goal setting.

After much reflection, I’ve narrowed down the steps to creating a home into four umbrella steps. Along with goal setting and goal achievement, there is living in the home to see what you think. This step also adds character. There’s also this step of not knowing where to make an update next. Seemingly opposite of that step is the step of finding yourself content with your design choices at times and not feeling it necessary to make a change. In the same capacity, your body and mind are your home, and much like a house, it is an ongoing project where there are days of satisfaction, days of discontent and confusion, days of contemplating the next goal for improvement, and days of doing our realistic best and living in it.

If we don’t like our “home,” we may find it difficult to truly manage our mental health.

Many think the key to managing mental health is the same as that of managing and creating a home. Goal setting, goal setting, goal setting. We have to be learning all of the coping strategies to fight for control over the mind or to get rid of all the symptoms or to keep * insert this goal here that sounds reasonable and “healthy.” * We have to make our mental health the best mental health, and if we’re not trying to remodel then we’re not trying hard enough to have the best, so maybe we should just accept that we will never have the “model” mental health and say that this is “good enough” even though we’re wanting something more.

How exhausting is this?!

Do not get me wrong. Setting goals is not a bad thing to do. However, in a state of ongoing or constant change, it’s so hard to feel safe or comfortable in a home. Just like with the house, we’re now setting a new bar every day, not taking the time to acknowledge every bar we’ve already met. Rather, we’re spending time critiquing what we could do better next time. If you can relate to this, you are not alone. I myself work hard to do this, as well, but there is so much more to mental health management that we may be overlooking and might have even been told by an inner or outer voice is wrong to do if our goal is to fight for our mental health to be the best. In reality, there are three additional elements outside of growing in our ability to set goals and achieve them that ultimately are integral to mental health management. A note I will add about growth and improvements is that changes in the home do not always require a complete demolition, as I am guilty of doing that. Sometimes it’s realizing that we have a good framework and might just need some new paint. What outside of growth is there, though?

One of the elements is actually quite the opposite of growth. This element is confusion. We must leave room to be confused and not have the answers. We must accept that not having a next step is a normal part of being human. Just like in the house, we may not know where to start next or if we should start something new. This step is just as vital to mental health as climbing the goal ladder.

The next element is existence, which ultimately acknowledges that even if we stopped trying to achieve goals, we have enough skill to meet our most basic of needs. Leave a day or two in the week to not work on mental health in the traditional sense and just exist as you are. You are allowed to have that space, as well. Give yourself some days to live in the house to see if you like it before assuming it’s not good enough. Growing continuously will exhaust anyone, and acknowledging that we can simply exist and that is just as important as challenging ourselves to do more.

The last additional element is contentment. It is realizing that we are enough and are allowed to be happy with where we are. We have worked so hard on our home and have so much to be proud of. Even before we put this much work in, we had an incredible frame to work with, and that can be celebrated, too.

Welcome to the mental health house.

It is a four room house with an open floor plan and a revolving door in the middle that allows you access to the four rooms at any time, those four rooms being the room of growth, the room of confusion, the room of existence, and the room of contentment. All four rooms are necessary to mental health management.

You and I were not created to grow 24/7. Part of being human is having a house that is lived in and being confused and sometimes being content and sometimes wanting to grow. No single room in the house is better than the other. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and at the end of the day, are all part of being people trying to create a home within ourselves.

Creating a home is an ongoing process, so I invite you to check out my personal model of the home I have housed my mental health in and see if it can inspire your future design as you make your body and mind your home, too. Your home doesn’t have to be perfect to be a model home. If your home has meaning to you, that is where the value lies. This is merely a blueprint. I am so excited for you to create a home that you are excited about living in and feel safe living in.