I like to look good, but I admit I don’t always dress the part. On occasion my hair is a disaster and in need of a good washing, and sometimes my outfits are a little on the questionable side. What can I say, my depression gets the better of me sometimes, and it makes getting dressed and doing my hair feel like climbing mountains. I know this because I climbed a mountain once in the heat of the Vancouver sun. I thought I wouldn’t, but I made it to the top.
Depression itself is a lot like climbing a mountain. You just keep going and going looking for the light, the break in the trees, the place where it all levels out. The summer I climbed Grouse Mountain I started paying attention to the details, and perhaps it is for this reason I still remember the signs warning climbers of mountain lions in the area, of the possibility of imminent danger. This is also what depression feels like: that at any moment something could just come out of nowhere and take you out without warning. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to live on this edge, this divide between beauty and the beast.
When I got to the top of Grouse Mountain I looked like shit. I know this because I took a before and after photo and my straight platinum blonde hair had turned into strings that dangled from my head like pieces of rope. Despite the accomplishment, I was ashamed of my appearance and of the sweat that told the story of my struggle up the mountain and how even when I came out on top, literally, I didn’t look at the top of my game. This bothered me. I never showed the photo to anyone. If Instagram had existed then, no filter would have salvaged my confidence.
A big part of my life since the depression started seeping in has been keeping up the illusion that my depression does not exist. I have my vanity to thank in part for that. Appearances have become quite important to me, and looking good has become my best defence in this battle. I have found solace and strength in the deception—and I have found a special kind of hope that comes from looking after yourself. Keeping up appearances has prevented me from plummeting to new lows because it proves to me that I still love myself enough to care.
Eye shadows and red lipsticks have become my weapons in this war. Strokes of smoky purples and dark eyeliners have become my armour, and a crisp chiffon shirt or a tight black dress (worn with pumps or a good pair of boots), my uniform. Maintaining my roots and upgrading my wardrobe have given me the confidence to fight this battle. These are the tools in which I use to combat my depression. They may not be the most noble, but they work.
Women do these little things everyday, but it is these little things precisely that make the difference when you’re depressed. When you put the time into your appearance you feel better, and feeling better is the ultimate weapon in this struggle. Feeling better gives you the strength to put your brave face on and persevere. When you’re feeling better you look better and this makes you more approachable. It allows you to maintain relationships with your coworkers, to hold down jobs, and find success in your endeavours.
If I let myself go, which is rather tempting at times but never an option, I know I would become much sicker. I would fall back into the depths of depression and I would feel ten times worse. There are other tools in this fight—medication and therapy, mostly—but I have found neither to be quite as immediately effective as taking the time to inject self-love back into your daily routine.
Self-love comes in many forms. For me it also comes in working on my body in healthy ways. I go to the gym, ride my bike to and from places, and practice yoga. Being active encourages me to eat healthier, both of which are proven to help lessen depression. Not only does this make me feel better mentally and physically, but it encourages me to work on myself, which ultimately assists in other areas of my life as well. It makes me more accountable and dedicated, and forces me to set goals and work towards them. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is yet another tool in this battle. These small things, even though they stem from a place of vanity, have helped me push forward even when it’s felt unbearable.
Depression is a brutal and debilitating illness that makes doing any of the above feel impossible at times. I am not always able to put on the mask. But it has taught me how important it is to take an active role in your recovery, and to take advantage of any methods that work for you. Depression can make you feel stuck and the best thing to do when that happens is move. I love the excitement that comes with the physical act of getting ready to go somewhere. It indicates that I am moving—and movement, as they say, is life. When I’m feeling really low and I need to shake it, I just get up, put some music on, curl some waves into my hair, and slap a little lipstick on. Depression may not be pretty, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be.