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When Anxiety Convinces Me Everyone Is Judging My Appearance

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My anxiety has dictated my schedule for a long time.

Almost everything I need to do outside the house — school, work, grocery shopping, the occasional haircut, etc. —is within 10 minutes of my house. Because of this, normally I wouldn’t need to wake up until maybe 20 minutes beforehand — get up, dress in five minutes, and I’m out the door.

But because of my anxiety, it takes an extra 30 to 40 minutes to make myself believe I can leave the house. I have to do my makeup — something I never used to do and still find irritating —and carefully analyze if I look “good enough.” I have to second-guess the clothing I chose last night (with a similarly long decision process) and often end up changing… despite having loved that outfit choice the night before. I have to double and triple check I have anything and everything I might need (which usually involves taking multiple items I won’t require, “just in case”). I fiddle. I remake the bed, I re-check that the cat has food, and I debate whether or not I have the stomach for breakfast, even though by this point, I usually only have the requisite five minutes before I must leave, and there isn’t time anyway.

Then one day, I stopped, and I forced myself to sit down and really think carefully about why I was doing extra steps. Why was I sacrificing sleep at night repeating over and over what I had to do the next day? Why was I waking up an hour early to drag myself out of bed prematurely to do things like eye shadow and blush when I didn’t particularly care about decorating my face (it’s not at all that I don’t like makeup — I think it looks beautiful. But I really am just as all right with my face as is.)?

I knew why. It’s because no matter how much I know my schedule, I look forward to my daily activities, I like the clothes I wear and I’m OK with my own natural face… I just assume the outside world is picking me apart.

The minute I leave my front door, I am aware of eyes. I have neighbors. There are often workmen up the street or people walking dogs and getting mail. I hit the stoplight — and there are other cars whose drivers and passengers must be endangering themselves to turn and stare at me. Cataloging whether or not I took the time to take care of my appearance and whether or not I know where I’m going and what I’m doing. All of those eyes are on me, and they are mocking.

Except, I know they’re not. No one cares about little old me leaving to go to school. At the end of that drive, I know my classmates are also tired, worn out by their day, wearing sweat pants and dirty jeans and comfortable t-shirts, and they couldn’t care less what I wear or do. If I do not want to wear eye shadow for my three-hour class, I do not have to; they do not think less of me.

On the other end of the spectrum from that overwhelming self-consciousness, my anxiety does something else to me. It leaves me stuck, afraid to get out of bed for fear of messing up just by walking around my house. It leaves me scared to look at the clothing I selected, in case I realize how ridiculous I would look in the light of day. And when I’m rushing to leave the house, having stayed in bed far too long, it reminds me no one cares enough for me to waste time and make myself late over foundation and eyeliner.

But that’s the thing — it isn’t that no one cares. It’s that I don’t have to impress anyone and anyway, no one is critiquing me that closely. I know that, and I can tell my anxiety that as I grab my keys and backpack, barefaced and wearing whatever I want.

No one is going to look at my pale face with its sort-of freckles and pink cheeks — man, do I have a rosy complexion — and say, “Ha, you didn’t put on makeup, you failed today.” In fact, for a long time when I was young people mistook my very pink lips as me always wearing lipstick, so I suspect I have some natural assets in that department.

And because of that alternative side of things, where my anxiety is the very reason I don’t dedicate morning time that would have been spent on sleep, or visiting with my husband, or checking email to putting on beauty products I don’t particularly want to wear, I’ve learned to look in the mirror differently.

This morning, I overslept. I got up, realizing everything I have planned today is casual and that I am free to be comfortable in my own skin for it. I put on clothes I feel good in, and I washed my face and brushed my hair, then stopped, and stared at that white-skinned, pink-cheeked face, with sleep-deprived shadows under the eyes and tiny marks here and there that I would normally dab concealer onto.

But really, who is going to look at me and say, “You look too human. Go pretty up?”

Only me, I suspect.

So today, I’m going without makeup, and I am doing so with confidence. Because this is me — anxiety and sleepless nights and self-consciousness included. Let’s go grab a coffee and talk. I feel OK today.

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Thinkstock photo by pecaphoto77

Originally published: March 18, 2017
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