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How Depression Takes Hold of My Life

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I haven’t showered in four days and my hair is a greasy mess. At least I brushed my teeth this morning, but I didn’t wash my face. I also didn’t get dressed today. Or yesterday. I did change my underwear, but that was it. It’s not a topic I’m proud to talk about. But it’s part of my life living with depression.

In 2016 I quit my office job. I had been working there for two years and the situation got increasingly toxic. I got a new supervisor and she didn’t believe me when I told her I get debilitating migraines. She told me I was lazy, didn’t want to work and was just pretending to be sick. Being gaslit like that on a daily basis destroyed my already fragile mental health. I knew they wanted to get rid of me, so I left. But the damage had already been done.

I felt physically and mentally awful. I had constant migraines and didn’t want to get out of bed anymore. Since I was unemployed, I had no reason to get up in the morning and get dressed. At first it felt like a relief. For months, I had dragged myself out of bed every morning and forced myself to go to work while being in a lot of pain. Now, I could just stay home and rest. No one was going to see me.

My physical appearance suddenly didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t have to cake on make-up to cover my dark circles. I didn’t have to force myself to wash my hair during an active migraine attack. I got to wear pajamas all day. No uncomfortable heels or office workwear. Looking professional and well put together had been part of my job. Now, I was starting to realize how much I had actually resented it. The way you show up to work doesn’t determine the quality of your actual work. Wearing make-up or a suit doesn’t make you any more or less smart or good at your job. Not investing any time in my physical appearance almost became an act of rebellion and a way to distance myself from my previous job.

But what felt like healing in the beginning, quickly became a problem. I let myself go. And this was a clear sign of depression taking hold of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. It was such a gradual decline that I didn’t notice all the subtle changes about myself. I have never been overly concerned with the way I look. I’m not vain. I’m not much into beauty and fashion. But I have always taken care of my body. Now, I suddenly couldn’t remember the last time I had showered. I wore the same clothes for weeks and most of those clothes were pajamas.

The fact that I wasn’t taking care of myself started to take a mental toll. When I looked in the mirror I saw my greasy hair, dull skin, unplucked eyebrows. My physical appearance was now matching my mental state. I looked pale and tired. I looked like someone who was not OK at all. And it scared me. It frustrated me. It knocked me down even more and made me want to stay in bed. I didn’t want to leave the house looking the way I did. So I hid at home. I didn’t even want to go for a short walk around the neighborhood. I felt that I would have to shower and wash my hair before I could go outside and I didn’t have the energy. It was a vicious cycle.

Thankfully, my mental health has improved a lot since then. I still struggle with depression and panic attacks. But it’s not nearly as bad anymore. It was hard work freeing myself from the dark place I was in. It’s an ongoing battle. And personal hygiene is one of the things I still struggle with. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of it because it’s a symptom of my mental illness. Whether I’m squeaky clean or not doesn’t determine my worth. But when my personal hygiene slips like it has in the last few weeks, I feel bad about myself.
Whenever I’m stressed out or my mental health get’s worse, I ignore my physical needs and emotional boundaries.

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I’m a people pleaser. I have let people take advantage of me, a lot. I have always put other people and their needs first. This issue has become apparent during my healing journey. I needed to learn that my worth is not dependent on others. I have to respect myself and along with that my needs. I realized that my lack in personal hygiene was a disregard of myself. I didn’t have enough self-worth to take care of myself for myself. It’s not about whether someone is going to see you. It’s about respecting yourself, your body and your health. I still get ashamed when I realize I haven’t adhered to my showering schedule. I would rather not run into a neighbor with day four hair. But it’s more about feeling bad that I’m not taking proper care of myself.

I’m not saying that we have to shower daily and always look presentable when in reality we feel awful. You do whatever you have to. But when I started to keep track of my personal hygiene and wrote myself an actual schedule, I realized that it was helping a lot with my depression. I feel so much more in control of my life when I get up and get dressed. Yes, I do suffer set backs. I’m currently not doing well. But right after writing this, I’m hopping into the shower and washing my hair. Because I know it’s going to make me feel a lot better and remind me how good it feels to take care of yourself.

Getty image by izumikobayashi

Originally published: September 19, 2020
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