Thursday, April 18, 2019

Looking Your Best for Depression

If You’re Depressed, Why Bother Getting Up & Ready for the Day?

I was recently asked if I had a blog post about why I cared so much about my dress, hair, and appearance despite my depression. What drives me to bother cleaning up when laying in bed while reading news in my PJs is easier to do? Why bother shaving? Why bother showering? Why bother getting up at all?

I couldn’t find a specific blog where I addressed this issue, but the pat answer is that my vanity is a super power. Vanity overpowers the darkest, deepest depressions to make sure at least my hair is presentable. Doesn’t that sound superficial? The truth is much deeper than that. How did I get to the point where I care so much about my appearance, it can override the urge to not care about anything at all?

It’s not easy caring for myself; it’s a coping strategy.

I don’t actually wake up with a song in my heart and a spring in my step. I don’t climb out of bed with visions of how radiant I will be once I am clean and glistening from the shower. I generally awaken with all the energy of a wet sock sopped with cold molasses and maple syrup, yet I still make my way through a morning routine to get myself presentable. This is because of years of training, though some days are harder than others.

When I wake up in the morning with depression already in full swing, I lie there exhausted and depleted instead of refreshed. On bad days, my heart feels as if it is on the verge of breaking. Imagine how you feel after the worst betrayal by a loved one and you can come close to understanding how depression can feel for those with Major Depressive Disorder. Almost everyday. My thoughts tend to be dark and fixated on failures and tasks that overwhelm me. The failures loop in my mind, pressing me into my bed as if the thoughts had literal weight. I can assure you that I am not thinking about how good it would feel to shave and get dressed at that moment.

Fortunately, this is not how I spend most mornings—crushed by waves of sadness. Instead, I get up and get moving. How? I have trained myself to recognize that the depression is not me. I think of it as an unwanted houseguest. Once I realize I am depressed (an enormous step!), I ask myself three simple questions:

  1. Do I have a reason to be depressed?
  2. Is what I’m feeling appropriate for the situation?
  3. What am I going to do about it?

After so many years, I rifle through those questions quickly now. I just skip to number three each time because the answer to the first two questions is always “No”. Hello, depression, right⸮ I force myself to lurch out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, and begin getting ready for the day.

I shower, shave, and dress up to help myself feel better.

Of course, I don’t truly believe that vanity is what saves me. Just as I’ve discovered that making my bed prepares my ADHD mind in the morning, I have discovered that taking care of myself prepares my depressive mind for the day. This is because taking care of yourself is a positive action. It moves you away from depression. When depression binds you down, getting out of bed is an act of valor. I have found that the more action I take, the more empowered I feel, and the less depression has a hold on me. I start small and build up from there. Getting out of bed is a good first step. Changing your clothes is another. For me, a shaved face and a swoopy ’do is a blow against the black beast. I am in a battle for my life, after all. Getting ready for the day is like putting on armor.

Teaching self-care to depressed loved ones requires setting an example.

As you have probably discovered, logically explaining to somebody why they should be able to overcome their depression doesn’t work very well. Pep talks fall on deaf ears. Telling them to put one foot in front of the other, or to take baby steps fails to inspire them most of the time. After all, they are depressed. You might as well tell them to sprout wings and fly. They can’t envision what you are saying.

I sometimes had a difficult time teaching self-care coping strategies to my daughters. They were all different and required varied approaches. However, when we first discovered their struggles with depression, they were unwilling to do what they perceived as hard things in order to succeed with their mental health. Any attempt to teach them was viewed as a lecture. Any analysis was seen as criticism. Thirteen and fourteen-year-olds are difficult to reach on any subject.

I couldn’t order them to take care of their mental health. I couldn’t talk to them as if they were adults. I had to show them how by example. I would get ready for the day and let them know how it helped me feel better about myself. I would show them how I did smiling practice to help improve my mood. Then I’d offer suggestions and encourage them to do the same. As teenagers, they ignored me at first, but as they grew discouraged with their struggles, they began to adapt the coping strategies. The one coping strategy they took to heart was this idea of dressing up to offset depression. Now that they’re in their twenties, the coping strategies I shared from my experiences have proven to be helpful in their adult lives. It was a long road to travel with them, but worth every step.


A coat of paint and some new lipstick isn’t going to magic away your depression. but if you accept that choosing not to take care of yourself makes it worse, maybe you can admit that a li’l bit of self-care can go a long way in making your depression better.

4/19/19 The section on teenagers was edited to be clearer.

Learning to take care of yourself is a vital tool in fighting off depression. Since I have been suicidal in the past, I take the fight very seriously. If you’d like to read more about my success in saying “No” to suicide, please read my book.