Mental Health

The beginnings of a very severe decline

When I first began to take my mental health and treatment seriously, I made the choice to make my appearance and grooming a priority. I feel that being poorly groomed and sloppily dressed, especially when depressed, makes it difficult to get people to care about your well-being or receive help. It’s a very human thing to not want to be around an anxious smelly bummer.

I was acutely aware of this, and after nearly two years of rotating three pairs of pants and a ratty pile of free t-shirts from my workplace I made the decision to make sure that starting my day on a positive note meant being dressed well, stylish, and comfortable. I had the habit of wearing clothes until they fell apart, then going to a thrift store when I was desperate, purchasing anything I thought would fit without trying it on. This has been the cycle of my entire adult life.

I woke up on Christmas Eve last year and upon realizing I only had two pairs of socks and every t-shirt I owned (and wore to work) had at least one hole in it. Everything was colossally ill-fitting.  I decided that I would not be doing this anymore, grabbed my wallet and went shopping. Upon returning I threw away everything. I decided that getting dressed in the morning would be a pleasure, and that I would never again make wardrobe decisions based on what fit or what happened to be “clean.”

Since then, I’ve added something to my wardrobe at least once per week. Once I had a respectable collection of jeans and tops from Target, I doubled back and began replacing them with higher-quality items. Now that I’m closing in on a year of dressing mindfully, I have nearly everything I could ever want to go through the year. I love getting dressed now and have no needs.

Except now I can’t slow down. Every week I am acquiring more and higher-end items. I have more than twenty (amazing) custom made dresses. Fifteen pairs of jeans. A shoe collection poised to rival that of Imelda Marcos. My bathroom makeup bag is filled to bursting with creams and powders, you know, for that “natural” look. Each week I acquire more and more. My twice-daily facial cleansing routing has more than 15 steps. Each week I spend more and more to maintain an updated and stylish image.

I spent more than $800 this weekend. I bought a denim jacket, two pairs of pants, a olive military style jacket, lip gloss, a set of facial masks, a facial complexion spray, a powder compact and bottle of facial primer, four pairs of earrings, a necklace, a t-shirt, a tank top, and a long sleeve button down shirt.  I am fortunate that my job, while stressful, does support this bad habit. Of course, if I was in my right mind I would have replaced the bald tires or cracked windshield on my car instead.

I’m definitely not at hoarder status, but I did have to purchase an auxiliary clothing rack for my spare bedroom. I’m definitely acutely aware of the high that comes with getting something new, and the constant fear of being seen as unkempt.

This all sounds like a big boring amount of nothing (“Boo-hoo, this bitch has too many new clothes.”) but it brings me to an interesting parallel…

When my grandmother was in the beginning stages of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (She was only 52), she announced to everyone that she refused to be one of those old, gross old people who lost their faculties in a shame spiral of poor grooming and “old person smell.” One of the key elements of this promise of good grooming was the intention to shave her legs every single day. By the time her dementia caused her to become violent enough to have her razors taken away, she was shaving six or seven times per day. Her legs were scraped and raw. She simply forgot that she had already shaved that day.

So for the two of us, what started out as a priority for a positive self image and care turned out to be yet another obsession. In my case, I’ve traded the sadness of no self care to an extreme obsession born of anxiety. My shiny, professional appearance is the biggest possible indicator of an addiction out of control.

I am definitely about to hit the peak of a manic episode. My challenge now to soften the fall so that I do not cause irreparable damage in the crash. Even now, I realize that my efforts to have a sparkling appearance are essentially painting over rust.

But at least I’ll look good when I hit the bottom.


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