I had a day earlier this week where I walked into the bathroom at work, and the reflection in the mirror absolutely horrified me. I looked gigantic — somehow way fatter* than I had looked the day before. My hair was horrible, my clothes didn’t fit right, my shoes looked stupid, my make-up wasn’t doing anything to fix how tired and awful I looked. It was bad.
For the rest of the day, I just kept thinking, “How the hell did I leave the house looking like this?” I kept my head down, compulsively tugging on my clothes to try to hide myself and trying in vain to fix my hair. Then in the afternoon, a woman I worked with stopped me. She said, “You look so cute today! Have you lost weight?”
Hold on, what?
Was she blind? Did she see the way I looked? I was so busy hating the way I looked and trying to hide that I hadn’t considered the possibility that maybe the problem wasn’t my body or my appearance. Maybe the problem was my perception of my body and my appearance.
It’s amazing the way depression (or anxiety or low self-esteem) can affect the way you see yourself. For years, I assumed that I looked shittier on days when I was depressed because I was depressed. When I’m depressed, I don’t eat or sleep well, I don’t pay much attention to what clothing I wear, and I put the bare minimum effort into my appearance. It stands to reason, then, that I look way worse on days when I’m depressed, right?
But what if the depression doesn’t actually make me look like crap? What if the depression convinces me I look like crap, when in actuality I look pretty much the same?
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how completely floored I was by this realization. I mean, I have spent countless days beating myself up for how awful I looked. There have been more days than I want to think about where those feelings of unattractiveness and worthlessness were so overwhelming, I could barely think about anything else. And it was all in my head? That was a mind blowing realization for me.
Just in case you have days like that, here’s what I have to say to you:
You’re not fatter than you were yesterday. Unless you ate something that made you really sick and bloated or you’re actually pregnant, it’s a physical impossibility that you put on enough weight between yesterday and today to be noticeable. It’s all in your head.
Your clothes didn’t get uglier over night. That sweater you wore last week didn’t suddenly become the ugliest piece of clothing you’ve ever seen in your entire life. The sweater didn’t change, your brain chemistry did.
Your hair might be worse today than it usually is, but no one cares. Look, I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes you have a bad hair day, but I promise no one is analyzing it and judging it the way that you are. Throw it into a ponytail, ignore it, and keep moving.
Your skin, your outfit, your nails — whatever it is that you’re self-conscious about — are virtually unchanged from yesterday. You’re still the same ravishing, intelligent, kind, beautiful, kick-ass human being you were yesterday. Don’t let your brain tell you any differently. All that negativity is only in your head.
If you’re feeling really bad about the way you look, you have two options. The ideal option would be to take a good long look in the mirror and find all the things you do love about yourself, because there is so much about you that’s beautiful and lovable. I know that some days that’s just not going to happen though, and that’s okay. On the really bad days, you can just avoid the stupid mirror altogether. In fact, if you need to, you can avoid anything that will encourage you to pass judgment on yourself. No scales, no clothing shopping, no pictures. Just focus on your self-care, do a little emergency mental health maintenance, and keep fighting the good fight until your brain catches up with reality.
It will catch up, probably sooner than you think, and you’ll be able to see yourself for what you truly are: beautiful, brilliant, and amazing.
Author’s note: this was a really tough one for me to write, because I kept thinking “maybe this is just me. Maybe other people don’t do this.” Ultimately I decided to share, because I realized that every time my brain convinces me that I’m the only one deluded, depressed, or crazy enough to think the things I think, it turns out that it’s yet another lie my brain is feeding me to isolate me in my depression. I hope this is helpful and/or meaningful to you. Please feel free to share your story in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather not share so publicly.
*A disclaimer: I am all about the body positivity movement and I really and truly believe that there’s beauty in everybody and every body, no matter the size or shape. That being said, it’s hard for me to remember that sometimes when I’m feeling low. This isn’t meant to be a commentary on health or weight, just a reflection of how skewed my brain gets when I’m depressed.