Doctors’ questionnaires to assess your mood frequently ask if you are taking less care with your appearance than usual, so I doubt I am the only person who stops thinking about how I look when I am down. It’s partly because I feel on the brink of disaster a lot of the time – so why would I bother with a triviality like my appearance – and partly because when energy is in such short supply, you don’t waste it where you don’t have to. Perhaps it’s also to do with feeling unworthy of attention even from yourself, or hopeless about the prospect of making any improvement, or maybe it’s simply that taking care over how we present ourselves is less urgent when we are trying to avoid presenting ourselves to the outside world at all. Whatever the reason, I know I am not taking the same amount of care when I dress each morning as I do when I am well and since this seems a relatively easy way to nudge myself back towards normal, it is the focus of today’s dog walk.
We had old friends visiting today, the comfortable slipper kind where you all just fit back into each other’s company like you were never away. In spite of which, by the time they left all I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and whimper. Even in the most pleasant company, I reach saturation point fairly quickly when I am blue. It’s like the issue desk in a busy library: as fast as people hand in books, the librarian whisks them away to their shelves and the desk stays clear and tidy. But if the librarian isn’t whisking as fast as the books are checked in the desk quickly descends into chaos and it’s impossible to see which book needs shelved next. Today I think the Black Dog had chased the librarian away from the desk: all the conversational nuances, the unspoken and spoken ideas, the new and familiar information was in a big messy pile at the front of my mind and I couldn’t see past it. I know from experience that once I get to this point it is too late to urge my tired brain on and the only successful strategy is to power down and wait to reboot. Only, with visitors who are in no hurry to leave, that’s not really an option. By the time they left, thinking about anything felt like playing tennis with a sprained wrist.
So I didn’t feel able to get on with today’s task and wanted, more than anything, to lie down in a dark room and wait for calm to return in my head. But, much to my surprise, I felt much more rested by the time I had finished. I think conversation in a group is exhausting when you are depressed because you have multiple focusses of attention and are jumping between them constantly: this uses up scarce energy. So maybe focussing on only one thing, and a visual rather than a verbal and social activity was the right thing to balance me out. Knowing that every day this week I can grab a hanger with a day’s outfit, complete with undies and accessories as I head to the shower will take one stressor out of the mornings. And like many depressed people I wake each morning to find the Black Dog sound asleep across my legs. It did cheer me up to actually look at myself in the mirror as I tried things on and feel at least a flicker of approval of the me I saw. I am looking forward to wearing each of my outfits – and the novelty of looking forward to something after months of dreading most things is worth taking half an hour to try on some clothes for.