Losing My Smile
During the first few years of my depression, as it manifested and developed, although I gradually began to exhibit various symptoms and began to veer off the rails somewhat self destructively my image perception and confidence levels remained fairly level. Or as level as they’d ever been.( I can’t bring myself to say ‘healthy’ in this case because although disliking your stretch marks, or uneven teeth and worrying about putting on weight is within the normal spectrum of image hang ups these days it is not healthy by any means)
These days my level of low self esteem and self image perception is so low its debilitating.
This change is most evident in the photographs. Take the photos of me from 2010. If you were to think of the deterioration of mental health as an airplane plummeting towards the ground, 2010 was the year I exploded on impact. Depression was burning and raging, tearing at me. I was the most self destructive, the most irrational, the most out of control. I’d been going through the traumatic events on and off for two years and they were still happening. I was all over the place. Hurting myself and others. Yet my photos from that year are some of my favourites ever. I’m smiling, posing for the camera, I look confident, I’m shining…even in the ones where I cringe over a double chin or a dodgy expression. My confidence, my sense of self image was still intact.
These days the best photos I can offer you are stiff and poker faced selfies that have been filtered and fiddled with to my satisfaction with only a twitch of a smile that doesn’t really meet my eyes. I don’t trust anyone else to take a photo of me. I almost always cringe when somebody else point a camera at me. When my daughter started school this year, I quietly asked her teachers not to take a photo of me for her to keep in class. If she needed a photo I’d give them one of my highly edited selfies. At a friends wedding recently the one photo that I had taken with someone had me hiding behind a grotesque mask (thank fuck for selfie props!). I was laughing and joking it away but inside I was frustrated and deeply angry at myself for ‘being silly’. I love good photographs; I hate not being able to have any taken anymore
So what’s changed?
Well, first off my confidence was always highly dependent on outside sources, it never came from deep sense of self assuredness. It was never from within. Perhaps if it had been I’d have been less susceptible. As long as I received compliments and affirmations from the world around me, I was kept buoyed
In 2012 I fell pregnant with my daughter. My body changed, of course, but so did my face. Most notably my eyesight deteriorated. By the time my daughter was 4 months old glasses were unavoidable. I was never of the opinion that those with glasses were necessarily less attractive than those without but it was a massive change to my appearance and I wasn’t convinced it suited me. These days, I have frames my very patient opticians spent literal hours helping me choose and I’ve come to in fact prefer my appearance with my glasses now rather than without. But the massive change had affected me already. That combined with the weight gain of pregnancy that I have still yet to banish. Or accept. Other smaller changes. I didn’t develop post natal depression, but I wasn’t mentally equipped to cope with the potentially permanent changes to my body post pregnancy. I believed any changes would remedy themselves afterwards. My pre existing depression feasted on my insecurities when they didn’t.
On a more subliminal level, I’d had years at this stage of events and situations that in one way or another indicated I wasn’t worthy. Had made me feel inadequate and I suppose indirectly, ugly. But I’m just speculating and dabbling with pseudo-psychology here…
To compensate for the changes in my appearance these days I take certain measures. I give my appearance five times the consideration I used to, paying far more attention to my clothes and make up and general grooming (hair eyebrows nails ect ect) in the hopes that if everything else looks ok, the other things will be overshadowed. It’s distraction tactics. It’s smacking a plaster over a wound. And when I don’t have the energy to take care of these things, because for a person with depression self maintenance is a massive chore (even if you do tend to feel more uplifted afterwards summoning the energy required to do it can feel like an impossible feat) I hide behind a big ass pair of Jackie-O sunglasses, that my lovely optician also spent a fair bit of time with me choosing.
I spend five times the care over my appearance than I did 6 years ago yet I feel five times worse
But lately when I look in the mirror and look at all the things I hate about myself and wish were different or how they used to be I find these days that the thing I miss most about my appearance isn’t the flat toned tummy (as much as I am desperate to regain that again). It’s that smile from the photos back in 2010. That ability to shine.
I would give anything to have that smile again
So, what changed?