Sunday, April 25, 2010

Appearance and Chronic Illness

In high school and college I really didn't care about being 'pretty'. At some point I wanted to be attractive or desirable to those I found interesting. However, overall my appearance really wasn't a big concern to me. I gradually learned that how I dressed and groomed changed how people treated me and I'd go through some effort for things like interviews. I had no real confidence about this so I had one or two stock interview outfits. However, there was a hint that hidden inside was a girly girl. In high school we had formal dinners and I can recall using these as an opportunity to wear something a bit fancy without the stress of a dance.

Gradually I got sicker and older. I tried to move into the world of work but never seemed to manage it. I bought the 'right clothes' and tried to get a 'professional' haircut and sometimes tried to wear makeup. Something I never had confidence with because my Mom didn't get it and figured that vision must be essential for good application. Plus, I went to a weird high school where boarding students just didn't seem to wear makeup. I did wear makeup for a bit in college but my first boyfriend hated how it tasted so I quickly stopped bothering. My hair never cooperated and gradually got thin due to medication which made it more frustrating so it never looked good.

Gradually I became frustrated with how I was treated by pretty much everyone. While no one ever told me 'you don't look sick' no one ever treated me like my complaints were valid either. This is about the time when I made a friend with severe depression that really changed her grooming. I noticed how I treated her differently when she was smelly and sloppily dressed. I'm not proud of this by any means and once I became aware of my behavior I made a real effort to change it. However, I knew that if I was doing this then other people probably were too.

Like many chronically ill people I don't have many spoons. I wasn't going to waste my spoons on dressing up or expend them quickly by wearing uncomfortable clothing. So, I wore a lot of sweats and t-shirts and wore my hair in a simple braid. I didn't really worry about if my clothes fit and usually didn't see the point in spending money on myself. Everyday life took too many spoons to do more than survive. It was almost impossible to find clothes that fit locally and I just didn't have the resources to order clothes and do anything other than accept what I got so I tended to err on the side of too big. I certainly wasn't going to buy makeup I didn't have much confidence in applying.

I really don't know what triggered the change. I'd lost a lot of weight due to my gallbladder problems and my clothes were getting dangerously too big. Since I had to get a new wardrobe anyway I decided to get clothes I felt good wearing and felt good about myself in.
Gradually I discovered that clothes that fit and are a bit nicer than sweats and a t-shirt weren't necessarily much more expensive or uncomfortable. Part of that is changes in what stores like Wal-mart carry and the current popularity of leggings.

Amazingly, I stand a bit taller and feel a bit better about myself when I wear slightly nicer things that aren't baggy. I don't know if it is the better posture or the nicer clothes but people seem to be treating me with more respect.

Another component has been hair and makeup. My hair has gotten long enough that a simple braid is getting unwieldily. Simple buns tend to look nice but are actually easy to do and easy on me. I've also started to wear makeup. Partly to address my coloring. I wanted to be able to pass as well if I wanted to.

The overall affect seems to be than now I appear less depressed. I look like I care about myself. Plus, it isn't just an act I do care about myself.

Another bonus is that I seem to be getting fewer questions about my mental health from medical personnel. My improved appearance could be part of that. So could my success at coming off of any medicine that could be seen as a psych med other than Topomax. At my dose it should be clear that I'm using it for migraines and not for PTSD or bipolar disorder. Another reason could be that I haven't seen any new doctors recently.

I wouldn't say that I have real confidence thanks to these changes. Faking it till I make it hasn't worked yet. I wouldn't even say I've created a believable illusion of self-esteem and confidence. But, if random people are treating me more decently and my doctors are taking me more seriously then I'll take it.
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