Today I was having a bad day — a stay in bed, have a good cry, watch Netflix, and mope kind of day. Worst of all, there was no express reason for my mood; that is to say, no one event set off my depression. I suffer from situational depression — in other words, my depression is based on circumstances (for me, my disability and my limitations) and does not affect brain chemistry to the same extent as clinical depression (I can’t take medication to help lessen the symptoms of my depression). I still remember when my therapist told me that the best way to lessen the effects of situational depression (which is sometimes called an adjustment disorder) was to switch up my daily habits and or to use exercise to reduce my stress and boost my endorphins (read more about coping with situational depression here). I remember laughing and explaining that this “circumstance” or “situation” wasn’t new — I have had lymphedema since I was in utero and have been dealing with the fallout of blood clots since my first year of university. She explained that grad school is a new environment filled with higher expectiations, more work, and higher stresses, which created a new situation for me to deal with my chronic disability in. Any number of articles (like this one or this one) will confirm the fact that grad school and mental health issues have an intimate relationship that most schools don’t provide adequate resources to support (see this fantastic article on leaving grad school).
Now that I have been in grad school for over six years, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on that relationship; however, the beginning of a new semester always sends me reeling. This semester is even more of an adjustment for me: after years of working four part time jobs in addition to my full-time role as a PhD candidate, I drastically cut back on my hours at these other jobs (and even quit one). My thought process was work really hard (like very little sleep, and high stress-levels hard) in the Fall semster so that I could take a mini sabbatical and focus on finishing my first draft of my dissertation this semester. I have found it difficult to explain this process to some in academia who don’t understand what I have been doing for the last two years that has “distracted” me from my dissertation (answer: working to make enough money to live off of in addition to cultivating other career streams in case I am not successful in academia).
Yet, the newfound freedom of this term has knocked me for a loop — I am realizing I don’t know how to function without stressors and a rigid schedule that starts at 5:30am and ends at 9pm. My supervisor warned me that the guilt of not being able to fill all of the hours (hours that I sacrificed a lot for last semester) with productive work would likely pose a problem.
Well, she was right — hello, situational depression.
When B came home for lunch he urged me to write in my Bullet Journal, workout, get dressed, and do my makeup (things that usually shake me out of moping habits). First I finished the episode of Gilmore Girls I was watching, cried a bit about how frustrated I felt and then I got to dressing up!
I knew that the three pieces, from my chosen ten, that I wanted to highlight today would be my Gap star printed button-up shirt, Vero Moda pleather skirt, and Frank+Oak donegal sweater. Because I needed a little sparkle in my day, I went with my metallic patterned tights instead of my pre-planned sheer Sigvaris compression tights. Paired with my black heels, I felt a little bit Hogwarts and a lot cute!
I went with my Carma’s Glass studs, gorgeous pearl string from The Vault, and two bracelets from Abu Daubi that one of my young swimmers gave to me as a thank you gift before he and his family returned home. I kept my hair styling very simple with a low chignon.
There is something so powerful about makeup. The ritual of setting out my tools and makeup in the order of use instantly brightened my mood, and made me feel in control. Blending eyeshadow, the sweeping of liquid eyeliner into a cat-eye flick, and the fanning of highlighter makes me feel calmed, happy, and powerful. The fact that my new Canon Rebel can capture my makeup more clearly than my iPhone brings me joy.
While Netflix and pyjamas have their special place when I am suffering and feel like I just can’t try, I think that makeup and dressing up (even if it is only to eat supper and watch an episode of TV) also play an important role in changing my situation. What do you turn to when you are down?