Despite the fact that depression is one of the most well-known and most-talked about mental illnesses, the reality of living with the condition remains surrounded by misconceptions. Society has long romanticised the ‘tortured’ artistic genius, while films such as The Virgin Suicides depict depressed women as beautifully unreachable, mysterious creatures. Certain corners of the internet – particularly on Instagram and Tumblr – are plastered with bleakly glamorous memes that cast depression in an aspirational light, often featuring striking, slender women with shadows under their eyes.
But if you’ve ever struggled with depression yourself, or been close to someone who has, you’ll know that living with the illness is far from romantic.
In a viral Facebook post, Katelyn Marie Todd reveals just how difficult it can be to perform basic acts of everyday self-care if you have depression.
Alongside a photo of herself, posted at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, Todd wrote:
“I brushed my hair today. For the first time in four weeks. It was matted and twisted together. It snapped and tore with every stroke. I cried while I washed and conditioned it, because I forgot how it felt to run my fingers through it.”
Todd said that she also brushed her teeth for the first time in a week. “My gums bled. My water ran red. I cried over that, as well.
“When I got out of the shower, I couldn’t stop sniffing my hair and arms,” she continued. “I’ve avoided hugging people for a while, because I never smell good. I always smell like I've been on bedrest for a week. I have no clean clothes, because I'm too tired and sad to wash them.”
Ultimately, Todd said, she wanted to spread the message that “depression isn’t beautiful.
“Depression is bad hygiene, dirty dishes, and a sore body from sleeping too much,” she wrote.
“Depression is having three friends that are only still around because they have the patience and love of a saint.
“Depression is crying until there’s no more tears, just dry heaving and sobbing until you’re gasping for your next breath.
“Depression is staring at the ceiling until your eyes burn because you forget to blink.
“Depression is making your family cry because they think you don't love them anymore when you're distant and distracted.
“Depression is somatic as well as emotional, an emptiness you can physically feel.”
Todd concluded her post by appealing to people who don’t have depression themselves, but know someone who does. “Please be easy on your friends and family that have trouble getting up the energy to clean, hang out, or take care of themselves,” she wrote. “And please, please take them seriously if they talk to you about it. We’re trying. I swear we’re trying.
“See? I brushed my hair today.”
Todd isn’t the first person to highlight how depression can manifest in sufferers feeling unable to take care of their personal appearance and hygiene – in particular the inability to brush their hair. In March this year, hairdresser Kate Langman posted step-by-step photos of one of her customers’ hair transformations on Facebook. In the first photo, the woman’s hair was tangled and unwashed; in the last, it had been washed, coloured and blow-dried.
“[She] suffered with a very deep depression,” explained Langman. “She couldn’t get out of her bed for six months. Which meant she didn’t wash her hair or brush it.”
Langman spent eight and a half hours working on the customer’s hair, combing it out, conditioning it, colouring it, and cutting it into a new style.
“I want her to know how great, wonderful, kind, loving, and how strong of a person she is,” said the hairdresser. “And not only those things, but how beautiful she is… she deserves nothing but happiness, and I'm so thankful and so grateful I got to help with her first step.”
Self-neglect – aka the inability or reluctance to take care of oneself – is a common sign of depression and other forms of mental illness, and can extend to obvious body odour, poor oral hygiene, or a person regularly wearing unwashed clothes.
When coupled with other symptoms, noticing that a loved one has suddenly stopped taking care of their personal hygiene and appearance could be a red flag that they are slipping into a depression, says psychologist Alicia H. Clark.
“It can be hard to understand how someone could simply not get out of bed or clean themselves, and even harder not to be alarmed by it,” she tells SELF.
“Patience and compassion can help your loved one know you care, as can rational reminders that they are depressed and need help. Offering hope is probably one of the most powerful things you can do.”
Watch: What not to say to an anxiety sufferer
Dealing with depression
While the symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between different people, doctors have said that the most common is that “you feel sad, hopeless, and lose interest in things you used to enjoy”.
Other symptoms include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling irritable
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Low sex drive
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Difficulties with concentration
There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to experience all of them at once. Mental health experts advise that you visit your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks.
You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.