I've noticed that when I'm depressed, I feel ugly. The two seem to travel together, a sinister, awkward pair like Cinderella's stepsisters.
It doesn't help that depression makes me tired, which makes me less inclined to exercise, which makes me less inclined to give a rat's ass about what I put into my mouth, which makes me less inclined to fit into my pants, which makes me a little more depressed. It doesn't help that sometimes my face is raccoon eyed and puffy from crying. It doesn't help that I'm achy and carrying myself a little bit like I'm made out of glass and could shatter at the slightest provocation and the tension is so pronounced you can see it in the little veins throbbing in my nostrils.
No, none of that helps, But that really isn’t it, either. It's just that my filter – the normal part of me that is essential to being a woman in today's world, the part that reminds me on the daily how in the grand scheme of things ugliness has little to do with pants size or makeup or what any of us looks like and much more to do with what we are – is a teensy bit broken.
Broken is probably not even the right word for it. It's more like it's running low on juice and needs to be charged. It's still sending up little reminders to me, but instead of the loud and incessant alarm necessary to drown out all the other noise, they're quiet chirps like the smoke alarm on its last legs, easy to ignore and probably just as dangerous.
So I stand in front of my mirror in the morning and nurse my coffee, my head tilted to the side, and the chirps get lost in the chorus of self-doubt, a pool that's easy enough for any of us to drown in if we're not being careful.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? We have to actively be careful not to let that shit kill us. We have to walk around with our eyes wide open and notice the actual beauty of the world, the things that matter, or we get incessantly stuck in the call of the things that don't, throwing money and time and so much effort after that crap that TV and magazine covers and every air brushed image that floats past our eyeballs a hundred times a day tells us is beauty that really isn't beauty at all, at least not the kind of beauty that matters when the lights go out, or when the years go by, or when we are feeling a little fragile and sad and need help.
When we need to reminded the most.
So if, like me, you need it, here's the reminder: True beauty is in everything. It's all around us.
It's the sun, rising every morning even when the blanket of darkness was so heavy that we weren’t sure we were going to be able to breathe much longer underneath the weight of it.
It's the leaves, not only unafraid of falling but flaunting it in a brilliant show of celebratory color.
It's in the curve of the handle on the mug that holds my cheer, warm to the touch and handed to me by my husband who can't fix me but can fix me coffee.
It's the hugs of a hundred kids on a hundred nights, the little ones who fall asleep against my belly, still soft from them, and the bigger ones too who pad in after I've started to fall asleep and bend towards me just enough, the way a plant will bend slightly towards the sun, and whisper so quiet I will doubt it happened at all: "I love you."
It's the kindness of strangers and traffic and parking spots and shopping carts returned and doors held and the guy who notices that the floor is a little wet and warns me lest I fall and the lady who offers her hand when I fall anyway and the people who stop long enough to ask if I'm okay.
It's the way the radio knows enough to play something special and the way the moon knows to light the sky and the way the clouds know to part to let the geese in.
It's the way my meds take the edge off and I remember what okay felt like and get giddy with possibility and sing again, if only quiet for now, if only to myself.
It's the way my youngest wraps his arms around my legs and asks innocently, "Mama am I beautiful?"
And I look at him, my freshly four-year-old baby boy. His hair, never cut, falls to the middle of his back in gentle waves, exactly the hair I remember the new corn silk Cabbage Patch kid dolls having when I was a kid, when I begged and pleaded with my mother to get me one and instead she bought me the older model with the yarn hair. (Disappointing hair being the story of my life.) He has blue eyes, the same deep blue my mother had – crowned in crazy lashes that touch his cheeks when he closes them against me. There's a gap in between his teeth just big enough to be adorable and hopefully not big enough to require surgical intervention the way mine did. He's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, of course, but it's not because of his hair or his eyelashes or his tooth gap. It's because he's here. Because he's pure and good and innocent and alive and full of light.
Just like my coffee, and my favorite song, and the sun and the moon and the leaves and the children.
Just like us.
Even Anastacia and Drizella – Cinderella’s stepsisters, that is – are beautiful, in the right light and with some distance.
Plenty of distance.
There you go.