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Monday, May 20, 2024

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Dirty, Pretty Things 

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG, photos via Shutterstock

Often, after an intense therapy appointment, instead of sitting in my car, folded across the steering wheel before I have the strength to face the rest of the day, I make a detour to the T.J. Maxx on the way home. I don’t always buy anything; I just wander the racks and flip through organized chaos, waiting for my brain to soak and reset. But if my wallet allows, I stock up on fancy toiletries and bathroom accessories I couldn’t otherwise afford.

There are bottles and jars filled with grapefruit-and-mango-scented something or mandarin-and-bergamot-scented something else; charcoal facial cleanser and clay body scrub. There is fancy, lavender hand soap in a glass bottle.


There is an unnecessarily beautiful glass to hold my toothbrush. It is tall and narrow and meant for lemonade or sweet tea with its dancing, henna-tattoo-like designs. It kind of matches the equally unnecessary and fancy shower curtain I bought a year earlier. My bathroom smells of grapefruit and lemons and lavender and calm.

At my worst, I don’t shower. I don’t brush my teeth. I don’t change my clothes. This is the reality of depression. It is stinky and sweaty and messy and gross and filthy. It is a salt lake soak and a body riddled with millions of tiny paper cuts. Your body wants to give up; why should you help it stay clean and steady?

So when I can drag my body out of the bed and into the shower—even if it’s just so I can have a place to confuse water and tears—it is a victory. Or, at the very least, a place to use the moisturizing face mask that promises “10 days to visibly improved skin;” it gives me permission to welcome at least 10 more mornings. Ten more times to bathe and lift this thing from my skin. Ten days to be visibly improved.


I have taken a shower for five nights straight. And on four of those five nights, there is a scrubbing and a sobbing. There is an exfoliating, dual-sponge shower poof and exclamations of hurt hurdling themselves out of my belly and into my mouth.

There is the iTunes set on Jason Mraz to drown out the wailing. One song on repeat serves as hurt and healing for a full three minutes, and I scrub and sob and scrub and sob until my skin is red and holds a faint and distant pulse to match the throbbing in my head.

And afterward, when I step out of the shower and emerge back into the fog— this time masquerading as mist—my skin is as soft as calm and peace. I smell like grapefruit and purpose and mango and tomorrow and coconut oil and possibility and rose hip oil facial serum and morning.

I feel like I deserve morning. How can I not be when my skin is this soft and scented? When this face is so smooth and dewey? And if there isn’t a promised morning, then at least for the hours until I allow sleep, I feel like something beautiful and healthy and loved, if by nothing else, then the cells that make me.

My therapist suggests I create rituals; a collection of movements to help practice mindfulness. These elaborate and intense showers are part of this. When I can’t manage anything that grand, I start small; a mug of ginger-and-lemon green tea with cayenne. My limbs are too jerky and absentminded to trust to things that are not properly contained, so I use a travel mug even while sitting still.

One morning, I forgot to slide the piece of plastic that protects the tea from my clumsy. It wasn’t until I felt the wet and warm slide under my dress and onto my skin that I realized what I had done. There was a river of brown with red-orange dust flowing dangerously close to my laptop.


I leaped up; creating more damage. Grabbing electronics and notebooks out of the flood, I stripped the sheets and pillowcases and stared at the new stain on an otherwise pristine mattress. I looked around the disheveled and disorganized bedroom. I had been working on my bed because the desk felt uncomfortable and long hidden by piles of laundry and papers. The floor needed a vacuum and some attention to detail.

I stood in the chaos and registered that not long ago, this spill would have triggered a hurricane of sobbing. It would have been added to the collection of reasons I didn’t deserve to be here. It would have lodged itself into my chest and slowly helped the myriad other things chip away at the rock that was once my resolve.

Instead, I looked at the pile of wet things in my arms and the collection of shoes and clothes on the floor and laughed. I laughed until the sounds lodged in my throat and created a thick coughing. It was so violent and furious that I was afraid I would vomit.


In the midst of this cacophony of laughing and coughing, the tears came. Not like they would have months ago. These tears were some other kind of weeping. Something that told me that I was OK. That I had returned. That I was laughter and spill and cough and alive. That I was disturbance and steady and bold and breathing.

I decided against washing or changing the sheets; decided instead to get in the car and travel the mile or two down the road to that familiar shop. It is now the bedroom’s turn to deserve new things: sheets and pillowcases and small, unnecessary decorative pillows and new, bright comforter.

Today this life deserves a new comfort.

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