How The Marvelous Magic of Makeup Helps Me Manage My Mental Health!


As art therapy gets bigger and bigger, I’m often reminded how awesome it feels to take up a hobby that soothes symptoms. Personally, I’ve never been able to Picasso it up and everything I’ve ever made out of clay ends up looking like a cry for help. (Sorry about that vase, dad!) Instruments? Nope. Crafts? Nope. Knitting? Yeah… that always ends with me throwing yarn and needles against a wall with a flurry of “fucks” coming out of my mouth. 

It’s important to uncover your talents. When you know what your gifts are, you have a better idea of what you’re able to give the world.

Only recently did I realize, however, that there is an art form I’m pretty darn decent at and not only does it make me feel good, it helps me look good too! (Unless I paint one eyebrow slightly off, in which case it only helps me look wildly inquisitive.) We’re talkin’ about the marvelous magic of makeup, yall!

I believe in glitter. I’m a 31 year old mother of 2 who painstakingly applies tiny specks of sparkle to my eyelids in between diaper changes for one super important and wildly awesome reason: it makes my dark days feel just a little bit lighter! And anyone who knows what living with depression is like knows that even just a sliver of light can feel like a lifeboat when the waves of our darkest days are crashing around us.

Bottom line: when you’re hurting on the inside, hard stuff on the outside feels just plain impossible.

Anyone who has lived with a mental illness knows that routines are extremely important in managing mental health. The more you’re able to commit to doing healthy things like going to work, visiting friends, and enjoying life even when you’re itching to isolate, the more manageable your mental health becomes. Wake up, take your meds, eat your meal, get ready for your day… you get the picture.

Makeup, for me, has always been about a lot more than looks. After a few years of my mother’s health taking a slow walk downhill, my family had to restructure financially which meant living in a tiny condo in a not so great part of town. As a junior in high school, I was less than enthused about changing schools and my anxiety was through the roof during orientation. My mother, ever sensitive to the trials and tribulations of my teenage years, took it upon herself to take me to the Clinique counter for the first time in my life where a rosy cheeked brunette taught me all about skin care and how to apply cosmetics so I wouldn’t look like Mimi from the Drew Carey Show.

I’ll never forget how that experience made me feel. I couldn’t control the fact that I was leaving all my friends and going to a new school. I couldn’t fix my mom’s health or our family’s finances. Hell, I was unknowingly suffering from a serious anxiety disorder that would take years of struggle to get diagnosed, but in that moment, sitting in an uncomfortable chair beneath obnoxious fluorescent lights, I looked in a mirror and, for what seemed like the first time in my life, I realized that makeup isn’t about painting your face. Makeup application is an art form that can make you feel fuckin’ fabulous too! 

Taking the time to pick up some practical skills in something curiously creative can transform your sense of self-worth.

Unfortunately, my mental illness took hold of this interest and for a lot of years my naked face wouldn’t be caught dead going out of my house! If you saw me without eyebrows, you knew I was going through tough stuff. Every time I’ve slipped down into a major depressive episode it was preceded with a bout of little to no makeup at all.

When I met my husband, bearded bachelor that he was, it was the first time in a long time that someone made me feel truly beautiful even when I was quite literally at my worst. He was in love with me - not the idea of me, not “perfect girlfriend” me, but hot mess, eats double stuffed Oreos in bed and traps spiders in jars for hours until he gets home to release them into the wild, me. He showed me that I could look in the mirror and see a smile instead of a messed up tooth, freckles instead of acne scars, happy, hopeful eyes instead of large bags beneath them.

There’s this freedom thing that happens when you start loving yourself. Once you’re there, you don’t need anything or anyone to make you feel valued or worthy. Some of the things you do in your pre-self-love-period will seem ridiculous and fall by the wayside. Other things, like my love of makeup, will feel so much better because you recognize that you’re doing it because you want to give yourself the gift of enjoyment. 

Falling in love with ME allowed me to discover that even though I didn’t need makeup to be beautiful. Instead, the act of artfully applying my makeup was in and of itself a beautiful thing.

Nowadays, it’s part of my mental health management routine. With 2 kids under 2, believe me, it can be incredibly difficult to find time. I’m not gonna lie… I’ve definitely left the house with one eyebrow on or wondered why the hell my reflection looked weird only to realize that I applied mascara to just one eye. Oops!

When I’m especially down, something as simple as a YouTube tutorial can help me to shift my attitude and, if I’m able to come close to accomplishing a look, it feels like a pretty darn decent win. And let’s be real here, most days I’ll take even a small victory over no victories at all! 

Mental illness is a confidence killer, plain and simple. It’s damned difficult to feel good about who you are when your brain is at war with itself. Well-meaning do-gooders will tell you to do a spa day, throw on a face mask, or to get a pedicure. 

But the truth of the matter is that a one time action isn’t going to fix a lifelong problem.

No matter whether you like to paint, write, do yoga, or drink a smoothie, it’s important to pick something that you genuinely enjoy doing and to make it a part of your daily routine. The more you commit yourself to taking care of you, the better you’ll feel over the long term. And hey, if you’re having a down day, I say sprinkle a little sparkle on it! 

Alicia GibsonComment