Personal style can help your mental health flourish

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on June 6, 2022

My necklace matches the flora and fauna in the garden.

How I feel in a soft sweater tucked in with my favourite pair of pants helps my mental health. Styling my outfits has helped me in my journey with bipolar disorder. I am more confident when I dress beautifully. It could be by pairing a blazer and a dress for working in the office. Or wearing a cardigan and a shirt and pant combination with a pair of pretty shoes.

I use fashion to help increase my productivity and boost my mood. I know many women who feel the same way as me. Dressing for a role increases the effort that you will give to the job.

I remember wearing a silver suit to a job interview at the Ministry of Justice in my twenties. I was nervous arriving early and had to sit a while in a long hallway. While I was waiting there, an off-duty policeman asked me if I was a lawyer. I was interviewing to be an administrative assistant. I must have looked sharp!

When I go to Mass on Sunday, I like to dress up as if I were to attend a wedding. It places my heart in a space to love the Lord more by taking extra time and care to look well.

I have two sisters, and we used to share our clothing, but some things were off limits. A few times there were squabbles about who could wear what and when to return it. When we were younger, we would wear patent black shoes to church, and on Easter we switched to white leather shoes. I enjoyed polishing the shoes to make them shine.

As a petite woman, I have learned to find articles of clothing that flatter my figure. It can sometimes be difficult to find the right size trouser or jacket. When you do, you feel just right.

God made us unique and beautiful. In Nicole M. Caruso’s book Worthy of Wearing, she shares “how personal style expresses our feminine genius.” Dressing well with our own personality gives us a sense of self-worth, though it goes much deeper than that.

On a cloudy day, I decided to wear my new pair of tan platform sandals to work with a dress. I checked the weather app, which said it would be cloudy all day. I figured that was good enough for me to wear sandals. They made the outfit pop. What I didn’t expect was the sprinkling of rain as I walked to the bus stop. I was a little cold and felt foolish. When I got to the office I forgot about the rain and remained happy wearing the sandals until I needed to change for dance class.

Shopping is fun for me because I am always on the hunt for a sale. I look for bargains and usually find something amazing on my adventure. Accessorizing with classics – scarves, belts, and jewelry – is a way to look chic.

I find inspiration from the women I work with, my friends, and in movies. When I first got sick with a mental illness in high school, I gained a lot of weight from the side effects of medications. It was disheartening. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I used to wear.

The good news is that you can dress well, whatever size you are. I found new clothes to enjoy wearing, and slowly my self-esteem grew.

My high school graduation dress was a beautiful pink chiffon vision with a white brocade bodice. I loved it because I felt like a princess in it. At the graduation dinner I danced with my dad as my mom looked on. I had a great time dancing with my classmates too, though I remember my finger swelled up, and I couldn’t pull my ring off. I used the ice sculpture for our grad class to bring the swelling down. I eventually took my ring off with ease.

Styling for me has become a way to improve how I feel. When you have a mood disorder like I do, it takes many ways to find balance. Medication, the sacraments, therapy, exercise, sleep, and even fashion benefit me too.

Next time you pull on your polka dot socks and tuck in your shirt, you just might boost your mood enough to smile a little more. It works for me!

My podcast The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience is available on popular streaming services.


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