photo: Meagan Fredette

Last year, I learned that I have bipolar 2 disorder. It’s ... not awesome. But it’s my new reality, and after I was diagnosed, I decided to learn how to find happiness in light of my mental illness. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve found peace through medication, therapy, my dog, and yes, beauty.

But this essay isn't about me. It's about you! For those of you who may be struggling with bipolar disorder, and its signature mood swings, beauty can feel like an impossible task. I'd like to share some tips and tricks I've learned to cope with B2D through beauty. 

First, let's talk about the symptoms of bipolar disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is defined as "a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks." Elevated moods are called manic episodes, depressed moods are called depressive episodes. Hypomania is a "less severe" version of mania and is a feature of bipolar 2, which is what I experience. For the purposes of this story, I’ll use the term mania by itself, but I will be referring to hypomania as well.

When your mood is up, you may feel more social and want to leave the house. And you shouldn’t head outside without applying SPF to exposed skin — no excuses, no matter the weather, no matter your skin tone. Melanoma is real, and we’re trapping even more UV radiation in our atmosphere thanks to climate change. Wear your sunscreen! The Sephora Sun Safety Kit can help you find your newest SPF fave; I also love the Bioré UV Perfect Milk SPF 50PA++++.

Mania can also make you feel very jittery. Remember Ricky Bobby’s awkward interview in Talladega Nights, where he didn’t know what to do with his hands? That anxious feeling is amplified, and sometimes fidget spinners can’t calm restless fingers. For some folks, like me, that nervous energy is taken out on your own body. Skin picking and body hair pulling become a way to soothe the jitters, disastrous consequences be damned. Before I know it, I’ve just spent 20 minutes poking nonexistent gunk in my pores. 

To calm red, inflamed skin after a picking session, slather on the aloe products. I love the Cucumber Gel Mask by Peter Thomas Roth. I’m skeptical of facial rollers because I haven’t seen any evidence of drastic benefits, but this is one scenario where they work well. Rollers, like the Herbivore Jade Facial Roller, help reduce puffiness and redness and are generally calming on the skin, which is what you need. Throw it in the freezer for a few minutes for extra cooling.

Next, and most important, you’ll want to apply a BHA, like salicylic acid, to your skin. Picking doesn’t just cause scarring and broken capillaries, it can also push possible zit material to the surface, making breakouts more likely. And manic pickers know that a breakout means: more picking. I swear by the Stridex Acne Pads to keep breakouts at bay.

If picking causes real damage to your skin, there’s only one real solution: dermatological laser treatments. It's expensive because patients often need several sessions, and treatments are rarely covered by insurance because they are considered cosmetic.

Some folks pull their hair during manic episodes. If you’re experiencing hair loss in your eyebrows or eyelashes due to manic hair pulling, growth serums are the way to go. Latisse works wonders, but is only available by prescription from a doctor; over-the-counter serums like GrandeLash can also help, but any hair growth serums must be applied daily, and due to the hair’s growth cycle, you won’t see results for around three months. 

I don't pull at my hair, but I pick at my hair follicles when I'm hypomanic. I've been using the RevitaLash Advanced Eyelash Conditioner and have noticed a dramatic difference. My lashes are so long, they're grazing my glasses. When I pick at my scalp, I use Davines Naturaltech Calming Superactive to help heal scabs and itchiness. It works so well that I've nearly curbed my hair follicle picking habit because my scalp skin is so much healthier. I'm so, so much happier without scabs all over the top of my head.

When you're manic, you may also want to put on a lot of makeup. I’m a firm believer in wearing as little or as much makeup as you want. Live your makeup truth, no matter what symptoms of mental illness you may be experiencing. But if you’re in a situation where full glam may not be appropriate, you’re in luck — bright, minimal makeup is trendy right now. 

You can still wear your teal eye shadow, but try placing it in your inner corners, with a shimmering nude color across the lid. Or go crazy with blue mascara, like the ColourPop BFF Mascara in Blue Ya Mind while skipping the eyeliner and eye shadow. I’ve compiled a Pinterest board of subtle, manic-friendly makeup looks, which I refer to for inspiration when I’m tempted to put all the colors on my face.

photo: Meagan Fredette

Bipolar disorder is defined by its mood swings. After mania comes a serious mood crash. When the depressive mood hits, caring for yourself can feel impossible. Hygiene can become an insurmountable task. You may lie in bed for days, covered in your own sweat and tears.

It’s during this time that you can treat yourself to fancier products. I stock up on luxury bath and hair products precisely for this reason. They’re not used frequently, but get the most use when my mood is lower. When hygiene feels fun and indulgent, rather than perfunctory, you may be more encouraged to get out of bed, shower, and wash your hair. 

Thus, I try to make hygiene an experience. I'll light a bunch of scented candles — Feu de Bois by Diptyque is my fave — and draw a hot bath with the craziest bath bomb I can find. I may crawl right back into bed and cry afterward, but at least I'm cleaner and feel more relaxed.

Showering less probably also means your hair needs a deep cleansing. For buildup, Davines SOLU Sea Salt Scrub Cleanser is my emotional crash holy grail. It's formulated with salt crystals so you can get a for-real scrub going, and the sea salt boosts texture. 

I get it, though. Self-care and beauty feel exhausting during a crash. I love my Pat McGrath Bronze Seduction palette, but during a depressive episode, I can't look at it. But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that you're more likely to take care of yourself during low moods, when beauty and skin care feel low-stakes and fun. No, those two concepts are not diametrically opposed, I promise! 

For days when you need to look “pulled together,” multi-use products can be especially useful. Sticks like the Milk Makeup Lip + Cheek can function as a lip tint, cheek color, and even a slight wash of color across the eyelids. I've expounded on my love for MAKE Beauty’s Blot Pot, which I wear as a lip balm and blush. It’s quick, it’s easy, and there’s something soothing about dabbing the balm onto my cheeks. The Blot Pot also comes in a sheer, dewy finish for a no-makeup makeup day. Just don't forget your SPF.

You can reduce your skin care routine down to the bare essentials. For instance, if you don't have the energy to deal with dryness from your favorite retinol product, skip it! Don't feel ashamed or lazy for reducing your skin care steps. The most important thing to focus on is keeping your skin clean, so a product like a micellar water that doesn't need to be rinsed is my go-to.

It can feel like mental illness is an impossible stumbling block. But plenty of people with mental illness live happy, fulfilling lives — myself included! And beauty is an integral part of how we exist within the world around us, and it can be a tool in your mental health arsenal.  Mental illness is a part of your identity, but your identity is comprised of all of the shades of who you are — purple eye shadow included. Live your beautiful happiness!

photo: Meagan Fredette