Ode to Orange
When I was a kid, I absolutely adored the color orange. Something about it gripped me and kept my attention in a way no other hue could. As a child, favorite colors are no joke. My devotion to shades of vermilion and carrot knew no bounds, and I began to develop an affinity for orange foods: from the delightfully honeyed aroma of Jersey peaches and fresh persimmons, to the savory flavor of sweet potato and cumin, to the saccharine offerings of (only the) orange Dots. (Still love Dots, but pink and red now own my heart.) It became pervasive in my sartorial choices— I'd even worn orange dresses to my junior and senior "proms." When I became older and more aware of how sight and surroundings can affect mood, and learned more about color theory, I found that orange is a sort of natural mood booster, and I began sprinkling it into my decor.
I couldn't care less about the fact that oranges apparently symbolize good luck and fortune. (I eat them almost every day and I'm still broke and unlucky.) However, I think there is beauty in embracing symbolism and ritual as a means of incorporating more intention throughout the day. Taking the time to purposely go through the motions of a ritual is what develops a good habit. After all, aren't good habits just positive rituals that we include in our lives without thinking about them? Having said that, I've thoughtfully considered some of the deeper sentiments and philosophies on colors and tokens for about a month now, and, as always, I have some thoughts. In my attempts at looking at the world with more depth and deliberateness, I fell in love with the color orange all over again. On the way though, I had to let go of my sadness (blue), and embrace a time of deconstruction (grey).
In August 2016, I realized that I'd been depressed for quite some time. I'd been in therapy for a few months at this point and was at the height of a dangerous struggle with finding the correct medication to treat my mental illness. I coped with this by writing about it a LOT, and working the mental heath angle into all of my lifestyle content. (Looking back, this was an odd choice.) I styled a long blue dress from Free People on my blog. Along with the ensemble, I shared some of my thoughts on the color blue— mostly about how sad it is, and about how I tend to gravitate towards its gloomier characteristics. I included a passage from Maggie Nelson's essay, Bluets, and I'm feeling inclined to share another one right now:
“It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one's solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.”
I began to realize that I'd fallen in love with the color blue just as Nelson had. All tangled up and helplessly surrounded by despondency— but found a pleasant familiarity in it. Additionally, I gravitated towards the darkness I saw in others. I sought after those who had a similar streak. Sadness may be no good but when your life is rapidly changing and nothing seems to stay the same for long, any constant can become an enjoyable presence, and in this way, I befriended my depression. The pangs of heartbreak, the tender quiet of aloneness. I relished in it, and I became it. It's an alright place to be for a time but it's no place for thriving.
Anyone who has even gone through a prolonged, inexplicable period of sadness knows how difficult it is to escape. If you're mourning something in particular, that's one thing. To be grieving over nothing at all is another thing entirely. Often figuring out where the sadness is coming from takes a lot of painful self-reflection. After all, it's so much easier to say, "I'm sad because [insert reason here]" than "I'm sad because there very well may be something wrong with me." Being sad for no reason means that there might not be a cure for it. It means that despite being dealt an alright hand in life, happiness still eludes you. And, to be frank, that just sucks.
My blue period was dotted with splashes of red and yellow here and there, as is often the case with bipolar. In this case, depression is sort of an ever-expanding Rubik's cube, with the colors constantly shifting and changing, seemingly impossible to sort out. I began to feel that every step forward was at least one, if not several, steps back. I spent many mornings wrapping myself in a neatly-decorated shroud, makeup creating a false vibrancy to my elegantly tired face, carefully-curated clothes giving the illusion that I could keep it all together. It's tough to keep up, though. And before long, I was frumpy as ever. With dark bags under my eyes casting a dour glow on my visibly weary visage, I saw myself barely recognizable. Clothes littered my floor and whichever smelled the least bad or required the least amount of maintenance (because you know I wasn't ironing anything) was what I wore. Coffee-stained band tees and the same pair of ripped jeans became my uniform. I didn't look great but managing to get out of bed in the morning was something to be thankful for enough. After months of living in this dismal place, I knew that something had to change. I had to get out, but I didn't know how.
As stated before, getting started is the scariest part of self-improvement. Even if you know what needs to be done (which is a rarity), making that first step requires so much courage and strength. I started by making a list of what I hated most about myself. ("Hate" is definitely putting it lightly.) I decided that if I could manage the golden-grey roots taking over my otherwise raven-haired head, I would be able to handle the next thing. Silly, I know. But I hadn't touched up my roots in a few months and they were looking pretty bad. Even going to the store to get a box of color (stylists of the world, I am sorry. I know this is a huge offense.) took more strength than I could muster. Even then, it sat of my bathroom counter for a few days before I decided to just do it. I had to make a point of setting time aside and when that time came, I fought it hard. Perhaps I was enamored by the fact that my haggardly outward appearance finally matched the glum state my soul? Either way, I didn't feel that I deserved a nice thing. Even more so, I didn't want to do a nice thing for myself because I wasn't completely sure if I could appreciate it. To get even deeper with it, I felt this sense of impending doom and was beginning to embrace some nihilistic tendencies in small ways. "I'm going to die anyway, why even bother?" One evening in the beginning of the summer though, with nothing better to do, I touched up my roots. And there, in the peaceful quiet of my bathroom, I realized the importance of self care— something that's followed me and grown since then. (More on that at another time though.)
So I made the first step. Great. What now? "Small steps, my dear," is what I've managed to see as the only way out of depression. Recovery is a long process and though it begins with one small step, it takes months— no— years— of hard work to maintain and grow. I knew early on in the growing process that more than just moving forward, I was going to need to go through a period of deconstruction before I could get to a good place again. Enter: my grey period.
Anyone who's known me for a while (well, pre-2017) knows that I tend to wear my heart and my emotions on my sleeve. I have no poker face. I'm not great at keeping my cool. Growing up, I was mercilessly bullied because I'd burst into tears with little provocation. I feared I'd never survive in a business environment because I'd get upset and start crying at the slightest sign of a superior's disappointment. Being overly-sensitive even played a pretty big part in a major in the early-2016 career change that ended up throwing my entire life into flux for a few years. After facing my over-grown roots, I jumped up a few levels and decided that my propensity to learn too hard into my feelings was seriously impeding my growth. Yes, it probably would have been much better to take on something like skincare to closet organization first and work my way up to the huge flaws but I can be impatient (another flaw) and, in order to get better, I had to get my emotions under control.
A book from Ryan Holiday, one of my favorite modern writers, came into my life at the most opportune time. It's called The Obstacle is the Way, and if stoicism was a religion, this would be the Bible. I lost myself in its pages, imaging a version of myself free from panicked impulses and emotional triggers. The stoics promised a life free from worry in that way. The secret to being content is an unwavering lack of concern. It's not wrong at all to see obstacles as creators of success rather than inhibitors of it. As Holiday says, we should all see "through the negative, past its underside, and into its corollary: the positive." The book focuses on three disciplines: perception, action, and will. In reading about "perception," I was gifted with objectivity, or the ability to see a situation like mine but with me removed from it. With "action," I was taught how to put more care into the process than the outcome, thus getting a more holistic view of the problem. Once "will" came along, I was fully able to look at tough situations through an optimistic lens, instead of a gloomy one. The book didn't ooze positivity or toss out any of the buzzwords associated with self-help. It was just what I needed. For a time.
I'll refer to this period as the "grey days," and they served me well. Deconstruction is a word that describes this brief era just about perfectly. Bit by bit, objectivity allowed me to take stock of my thoughts, my beliefs— every fiber of my being. I began to see which deeply-rooted sentiments were causing me pain, and which convictions were worth holding fast to. I took myself apart so that I would have the foundational integrity to be built back up, stronger and more exquisite. Being disconnected from my true self was wonderful for a few months but there's a reason why I referred to these as my "grey days." My world was reduced to greyscale, with shades of black and white and every tint and hue between. There was no saturation, no effervescence. In order to get the sparkle back into my life, I had to give myself to rituals.
Orange: the color of joy, creativity, enthusiasm, warmth, success, sexuality, and freedom. How do I get from one of the dullest colors to one of the brightest? Mindfulness and intention would be the answer. Now that I have stability in my home and in my career for the first time in years, I've been getting myself to accept the allure of habit. Creating good habits isn't easy, but as I stated before, I've found that it's much easier to do things like self care and responsibility in the name of ritual. Though going through the motions is the best way to learn something new, attaching meaning and a higher purpose to it makes it that much better. Now, instead of merely succumbing to or residing my emotions, I pause to consider the why and the how behind them. Rather than running from my feelings or just blindly accepting them, I try to walk them back so I can learn more about myself. Through my deconstruction, I pruned a lot of dead leaves. Shed some ideologies that I couldn't explain, got rid of beliefs I held only because I "always had." Sadder but wiser, I found that I was in a much better position to thrive— yes, thrive— for maybe the first time in my life.
I'm a work in progress— we all are. Finding a reason to do the things that are good for us, whether it's waking up early on a Friday to clean the kitchen so that's one less thing to worry about over the weekend or knowing when you need a pick-me-up and treating yourself to a donut instead of a protein shake or grapefruit for breakfast is completely acceptable. Making a point to fill my life with more orange and the beliefs it symbolizes was a small, radical step in the right direction for me. My advice to anyone looking to make a step forward? Start by doing one small, nice thing for yourself. It has the power to change everything.