Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Worse Than Nanny McPhee: I have a pretty mortifying problem, and I don't know how to deal with it.
I work as a nanny for two children. When I started, I was also dealing with depression and anxiety. These two mental conditions did not impede my job, but they really took a toll on my personal hygiene. Frankly, I would go several days without showering, brushing my teeth, or wearing deodorant. My clothes were often sloppy or dirty. I am very ashamed of this period in my life.
I am on medication and doing much better, but I look back and cringe at my past hygiene. Honestly, on bad days, I still pull my greasy hair in a bun and skip brushing. I think that my bosses definitely noticed—I have seen them giving me strange looks when, say, I wore wrinkled pants with cat hair on them, repeated clothes two or three times a week, or didn’t brush my teeth or wash my face.
It’s deeply shameful for me to think about, but they have never said anything to me about it. I am wondering if I should acknowledge why my appearance was so subpar and apologize for it. One of my friends said that if they had had a problem with it, they would have said something to me. It might also be my anxiety playing mind games in my head. But I just can’t get past the embarrassment of my past hygiene.
A: You don’t owe your employers an apology, especially if they’ve never said anything to you about the subject. You’re getting treatment for a medical condition, and your hygiene has improved considerably as a result. That’s great, and I hope you’re giving yourself credit for all you’ve done to care for yourself. If you still occasionally put your hair in a bun, please don’t beat yourself up over it (maybe carry a small container of dry shampoo with you if you’re feeling self-conscious—that stuff is invaluable).
You say they noticed your appearance in the past but didn’t say anything to you, which means they’ve likely noticed how much better you’re doing now and did not consider it something you owed them an explanation about. Since you work with small children and not in, say, a courtroom, they likely didn’t see it as a work-related issue. You’re doing much better now, and I’m sure your employers are happy for you.
One of the symptoms of depression and anxiety is heightened self-scrutiny and self-recrimination, and I think that’s what’s going on here. Go easy on yourself, as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you won’t still periodically experience bouts of self-recrimination. Just remind yourself in those moments that you are doing everything you can to treat your depression and anxiety and that your employers think you’re doing a good job.