There was this one time I didn’t brush my teeth in 7th grade.
For the entire school year.
Any similar face that you’re making right now is completely warranted. I’m making it, too. As a responsible adult who enjoys things like getting regular dental care, brushing and flossing, and not having a dusty hobo mouth that bats fly out of at night, the thought of someone not brushing their teeth for that long is absolutely horrifying.
This has been one of my deepest, darkest secrets for my entire adult life, and it damn well should be, because it’s freaking disgusting. You are actually the first ones hearing about it, sooo congratulations? I bet now you’re happy you never got your birthday wish to make out with me in middle school, which by the way, I am certain nobody ever, ever wished. Don’t make me remind you of acid-washed everything and the blonde perm.
I remember the exact day I made the decision that I wasn’t going to brush my teeth anymore. I was getting ready for school, picked up the toothbrush and toothpaste that were sitting there at the bottom of the rusty medicine cabinet, sighed and thought, “This again?” and then I put them back down and walked out the door to catch the school bus, teeth unbrushed. Somewhere between my front door and the bus stop, I realized what a time-saver I’d stumbled upon!
It also helped that I wanted to die.
That particular period was really rough in our house, and it had reached a point where clean teeth just didn’t feel all that significant in the grand scheme of things. I was so low, that the idea of having to unscrew the toothpaste cap, dispense it onto a toothbrush, and then commence brushing was just more effort than I could handle. I secretly wore dirty clothes every day and my showers consisted of me standing still under the hot water for five minutes and then just turning it off. Soap? Who the hell had the energy for that? Sometimes even just breathing felt like an effort. Most of my breathing came in the form of involuntary yawns.
Nobody noticed that I had stopped brushing my teeth, which was about on par for how invisible and dead I felt inside.
I would later learn that this was Clinical Depression, something I’ve dealt with off and on for as long as I can remember. Genetic? Situational? That shit doesn’t really matter. Whether you have it because your mother had it, or because of raging teenage hormones, or because your life is a shit pile isn’t really the point. Depression doesn’t want to know how you got there. It’s just so happy you’re there.
It has so many things to tell you!
Depression wants to make sure that you know that you’re not equipped to deal with anything because you are a lazy coward. It wants to make sure that you hate yourself. A lot.
It wants you to know that you’re just a bag of broken parts that are beyond repair and you are a bother to everyone around you.
It wants you to know that things would be so much easier if you weren’t around.
Depression wants to make you believe that you deserve to be invisible.
“Why, look at all those people out there! Climbing mountains and building skyscrapers and laughing with friends over lunch!”
“And look at you! You can’t even be bothered to brush your damn teeth, you lazy coward. You can’t even be bothered to brush your own teeth.”
“You should be invisible, you worthless piece of crap. You’re getting exactly what you deserve.”
This ^^ is how depression bullies you and pushes you down the well. The descent happens too slow to notice it when it starts and too fast to stop it once it’s rolling. At the point I stopped brushing my teeth, I had already fallen so far down the well that I couldn’t see my way out of it. The light at the top of it seemed like a pinhole in the sky.
Months and months went by after I stopped brushing my teeth. Towards the end of the 7th grade school year, someone had brought a bunch a bagels into Mr. McKenzie’s science class. As we grabbed them up and started pulling them apart to eat them, I complained to my friend Suzanne about how there wasn’t any butter to put on them.
Suzanne took a bite of her dry bagel, shrugged her shoulders, and said very matter-of-factly, with her mouth full, “Well, you could always just scrape some off your teeth.”
I started brushing my teeth again the next day.
I’m sure Suzanne didn’t know it at the time, seeing as we were only 13 years old, but what she did that day was see me. See me and make fun of me, sure, but she saw me at a time when I was certain I was invisible and that nothing I did – or didn’t do – mattered. It turned out brushing my teeth actually did matter, and she noticed it, and she said something. She snapped me back towards reality with one quick jab.
Obviously, there’s more to being pulled out of depression than just being insulted by a friend, but it did at least get the ball rolling for me that time. Realizing that you aren’t invisible is a step in the right direction. Giving a damn about even the smallest part of yourself can be a real start.
Since that day in 7th grade, I have used “The Toothbrush Test” countless times to determine whether I’m in a good place mentally. Any time in my life when I’ve gone to pick up the toothbrush in the morning and thought, “This again?” and started to put it back down because it seemed like too much effort, that’s when I’ve known that I’ve fallen down the well again and need to get help. Because we all need help sometimes, and there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting it.
If you have a friend who looks like they need help, get nosy. Ask them how they’re doing and what’s going on. If a friend who you know used to spend an hour getting ready for work in the morning suddenly starts showing up to work every day with bedhead, no makeup, a stained shirt, and food stuck to their face, chat them up. Find out what’s changed. Hell, start with a joke. “What’s with the pajama pants at work, Lady Naps-a-Lot?”
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, I always dress that way for work,” then congratulations on your job in Silicon Valley, you moist nerd. I’m sure you’ll own all of us in no time, so I have to call you a moist nerd while I still can, before you have the ability to send an army of android mercenary sex dolls to hunt me down. Nerd. Moist nerd.
You want me to say moist again. You know you do.
When a friend seems like they’ve lost their way, make it your business to let them know that you see them. Don’t be worried about coming off as pushy or sticking your nose into their business. If someone is your friend, then checking in on them when you think something might be wrong is your business.
Even if it’s just to tell them that they have butter teeth.