Before I leave my flat, I apply my lipstick. Red, bold lipstick…It’s the moment when I turn from schleppy to professional, from uncertain and plagued with academic doubt to a bold, brave young academic who has her sh*t together…

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There are two things in life I find completely fascinating in an awkward, nosey way: the books on people’s bookshelves and other people’s morning routines.

I am the person who, on entering your office (or living room or bathroom or shed) will make a beeline for the bookcase to scope out what you’ve got. Nosey, right?

I love it when there’s an obvious gap… it’s like some of us are not happy for others to know that they devour Mills & Boon.

But morning routines… that’s some Rorschach stuff right there.

I am quite convinced you can tell a lot about what people are like by what they choose to do in the mornings, how they choose to approach the whole idea of mornings.

Do you have a shower immediately on rising? Or coffee first? Tea instead of coffee? Or maybe you’re a ‘get up and get out’ kind of person?

Me – I like to be as organised as possible. I set the coffee machine and lay out my clothes (plus accessories and shoes) the night before, I set my alarm. And I get up to immediately shower, before coffee, dressing and going… slick, organised.

There’s one more thing.

Before I leave my flat, I apply my lipstick. Red, bold lipstick.

My current favourite was a gift from my partner (far more expensive than I’d previously bothered with and oh! OH!).

I am careful to apply it properly; it’s a three-stage process.

I do not leave the flat until it’s on and perfect.

This is a very important step for me in my morning routine.

It’s the moment when I turn from schleppy to professional, from uncertain and plagued with academic doubt to a bold, brave young academic who has her sh*t together.

Sure, it’s a mask. But that’s not a bad thing.

To take a few minutes each morning to think and (quite literally) reflect on how you’re going to be going out into the world is not a negative. My lipstick ritual gives me the space to do this… and to make sure I feel my best too.

The pejorative nature with which we often view women who care about their appearance can be so exhausting.

We police each other’s bodies with such fervour and, sometimes, tremendous vitriol. But this is not that.

To put on a slick of lipstick gives me the confidence to exist in a space which can be at once physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting.

To take a few moments in the middle of the day to reapply – pop to the loo, swipe on another coat, blot, and breathe – give me a pause to make sure I’m still okay.

Why am I telling you all this? As a young, female academic with Bipolar Disorder, I’ve had to very carefully consider how I work with my condition in a professional environment that is rife with stress, overworking and all kinds of pressures.

One of the most important things we can do in this kind of world is to remember the importance of practicing self-care.

The Self Care Forum defines self-care as

‘the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness’.

It’s not selfish, nor is it spoiled and pampered… it’s survival.

Self-care might be a healthy breakfast, prepared in advance to ensure you eat it.

It might be sending apologies to a meeting that might be difficult or emotionally draining.

In my case, it’s lipstick.

I know many, many other academics with long-term mental health conditions, for whom self-care is not a term.

I’ve had conversations with some of these people which have included phrases like ‘I don’t need that – who has the time?’, ‘I hate taking baths’ or (my personal favourite) ‘Sounds like whiny Millennial stuff’.

I can’t stress strongly enough how crucial to the effective and healthy management of a long-term mental health condition self-care is.

I take this further. I can’t stress strongly enough how crucial to a healthy life self-care is.

We all need it.

We should not disparage one person’s self-care rituals or decisions.

If it helps, do it.

My lipstick creates a (damn stylish) mask to allow me to be a strong, smart scholar than my Bipolar Disorder sometimes undermines.

Here is my challenge to you – find yours.

Find your ‘lipstick’. Learn how to love yourself and do self-care. Understand why this is so important. And don’t forget to breathe.

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Dr. Hattie Earle is a Lecturer in English and Creative Writing.

Her research focuses on representations of violence and trauma in visual culture, especially comics.

She’s also interested in how we can use images to tell old stories in new, different ways.

Hattie has published her first book on war and comics with the University Press of Mississippi in July 2017.

Read more from Dr Hattie Earle on Stylish Academic: The Long and Short of 4 Academic Dresses

Twitter: @comicbomb