It's late for a weeknight, around 11 p.m. The morning's makeup feels heavy on my face. My mascara is beginning to flake under my eyes after spending the past hour dozing in front of the TV. My lipstick has settled into the cracks in my perpetually chapped lips. My tinted moisturizer has oxidized into an orange patch on my forehead. It's time to wash my face.
In the bathroom, my mind revs up, energized after my brief late evening nap. My anxiety lives for bedtime. I have a vague sense of unease, not tied to anything concrete, and my anxiety cycles through possible concerns until it lands on just the right fear to kickstart my insomnia. It goes something like this:
Cancer? How about we worry about cancer tonight? Or maybe home invasion? You read that one article about the Manson Family during your lunch break, it seems like you should probably be worried about home invasion. It could happen to anyone, after all.
I step in front of the mirrored cabinet above my sink, my skin sallow under the harsh overhead light. Is it normal to be this tired before midnight? You're only 26 years old. I dip my index finger into a tub of cleansing balm and massage the thick blend of solidified oils across my eyelids in circular motions, the muscles in my shoulders relaxing as my eye makeup melts.
OK, but remember — Charles Manson's followers used to break into people's houses and just watch them sleep. They didn't even steal anything! You wouldn't know they were ever there.
I open my eyes. They're ringed with smeared, greasy mascara. I remove the cleansing balm and makeup with a wet paper towel, breathing a little easier as I lift the day's residue off my skin. Charles Manson is in jail and all his followers are like a thousand years old, my rational side counters.
Next is a cleansing gel. The subtle scent of citrus mingled with the steam from the faucet further loosens my tense shoulders, but I keep one eye open at a time as I rinse the cleanser off, watching my reflection in the metal hardware on the sink. You never know what's behind you, my anxiety whispers. I whip around to face the opposite wall, but of course there's nothing behind me — there never is. I pat my face dry, exhaling into the towel.
As I swipe a cotton pad soaked with witch hazel toner across my flushed cheeks, the knot of dread in the center of my rib cage starts to shrink, just a little bit. My mom uses witch hazel toner, too, and the scent reminds me of home.
The voice in my head, the voice of my anxiety, sounds a little farther away. Are you sure the front door is locked? Maybe you just think you remember locking it. This one always gets me — I can't count the number of times I've gotten out of bed just to look one more time, even if I've already checked. I splash a few drops of essence on my face and the cool water startles me awake. Of course the front door is locked, I haven't left the house in hours, I assure myself.
I let the essence sink into my skin for a few seconds, turning my attention to the shelf stocked with all my currently in-use treatments, serums, and moisturizers. My anxiety is really getting worked up now, straining to be heard over the thoughts that crowd my head as I try to decide what my face needs next. I even find the product names relaxing, and sometimes when I have trouble falling asleep at night, I list off the items on my shelf from memory to block out other thoughts — the skin care junkie's counting sheep. There is nothing more benign and non-threatening than face cream.
Glossier Super Pack, $65, Glossier; Milky Jelly Cleanser, $18, Glossier; Ultra Repair Cream, $30, Sephora; Benefit Total Moisture Facial Cream, $42, Sephora; Sk-II Radical New Age Cream, $230, Sephora
Tonight, I use a treatment with niacinamide and zinc to soothe redness and help with breakouts. The serum calms my cheeks' rosacea, a physical manifestation of the emotional stress I battle daily. My anxiety is quieter but no less insistent now. While you're at it with the front door, might as well make sure the coffee pot hasn't been on all day. That's a fire hazard.
I've left the coffee pot on all day maybe once in my entire life, but I can't shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, I did it again today. I consider piling on another serum to prolong my time in the bathroom, to avoid the inevitable moment when I will walk past my bedroom door and into the kitchen just to double check the damn coffee pot (and, while I'm at it, the door) but my skin feels good. It's time for eye cream.
The one I'm currently using comes in a heavy glass jar with a gold lid that I imagine an Old Hollywood starlet would have loved. Charles Manson lived in Hollywood, my anxiety chimes in, growing increasingly desperate. I laugh a little at the absurdity, bouncing the pads of my ring fingers gently against my under eye area to spread out the cream. Anxiety is depressing and scary, but every so often it's a little bit funny, too.
Because it's summer, I opt for the lightest of my moisturizers, a hyaluronic acid-based water cream. If I were to award one item in my collection the title of Most Soothing Beauty Product, this would be it. It has a pillowy, light-as-air texture that becomes watery as soon as it touches my skin. My racing heartbeat slows as I massage it into my face, watching as the white film turns clear.
I look in the mirror, surveying my handiwork. My skin looks supple, dewy, if a little bit pink from all the rubbing and prodding. More importantly, I feel calmer. The incessant chattering of my anxiety never truly goes away, but at least my skincare routine turns down the volume.
Tonight, I'm still jittery, so I add a few drops of primrose oil to seal in the rest of my skincare. It has the added benefit of leaving the lingering scent of primrose on my face. I breathe it in along with the cool breeze from my air conditioner, some free aromatherapy.
Satisfied, I turn out the bathroom light and leave the room. I pause at my bedroom door, casting a glance toward the entrance of my apartment, remembering the feel of turning the lock over in my hand when I came back from a coffee run that afternoon. If you keep up the lax attitude about things like locked doors I simply won't be able to help you, my anxiety yammers as I climb into bed, trying to clear my head of lingering worries. It's starting to work — my vision gets cloudy and I start to drift.
But, Charles Manson... my anxiety pleads. I take a deep breathe full of primrose, push the thought out of my mind, and fall asleep.