There was a time not too long ago where I was working 80-plus-hour weeks in a toxic environment that never quite shut off. My crazy NYC work demands were the last thing I addressed before setting my alarm at night. Work was the first thing on my mind as I woke with an anxiety gasp each morning, followed by a long and labored FMLLLLL exhale. My social media at the time, of course, reflected quite a different story.
“Another day in paradise!” I seethed with sarcasm, my face buried in my two iPhones at brunch with my girlfriends, gulping down my mimosa and putting out fires while trying to keep up with the table’s conversation.
“A million girls would kill for this job,” Emily Blunt chided, rolling her eyes at me, my real-life Devil Wears Prada world crumbling around me as my evil coworker sabotaged yet another project I’d poured my soul into the night before.
I’m not sure the exact moment I realized that 7-days a week at the office, week after week, surrounded by deeply unhappy people with the most inflated egos I’d ever witnessed began to change me as a person. My nuclear-warfare-proof walls constructed to get through each day never quite got a chance to retreat, with messages from work flooding in every night until I fell asleep and bidding me “WAKE THE FUCK UP” each day.
Needless to say, my mental well-being was on the decline.
I snapped at everyone and everything, from our sweet house pup Tootsie to the deli dude at the corner bodega. I SAID BAGEL DOUBLE TOASTED, GODDAMMIT, I heard my inner monster roar, startling the real me. Meltdowns became a near-daily occurrence. “You can’t keep calling your mom crying in the Uber home from work,” my Dad pleaded. “We’re starting to worry.”
One bitter cold night in late January, I power-walked home from the L-Train with my scarf wrapped around my neck and face until only my eyes were exposed. I huffed as I unwrapped my layers standing in the doorway, angry at the cold and my life in general. I glanced up at myself in the bathroom mirror and gasped. My face was absolutely covered in the red lipstick I’d completely forgotten I was wearing. My Joker-faced exterior matched my flaming-dumpster insides, and I nearly peed my pants with the realization.
After a good, hearty laugh shared between my gargoyle monster self and my real self, I shed my subway-contaminated clothes and slipped into a fluffy robe. “That’s better,” I sighed. I set my two phones to charge, flipping them both to airplane mode with a jolt of adrenaline. “BOUNDARIES,” I said with a “suck it” salute aimed towards Manhattan.
I lit my favorite candle, wet a cotton round with Micellar water, and started to peel the layers of makeup, city grime, and bad vibes off the surface of my skin, flames casting dancing shadows on my wall. How cathartic it is to watch a cotton round turn from white to dull grey with every swipe. Next, I lathered on a foaming cleanser, massaging the tension I’d been holding all day in my jaw, and between my eyes. I sprinkled my wet washcloth with drops of lavender essential oil, bathing my brain in a wave of calming goodness. My shoulders relaxed as I gently wiped the cleanser and remaining dirt away. My skin tingled gleefully alive with every swipe of my toner, like healthy gums after a nice Listerine rinse. I cloaked my fresh skin with a hydrating mist, fanning waves of cool air and feeling like Cleopatra. “Now we’re really getting indulgent,” I smiled to myself, pressing a cocktail of serums into my thirsty skin mindfully and with love. Finally, a thick coat of moisturizer sealed in my hydration and intention to chilllll and breathe a little easier.
When it was all said and done, I looked at my dewy skin and exhaled any lingering tension I was still carrying. Then I said thank you to myself for these few minutes that turned my day (and my attitude) around completely.
Connection with my physical body. Resting my whirring, exhausted mind. And a dose of much-needed love to myself.
In the months that followed, my nighttime skincare ritual morphed into the one thing that got me through each day, usually the only moment I spent in peace and quiet. The work demands would always be there, but if I could take 15 minutes to myself to recharge, none of them seemed so life-or-death. My roommates hopped on the self-care love train with me, screaming when I brought home a carry-on full of Parisian drugstore skincare magic after Fashion Month finally ended.
My skincare ritual became a self-love practice that fed a part of my mental wellness that had been in starvation mode, ironically bringing me closer to my True North—the part of me that is anything but skin-deep.
It was just an added bonus that, even on tired, makeup-free days at the office, my skin was poppin.
Much to my coworkers’ annoyance and despite their very best efforts, I was still glowing, shining.
If you or a loved one needs to speak with someone, help is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) via the Lifeline Network.