When I was a little kid I went through a hard-core “dress up” phase that mostly involved wearing my mother’s bridal lingerie and playing with a foam sword. I was Xena or Princess Jasmine or Alanna The Lioness from those Tamora Pierce novels. Sometimes I was even my cool older cousin Joanna, who was inexplicably fighting invisible monsters with a sword in a lacy negligee. I was never, ever myself—probably because I didn’t know who I was yet. A blank canvas waiting for paint. Through the years I created myself, a veritable collage of traits I liked in other people and fictional characters. Cultivated long enough, they all started to feel natural. It comes without thinking now: a Frankenstein’s monster of personality unleashed on the unsuspecting public.
Still, sometimes I don’t feel real. For someone as extroverted and social as I am, a surprising amount of life is still lived completely in my head. I would be more comfortable as a brain in a jar. Most times my body feels like a clunky afterthought to drag around, an obligation. On occasions lasting anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months, life can feel far away: a faint noise in the other room, muffled by a wall. I’m watching my avatar live my life, dissecting the particulars like you would in a movie forum: “I don’t think she’s as likable after that last conversation in the bubble tea place. . . .”
For years I couldn’t explain this facet of myself. I wasn’t even completely aware of where it ended and I began. I would think I was just tired or distracted, that everyone was like this. It’s only been recently that I’ve gained a better understanding. I came upon the term depersonalization and a lot clicked into place.
Depersonalization Disorder is described by Web MD as “feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts . . . the person may feel like they are a robot or in a dream.” It can be a reaction to and a coping mechanism for stress. Episodes can last anywhere from a few minutes to a number of years. I am aware that I’m neuro-atypical in a general sense, but this specific disorder pinpoints many of my symptoms. I know that I have feelings, sometimes really strong feelings, but it can be hard for me to have access to them. I’ll react to things but they almost don’t resonate on the inside.
A friend of mine recently wrote and starred in a play based on his own experiences. As an actor playing himself, he said words he meant, he showed genuine emotional reactions to events that had happened, but it was all a step removed. Not happening in real time. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it.
I don’t just have feelings. I collect data and then decide what to feel based on that information. Usually this happens in a fraction of a second, but when I don’t fully understand something it can feel like a blank space. If that blank space remains empty long enough I will get agitated and uncomfortable. This can trigger an episode of depersonalization.
Self care can go a long way toward keeping me grounded. Often that means taking a nice long bath, going for a walk, or listening to music. But sometimes it includes hair, makeup, and other forms of decoration, in order to make this body a proper dwelling for myself.
Of all the articles I’ve read about women and their relationship to makeup, I’ve yet to have one really resonate. Sometimes I do feel like I “need” make up, but it has nothing to do with insecurity or anyone else thinking I’m pretty. It has to do with feeling like myself: having the outside match the inside. I just don’t particularly relate to a random selection of features that were assigned to me at birth. I relate to my lipstick, my rings, my tattoos. Things I have chosen. Things I control.
My morning routine centers me. It’s a calm ritualistic moment that’s just for myself—to curl my lashes and reflect on my life. I adorn myself with symbols that mean something to me. I favor hamsas, evil eyes, and wishbones, not out of holding any true superstitions, but because I like the idea of warding off evil. I like the idea of protection. I wear skulls, bones, and preserved bugs as jewelry to remind myself that everything comes to an end, to say to myself, “This is it, baby girl, you better make the most of it.” I wear my hoops to take a little bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me when I need to feel like a badass. I smoke out my eyes to channel the manic energy of Effy from Skins for a night out. I wear the same shade of brown nail polish as my cousin Erin when I want to feel like she’s there.
When I am having a bad day or a particularly intense bout of anxiety or depersonalization I can look down at my hands and the same five rings I always wear and remember I am still me. I can remember that I get to choose who to be. I can feel reconnected with myself.
We are all a living, breathing collection of what’s influenced us. Of who and what we’ve let in. I want to keep creating myself, to be a living piece of art. I want to feel like a real human, even on the days my brain won’t cooperate. My everyday beauty routines are an invaluable part of feeling whole. Getting ready, working up the nerve to face the day. War paint. Home, sweet home.
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Kristine Rose is a make-up artist, esthetician, and writer. She strongly believes in each individual’s right to express themselves through style, make up, and body modification (or lack thereof). Beauty writing is her one true passion and she intends to revel in it until her untimely death, crushed under the weight of her own jewelry. Follow her on Instagram: @vanityarchitect and @glitter_or_death.