My college experience was bookended by two major life events: my mother’s cancer diagnosis in November of my first semester, and her death in October of my fourth and final year.
While my friends were sleeping off parties and late-night cram sessions, I would get up early, take a bus to the hospital, and spend a few hours studying at my mother’s bedside before returning to campus for an afternoon of classes. Even in the hyper-social environment of a college dorm, I was lonelier than ever as I tried my hardest to keep my parallel life a secret from my friends, many of whom had no way of relating to what I was going through at that time.
Without the support I needed to cope with the overwhelming feelings of anxiety, I fell back on an old childhood coping mechanism: gather as much information as humanly possible, to give myself the illusion of control. Name a chemo protocol, and I could rhyme off the drugs it used, the side effects for each, and a list of recommended remedies.
I was simultaneously in type-A control and also utterly overwhelmed. Sleep was the first casualty of my stress. Nearly every night, I would shut the lid of my creaky Dell laptop and crawl into my tiny single bed, where I would lie awake for hours on my plastic dorm-room mattress.
Desperate for rest, I turned to YouTube in search of relaxation videos that would lull me to sleep. One night, after listening to new-age ladies telling me to “imagine a warm light flowing through my body,” I noticed that one of the suggested videos was a "What’s in my purse?" segment. Maybe it was voyeuristic curiosity, or maybe it was a desire for a distraction, but something made me click on that little thumbnail of a blonde girl holding up an empty bag for the camera.
I spent the next nine minutes and 58 seconds completely transfixed by this perfectly put-together young woman detailing the contents of her monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag (it was 2008), which included not one, but two designer wallets — one of which was inexplicably empty
That video succeeded where others had failed up until that point: It completely took my mind off of everything else that was going on in my life. I had discovered a delightful parallel universe in which there was no problem that the right eyeshadow base (Urban Decay Primer Potion
) couldn’t solve, and where the worst thing that could happen was your liquid liner drying out. Already an overly-serious kid with a penchant for taking on too much responsibility, I matured five years in the first few months of my mother’s illness. These colorful tutorials filled with beautiful people and luxurious cosmetics infused my life with a sense of excitement and fun that was sorely lacking.