Updated: May 28
Conceal your true feelings. Conceal the fact that you’re falling apart. Conceal your dark circles and stress breakouts. Conceal. You’re better than this, she thinks as her throat closes up, the book she had been studying from falling out of her hand. Inhale, 2-3, exhale, 2-3. Deep breaths, happy place, happy place, think of Hawaii and London and the bookstore. Don’t think about the test next period that will make or break your calculus grade for the semester. Don’t think about your English essay that’s due at 11:59 pm tonight. FORGET. Steel your nerves. You are fire, you are shakti. FORGET! But she can’t. She can’t forget, because all she hears in her head is a tiny little voice that soon becomes a roar, screaming at her, taunting her existence and efforts to stay afloat. FAILURE. BITCH. OVERSENSITIVE. NERD. UNDERPERFORMING. IMPERFECT. She wishes it would stop, but the odds are not in her favor. Her eyes are rimmed with tears, surrounded by circles of black and purple. She applies her concealer and puts a smile on her face. Forget. Keep up the ruse. Don’t let them see your battle scars or you will be weak to them. (So she puts on her concealer and avoids her problems for a little while longer.)
Her foundation in life had always come from school. School had always been her happy place, her anchor in a stormy sea of life. The one thing she could always count on was school. But then her world was shaken, and her foundation crumbled. She started to run. If she actually stopped to think about it, she had always been running. Running away from her insecurities and her constant fear of failure and her preppy high school. Running on coffee and Tylenol and four hours of sleep. Running towards college and med school and promises of a golden future. Everything would work out as long as she kept on running. It didn’t matter if she was running on empty, a car on its last drops of gasoline. It didn’t matter if she was running herself ragged, torn between school and sports, debate team and honor society, volunteer hours and science fairs. It didn’t matter if she was running so fast that she might just collapse in a pile on the floor, her body wracked with sobs and her breath coming up short. She balls her hand in a fist and punches the wall in frustration and determination to stop this nonsense. It’s ridiculous to cry in her safe spot. (Because even if her foundation was crumbling day by day, she would cake her face in foundation and it would all be okay.)
iii. bronzer & blush
She really needs a tan and a mental health day, but bronzer and blush will have to do. Her skin is ashen and pasty, an ugly shade of yellowish-brown that makes her look perpetually ill. Anemia, the doctors say. Lack of iron in the blood. Her mother begs her to slow down, but she soothes her fears with assurances of pills and therapy. She stops the pills (more like forgets them) and ditches therapy. Bronzer makes her look like she has a summer tan year-round, giving her a healthy glow that puts her mother’s worries to bed. The blush makes her look alive, even happy again. The act is easier to keep up if she can look the part. (Who knew that some simple blush on the cheek and some bronzer on the bones could fool everyone?)
iv. eyeshadow & mascara
Eyeshadow makes her look more mature, and mascara makes her eyes stand out. She was never that pretty (despite fielding offers of dinner and a movie), just ordinary at best. She can feel the stares of the other girls and wants the endless streams of tears to stop (she’s pretty sure the droughts in California could be solved by her tear ducts and a bucket). She wants to feel pretty all the time and wants them to buy her act, wants them to eat it up like ice cream with a spoon. Her eyes are what draw people in, creased with subtle shades of brown and mauve and ringed with jet black mascara that makes her brown irises pop. She engages everyone she meets, slowly convincing them that there is nothing to see, nothing abnormal about her. She is merely the smiley, happy-go-lucky genius girl that has nervous breakdowns in her bathroom. Nothing special. (Because if her eyes are the windows to her broken, shattered soul, she wants them to at least look pretty.)
v. lipstick & lipgloss
Red is a power color, she thinks to herself. Her crimson lips are slightly parted as she faces the crowd. Hundreds of people, all staring at her, a china doll about to break. Months of work have led to this moment, her presentation on Ireland’s stance on the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. She’s become even worse. It’s all become even worse, the stress and the anxiety and the breakdowns, but a nice dark lip with some gloss on top makes her feel better. She can feel the power radiating off of her, the awed stares from everyone in the room, but all she feels is panic. The tears start to fall, and she bites her lip hard enough to draw blood (thankfully she wore red lipstick, so the blood merely looks like extra shiny lip gloss). Breathe and focus on your makeup. She feels tempted to swipe at the ruby-red droplets staining her lower lip but is afraid of destroying her carefully curated facade. She just has to survive a couple more years (she almost cries at the thought of another week; a year seems like a lifetime away). College is supposed to be a respite. A safe haven. A little slice of heaven on earth. And yet, to reach heaven, death is a requirement, a prerequisite if you will. She’s killing herself to make it to college; she sometimes wonders how she will ever make the most of (or maybe even enjoy) college if she is already a half-dead shell of her former self, pulling all-nighters and downing four cups of coffee a day. The voices continue to haunt her dreams. The little person in her head is pounding, demanding to be let out. She wants to let the person scream bloody murder, but she silences the thoughts, hoping that for one more day, the dam will hold in her tidal wave of emotions. Her legacy is strength, beauty, and poise, not hysterics and breakdowns. (As she reapplies her lipstick in the fancy hotel bathroom, with extra-shiny lipgloss on top, she wants to let her armor down, let the facade crack just a little. She composes herself and walks out of the bathroom door to face her reality.)
Sometimes life can become overwhelming. For Asian kids especially, we feel the pressure to perform, achieve, and succeed in all aspects of life. It's hard to confront how difficult it is to do everything we're expected to and and also deal with what that pressure does to our minds. Although we all feel different things and react to pressure and stress in different ways, this is my way of expressing those feelings. I hope at least one person can find some comfort in knowing that it's okay to feel this way too.
Biography: Kayla Patel is a senior in high school and a proud Indian-American. She spends her free time reading, watching crime shows and Lilly Singh videos, and listening to Bollywood music. She is also a writer and the Director of Current Events for July Fire Magazine and have received awards for her writing at the national level. You can find her on Instagram at @kpatel_6.