5 Ways Narcolepsy Has Shaped My Beauty Routine

Fighting a deep need for sleep has influenced my regimen in surprisingly positive ways.
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Katherine D
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Fighting a deep need for sleep has influenced my regimen in surprisingly positive ways.

I’m a clinical zombie. That’s how I think of it sometimes, anyway (well, at least when I’ve been marathoning The Walking Dead).

BRAAAINS... I mean... LIPSTIIICK...

BRAAAINS... I mean... LIPSTIIICK...

I have narcolepsy, which isn’t a disease that most of us think about very much. There isn’t really a reason to: according to the Narcolepsy Network, it affects only around 200,000 people in the United States. Unfortunately, this low incidence rate means that if someone finds out that I have narcolepsy, they usually assume I’ll fall asleep uncontrollably during that very conversation.

Not exactly! Although uncontrollable sleep or loss of muscle control can occur for some people, especially during emotional episodes, this is called narcolepsy with cataplexy. The rest of us zombies have it a little easier. For me, it means that I have to fight a deep need for sleep the entire day since my brain never fully wakes up. I regularly fantasize about crawling in bed throughout the day and often cannot concentrate; I’ve cancelled many social plans because I can’t stomach the thought of keeping up a façade of energy for any longer.

However, this is where the irony comes in: I don’t sleep well at night, either. Falling asleep the first time is fairly easy, but I wake up about four hours later. I’ve seen an incredible amount of Hallmark Channel programming at 4 a.m. this way (shout out to Hallmark for never showing infomercials!). Well, actually, I only get to watch Golden Girls reruns if the hallucinations and sleep paralysis don’t set in. Yeah, things get really fun here. 

I thought I was crazy for basically all of high school because of this. Your brain essentially gets stuck between waking up and sleeping, so you are seeing your room as it really is; however, your body doesn’t really get the message that you are awake, and you are still able to create images like you are dreaming. Perhaps some people have cool hallucinations, but for me, I just end up creating terrifying, B-movie demons lurking around me. There are some other mild symptoms (“Wait, did I dream that?” is a pretty regular worry for me), but those don’t affect quality of life as much.

Luckily, a kickass drug called Nuvigil banishes all that. However, I was diagnosed only recently (most narcoleptics go undiagnosed for a decade or so), so I spent my entire adolescence working around my symptoms. 

What does that have to do with beauty, you ask? (“FINALLY,” they yell.) Well, my zombie-tude shaped my entire approach to beauty.

My routine is highly calculated and efficient.

This is perhaps the broadest effect of my symptoms; it influenced not just my beauty world, but my fashion sense and school habits as well. In order to stay glammed up (and an overachieving nerd), I have to organize and calculate everything well in advance. 

Each night, I pick out my outfit, accessories and makeup for the following day because I know I won't be capable in the morning. I'll plan whether my blazer looks better with a bun or soft waves, or whether I could successfully pair both a cat eye and red lip with my polka-dot dress without veering into ‘50s-costume territory. 

Consequently, I put a lot of thought into carefully curated makeup looks: since I gave myself time to ponder and practice the night before, I was able to advance my technique and color play far faster than I would have otherwise.

Navy and gold shadow, which I like as a still-subtle alternative to neutrals on my coloring. I used royal blue and blue-black shadows from a discontinued Tarte palette, along with my trusty Sephora Jumbo Liner in Gold.

Navy and gold shadow, which I like as a still-subtle alternative to neutrals on my coloring. I used royal blue and blue-black shadows from a discontinued Tarte palette, along with my trusty Sephora Jumbo Liner in Gold.

Conversely, this habit also made me develop a signature look very quickly; if I were too tired to plan one night, I simply gravitated towards my ever-more-accurate interpretation of pin-up makeup in the morning. Since I love this look so much and have become very efficient at creating it, it’s really easy for me to slip into a makeup rut of neutral cat eyes and blue-red lips. Narcolepsy to the rescue, though! 

As an awesome silver lining, I’ve developed a solid arsenal of funkier looks from late-night experimentation. Consequently, I feel comfortable changing it up when my sister starts suggesting that I should probably just give her all of my eyeshadows, since I “only ever use, like, two of them.” (Dearest sister: note my lack of taupe shadow! The Smoked palette remains mine.)

I don’t need you, taupes, but I do love you.

I don’t need you, taupes, but I do love you.

I went to the dark side. (Shoutout to the Sith!)

Beauty also served as a coping mechanism for my narcolepsy. I saw terrifying things when I tried to sleep, and I needed a way to control them. My solution? Camouflage as one. 

I’ve always had a tendency toward the dark and macabre; in elementary school, I dressed as a dead princess for Halloween several times and spent a stretch convinced I was a vampire. 

Kids are so adorable.

Kids are so adorable.

However, when middle school angst coincided with the onset of my real-life demons, I embraced the darkness and went Goth.

Even after phasing out this identity, I still gravitate towards this darker side of beauty. Nearly all my clothes are still black, and anything with spikes or Victorian-inspired is usually still my jam. I wholeheartedly embrace the pale (NC 10, hey-o!), which I think goes better with my clothing palette anyway. Vampy lipsticks are a serious obsession; I typically gravitate towards more traditional reds since those are more flattering on me, but I feel like an amazing evil queen whenever I rock a deep burgundy.

I do still sport an updated Goth look for days when I need a Badass Boost. I break out the vampy lip, of course, and pair it with a dark eye and straightened hair. Here, I’ve done a grayscale smoky eye for maximum drama and/or angst.

I used my Urban Decay Book of Shadows IV to create this, but any shimmery white, gunmetal, and black shadows can be used.

I used my Urban Decay Book of Shadows IV to create this, but any shimmery white, gunmetal, and black shadows can be used.

On my lips, I used Make Up For Ever Aqua Rouge in 9 under L’Oreal Colour Caresse Wet Shine Stain in Berry Persistent. Technical note: smiles are allowed when your makeup, not your soul, is angsty.

On my lips, I used Make Up For Ever Aqua Rouge in 9 under L’Oreal Colour Caresse Wet Shine Stain in Berry Persistent. Technical note: smiles are allowed when your makeup, not your soul, is angsty.

I’ve gotten a ton of exposure to beauty looks from other periods because of my weird, late-night television habit.

There’s another huge aspect to my style. I slowly became obsessed with vintage beauty, and my narcolepsy catalyzed that. 

When I was awake in the middle of the night, I needed to distract myself from any possible demon activity to fall back asleep. Seeing real people exist in an ordinary world really helped root me in reality, so I liked to watch television; Hallmark, as I mentioned, was my top choice since it never showed infomercials or advertisements for horror movies.

Shows like I Love Lucy, Cheers, The Golden Girls and Frasier were the only ones on in the middle of the night, but I actually enjoyed watching them because they were an amazing visual primary document for the past. I copied Lucy Ricardo’s lipstick and precise up-dos, Diane Chambers’ fluffy curls and cheek contour, Blanche Deveraux’s color coordination and mad accessories game… the list goes on, and is a still a huge influence.

Blanche just really gets me overall, actually.

Blanche just really gets me overall, actually.

 I have a weird aversion to foundation.

Most shades labeled “ivory” make me look downright Oompa Loompian, so when I was younger, I just figured I wasn’t meant for the foundation life. I definitely wished that my skin wasn’t so difficult to match to makeup, but I really didn’t miss the foundation. 

I have always tailored my routine to be as nap-ready as possible; a layer of goop meant that I would either leave a skin-colored mark on my pillow or just have to apply my makeup twice.

The foundation really never had a chance against pillows.

The foundation really never had a chance against pillows.

I’ve since found a shade that works really well for me--calling all ghosts, Bobbi Brown Porcelain 0 awaits you--though I still rarely use it. I’ve tried to retrain myself since I don’t need naps anymore, but now the feeling of foundation just really wigs me out. 

I use a healthy slathering of La Roche Posay Anthelios sunscreen, as well as Bobbi Brown Touch Up Stick for concealer where I need it, but anything more feels like I’m wearing stage makeup.

My acne routine was sub-par.

Like many of us, I’ve had a long-ass struggle with acne. I’ve just recently gotten my skin under (shaky) control, and the timing made me realize how closely that’s related to the narcolepsy. 

My mom dutifully hauled me to the dermatologist at 15, and I received a prescription for Benzaclin, Differin, and various rounds of antibiotics. Though teenage-hood and my oil slick of a face certainly didn’t help the situation, I inefficiently treated it by taking shortcuts because I was too tired to follow a full routine most nights.

By the time I had decided to turn off the lights and go to bed, I had usually procrastinated until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Despite spending the day craving a bed, at night I was scared to get in it while I had a conscious thought process going; if I thought too much, I would start to invent new, horrifying visions of… things that I knew would actually appear to me halfway through the night. Thus, when I finally started getting ready for bed, I could barely brush my teeth, let alone execute a skincare routine and remember to take an antibiotic.

I often tricked myself and would just use toner to sanitize my face instead of washing it; then, I would usually only use one of the acne creams prescribed. My skin did improve, but I had no permanent change until I had the energy to actually regularly execute a routine: a real cleanser, moisturizer, chemical exfoliant, and spot treatment.

Every product in my current skincare regiment.

Every product in my current skincare regiment.

I might not fight the symptoms on a daily basis any longer, but narcolepsy’s influence on my looks is here to stay.