Welcome to Beauty Feels, a series exploring the different ways in which beauty routines and rituals can provide emotional support and aid journeys of self-discovery.
After hitting the destruct button on her 14-year relationship, Amy Lawrenson explains how the beauty routines she once saw as purely functional helped put her back together again.
On a hazy summer’s day last year I ended my 14-and-a-half-year relationship. One day I was engaged and the next I was sleeping on a friend’s airbed in her office. I’d known for a while that the relationship wasn’t working; while some couples became closer during lockdown, we grew apart. I’m now in therapy and what I realise is that I’m not good at showing my vulnerable side to anyone, even those closest to me. And so, while I had agonised over the decision in my head for a while, it came completely out of the blue for him. For my whole adult life, all I’d known was being half of a couple and I was intrigued to see what it would look like as a single person, living without compromise.
I moved to Amsterdam in March 2019. My fiancé had been offered a great job here, and so it was a no-brainer to pack up our life and move. I could write from anywhere and the city is close enough to London that we could travel home to family and friends easily. And, as a couple who didn’t want kids living in suburban London, the excitement of a total life overhaul was just what we needed. The trouble is, while I’ve got a wonderful network of friends that I have cultivated over the two years’ living here, being newly single during a global pandemic when you can’t easily travel back to see family or childhood friends is agonising. So I moved into a rented flat and focused my thoughts on making it a home that reflected who I am and how I want to live.
People say time is a great healer, but in my case the pain grew stronger. I started out optimistic, this was my decision and I owned it. I often tell myself I’m a ‘strong independent woman’ if I’m trying to do something that my other half would have done, be it around the house or life admin, but what I came to realise is that while I’m strong and a woman, I don’t love being independent. I want to share my life with someone I love. And I still loved him and I missed him. I muddled through my days, sobbing between Zoom meetings and crying myself to sleep.
During my tearful phase, ice cubes and Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer, £24.50, became my BFFs for reducing puffiness and concealing the dark circles from the never-ending merry-go-round of tear-filled days and sleepless nights – where I’d just lie there, going over everything in my head, like a bad movie I couldn’t un-see.
I told myself and everyone around me that I had no right to feel sad because I had broken his heart, but I was told time and again that I have every right to feel all the feelings. Unlike my pre-breakup self, I couldn’t contain my pain; I had to let it out. I’d gone from being so composed, so sure about my decision, to regretting everything. When I broke up with him he said to me if I ever doubted my decision, even just slightly, I should tell him. And so, I did. Unfortunately, he’d already found a girlfriend and had moved on.
After back and forth anguish-filled messages, planned meet-ups that never happened (because I knew if I saw him I’d break in half), he sent me a message that came right out of the Taylor Swift school of dating. In short, we are never ever getting back together.
I plunged into the deepest depths, a despair I had never felt before. Before, my new friends in Amsterdam would joke that they never see me sad. I’ve always been glass half full, happy, and I’m not one to wallow in sadness. I’m that annoying friend that, if you have a problem, I’ll try to come up with a solution or try to fix the problem, even if you didn’t ask for that sort of help. In fact, when I told one of my oldest friends I was now single she said: “Typical you. You make the decision, go through with it and then tell us.”
But this time the sadness engulfed me like a tsunami and I figured that was okay, for now, to help me heal. Unfortunately I messaged things to him that I regret, that irreparably changed his perception of who I am and I started having suicidal thoughts, something I had never experienced before and it scared me. He’d gone from being my best friend to a relative stranger. And I had no one to blame but myself. During this dark period, the only times I felt at peace were during my therapy sessions, where I could work through things, and in the bath. So I took to taking one or two baths a day with Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Mind Bath & Shower Oil, £49.
Having worked in beauty for 15 years, I know that beauty has power beyond the surface to make us feel happy, to feel confident, to feel beautiful. It’s not a magic pill but I’ve definitely been inspired by my bath times. I also came to find comfort in the beauty routines that I used to see as merely functional. My skincare routine became a slow, mindful moment. I cleansed with Omorovicza Thermal Cleansing Balm, £22, a rich oily cleanser that transported me to a spa with its soothing scent. I switched from Augustinus Bader The Cream to The Rich Cream, £205, over winter, which has the most beautiful buttery-but-not-cloying texture, and took my time to really massage it into my skin morning and night.
I was always incredibly lazy about my body care but since I’m taking so many baths, I started moisturising below the neck. I use Dr. Sam’s Flawless Body Therapy, £29, it’s an unctuous cream packed with bakuchiol, niacinamide and lactic acid to leave skin soft, smooth and glowing.
In my life before, I never lit candles, even though I love them. Now, you can’t move for a bright Anna and Nina pillar candle, £35, or a Diptyque votive, £49, in my flat. Candles are the easiest way to make a house feel homely. They also help to transform my living room from being an office in the day to a cosy and relaxing sanctuary come the evening.
On days when I feel wrought with despair I go make-up free, but when I feel more hopeful I’ll apply a layer of BareMinerals Original Foundation, £29. It evens out my skin tone (read: erases blotches and stress blemishes) incredibly well and lasts with no need for touch-ups. A slick of Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in Pillow Talk, £25, and I always feel human again.
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Scent, as many know, is so closely linked to memories. I can’t smell my all-time favourite Le Labo Santal 33, from £58, without it bringing back a barrage of memories that I don’t want to deal with right now. And so, I switched to Byredo Heliotropia, £178, a bright fragrance that contains vivid florals tempered by rich, creamy, woody, undertones. It’s a happy perfume and one that, for now, doesn’t make me feel anything but hopeful.
In Amsterdam, hair salons and clinics have been open for a while, and, for me, nothing boosts confidence more than a trip to the hairdresser. The key is going to someone you’d trust with your life (or at least your hair). In Amsterdam I see Bert Visser, who gives me the sort of highlights that look beautifully natural. He’s also never scissor-happy, so I know I won’t have the emotional turmoil of a bad haircut to deal with on top of everything else.
While beauty routines have been a comfort and a way to be kind to myself, they haven’t been the only thing that kept me afloat these past few months. Break-ups are never easy; they are often painful and sometimes devastating. Therapy has helped me immensely. Recently, I’ve felt guilty for being upset because I caused the break-up and I felt that wallowing in sadness was somehow frivolous, but my therapist has helped me see that I need to give space and acknowledgement to those feelings. I’ll often say ‘but other people have it worse’ and she will tell me that just because other people may be going through a worse pain, it shouldn’t invalidate the feelings I am experiencing.
Opening up to friends and family has also helped. By not always showing my optimistic, happy side – and instead showing that I’m real and flawed – hasn’t pushed them away (which is something, deep down, I feared) but has actually strengthened our connections and helped me through.
I have no idea what the future holds for me. I just know that if I keep taking care of myself inside and out, things will get better and so will I. Some days I feel optimistic, others I want to just crawl back into bed and wait for the sadness to end, but as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, then I know I’m that bit closer to the rest of my life.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Main image: Amy Lawrenson