I Had to Shave My Head to Come to Terms with My Mental Illness

"So, I'm going to be real with you," my stylist said. "I can't get the knots out."
Publish date:
March 2, 2016
hair, mental illness, mental health, hair cuts, Shaved Head

This year has been a hilly one for me in the mental health department. I've always been an emotionally charged, anxious, and kind of moody person. I've also proclaimed myself a writer at 12 years old. I've always reasoned that creative people are just more emotional. I never had, or had reason, to use the descriptive of "depressed" until this past year. I can't explain why, but in the Spring of 2015, something hit.

A swarm of grey clouds moved in and I couldn't push through them.

At first, I thought I was overworked, overtired and burnt out. This is what happens when you work full-time, run music events, write part-time and bartend. I was just tired, I thought. I would snap out of it. A couple good nights of sleep would change everything. A couple more months passed, and then sleep was the only thing I would look forward to. Well, sleeping and drinking. All of a sudden, I was like a walking Drake song, wearing less and going out more, but not in a fun sexy way. Drinking a bottle of wine was the only thing that made me the happy, crass, joke-cracking person I once was. I was taking Advil Nighttime to guarantee me 10 hours of sleep. I was asking the universe how it had the gall to let me wake up and live another day of this shit. I was drinking (and drinking and drinking) to try and feel like my happy old self again.

Over the next few months, my parents and an ex both separately accused me of drinking too much. "I work in advertising!" I exclaimed.

"No one would ever question Don Draper about his habits." I would joke.

But let's be real, everyone should have been questioning Don Draper about his habits. When I drank, I could have fun again. I had the confidence to engage with dudes who wound up using me and treating me like dirt. To be fair, at the time, that's the only way I wanted to be treated. Because, then when I woke up full of self loathing, I had a reason to feel that way.

It's so cliche to actually write this down because I feel it's a story that has been told a thousand times before. And it has. My situation doesn't make me unique. It was a vicious cycle, one that anyone caught in a downward spiral would recognize.

Surprisingly, not many people noticed. I was good at keeping it together, smiling and wise cracking when I was with family or friends for a couple of hours at a time. The only people who questioned it were a couple of my coworkers who had to deal with my zombie-like personality for eight hours a day, five days a week. Some questioned where the kind-of introverted but sunny person they hired a few months back had gone. I would shrug, thank them for their concern and give an excuse that I was just overtired, because we all know what it's like, right? Right?

Then sticky summer rolled around. There were some wins in these months, but there were losses that darkened the grey cloud even more, including the loss of my beloved grandmother, my Nanny, who was probably my most favorite person in the entire world. Even in my 20s' I could lay my head on her lap as she talked to me. And she was one of the few people who would have understood what I had been going through if I had the courage to open up to her.

A week before my Nanny's funeral and — ironically — the wedding of two of my best friends, I knew I had to get my shit together and went to get my hair done. It was mangy and overgrown.I knew a lot of dye and a lot of thinning and trimming would be needed to bring the mess back to life.

My hairdresser got into the thick of it. "So you have some pretty big knots here, Missy," she laughed as she kept trying to comb through the tumbleweed that had formed at the back of my head. We both laughed, because I have thick hair, it's been hot and humid and it's funny that I'm a bit of a mess! A few minutes later she said, "So, I'm going to be real with you," she said. "I can't get the knots out."

I panicked, remembering I would be in a wedding party in a week's time. Which meant up-dos and pictures.

She could sense the panic as she calmly said, "Don't worry, it won't be that bad. We have two options. One, we just cut them out, and you have a little short piece there. Or I can give you a really cool undercut. Which will keep you cooler in this heat too!"

Her positive attitude sold me. The undercut it was. Because, at 29, why shouldn't I be trying styles that can only be pulled off by 18 year old celebrities? I was thankful as I left the basement salon looking exactly like the put together funeral-goer/bridesmaid-to-be that I needed to be.

When I got home I took a look at the back of my shaved head in the mirror. She had done a great job, it was cool, it was edgy, but I couldn't stop crying as I rubbed the prickly bald patch at the back of my head. It was in that moment I realized that I had been so far gone I didn't even care if I remembered to brush my hair properly. I don't know why this was the wake-up call I needed. Not remembering a couple of nights out of the week didn't phase me, even crying myself hoarse until sleep eventually came, didn't give me the warning signs that I was struggling, but this weird triangle at the back of my head did.

I wish I could say this is a story where this magical little patch of missing hair cured all of my problems. It didn't. But it made me confront the fact that I was dealing with depression. I still had a couple of dark months after that. But every morning I would wake up and rub that prickly little patch at the back of my head as a reminder, and tell myself "You're still here, you are doing okay." It's like I was Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and this was my totem. But instead of a cool spinning stop, I had this mangy scrap of hair. I guess we all can't be as cool as Leo.

Now my little triangle patch has grown to about 3 inches long, and looks like a little mullet when I put my hair up at the gym. I hate the way it looks but I am grateful for the reminder it brings.

I've trudged through some dark weeks again this past month. But as I write this, things are seeming a little brighter. I finally was able to talk to my parents about how I had been feeling, and although it was terrifying for me to reach out to them, I am thankful I did and they have proved to be the necessary support system that I was in need of. And after six months of creative hibernation, I am actually writing again. It's not much, but I am celebrating the baby steps. Every day I am able to get up, take on what has been put in front of me, and brush my little mullet. Because of this, I'm able to realize that I may not be okay today, but I will be eventually.

As I said before, I know my story isn't unique. For others out there struggling out there with anxiety and depression, what little acts of self care help you get through the darker days?