What a Hair Cut Taught Me About Living With Mental Illness

Did you know that when hair is damaged, the damaged hair actually spreads up the follicle, eventually getting to the root if it’s not taken care of? In order to stop the spread of damage in hair you either have to get intense treatments (even the best treatments can’t bring the dead ends to life) or cut it off.

Can we talk about that for a second? OK, the damage grows… it spreads… it doesn’t just stay where it is. So I’m not a hairdresser and I don’t have all the scientific reasons for this, but I am going to make a parallel between damaged hair and a damaged life.

Last year was one of the hardest years of my adult life. My marriage was disintegrating before my eyes, I struggled with depression and anxiety, and the symptoms of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were exaggerated by a traumatic experience that triggered new flashbacks and nightmares that made daily life almost unbearable.

My hair also had a bad year. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun with it, but I did a lot of damage to it. It was dark, then bleached, then red, pink, turquoise and on and on. I didn’t use good hair products, I was using heat on it constantly and I was not taking care of it. I mean, I was in survival mode and sometimes the only thing that made me feel anything was changing up my hair. The worst part is I knew that what I was doing to my hair was really bad, and I just didn’t care. You know, sometimes when everything feels like it’s just awful, you don’t stop to think about how you’re making it worse.

My goal is to grow my hair out with my natural color, so cutting it really short was not in my plans. But when my awesome hairdresser explained the amount of damage I had and the fact that the damage will keep spreading breaking my hair as it goes, I realized I had to get rid of the damage so my hair could grow out healthy. Again, here comes another parallel: Sometimes we have to cut off the unhealthy relationships, cut out the damage and seek intense treatment to allow our lives to start to come back to life and get healthy.

What that looked like for me was counseling individually and as a couple, medications that helped regulate my mood and kept me stable, ending relationships that were toxic in my life, spending time with people who held me accountable and loved me in all of the scary, dark, ugly places, and even spending 25 days at a residential program for the struggle I was having with suicidal thoughts and overwhelming anxiety and depression. I also had to start talking and being vulnerable, and letting people into the scary places I tried to deal with on my own for so long. I liken that experience to the nightmare where you go to school or work and realize you have no clothes on. That’s exactly how it feels to be vulnerable with the things that bring you the most amount of shame. In fact even sharing this with you now feels like that. But it’s so worth it. Being vulnerable, not going out without clothes on! What makes it easier is knowing that someone else will be courageous enough to be vulnerable as well. Hopefully as I bare my soul to you, you feel emboldened to do the same with safe and compassionate people in your life.

So here are some questions I have for you. Are there relationships in your life that you know are not healthy and that need to end? Are you doing more damage to your own life and not even noticing? Are you addressing the damaged areas in your life and getting the help and the treatment in those areas, however that looks for you? And are you surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable to stop doing damage, to do the intense treatment you need and to cut out the unhealthy things that need to be removed from your life?

If you don’t address the damage it will only grow, spreading into other areas of your life until it’s in control. If you’re ignoring the things that are dead in your life, hoping they will just magically get better, they won’t, my friend. And if you are allowing unhealthy people in your life to either stay unhealthy or stay in your life, then the damage will keep on spreading. It’s not easy, but as Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”

Follow this journey on Natalie Mejias’ Blog.

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