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What Chopping My Hair Off Meant About My Depression

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Back in September of 2016, I took a pair of scissors to knotted brown hair and chopped it all off. (Actually, I went to a salon and had someone else do it.)

Some women who experience an emotional haircut do it on impulse, on a whim — but not me. I thought about cutting it for months. I held onto it for a long time because I felt like I had to, before deciding one day that enough was enough and I was going to do it. It was one of the most freeing and liberating things I have ever done, for more reasons than one.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with severe depression. Opting to not go on medication, I was in and out of counseling for a couple of years, until I told my mom I didn’t need to go any more. So, I stopped. (Stopping counseling is something that should be well thought out and discussed because each case of depression is different, and what helps one person might not help another.) For me, I knew that counseling wasn’t helping, and in fact, making a lot of things worse. Sometimes, that can happen. I made a clear, conscious choice to stop going. It was the right choice for me — a choice I still stand behind today.

Depression manifests itself in different forms.

Depression, for me, has the tendency to take a physical form, but not in a way most might think. Rather than never getting out of bed, which I feel like has become a sort of stereotype about depression, my symptoms were more about not taking care of myself.

In August of 2016, it was bad; to the point where I couldn’t find the strength to brush my hair. What was a simple task for most, was so difficult for me. Something so mindless for others took each last ounce of thought and determination, and even then, it wasn’t enough. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t.

So, I didn’t.

Have you ever seen a stray dog with thick, matted fur?

Well, that was what my hair looked like. There were thick sections of hair that were matted, past the point of what most would consider a knot, and several covered my hair. I would tie it up into a bun, put it halfway up to cover most of the bad ones, and pretend as though this wasn’t a bigger problem than it appeared to be. It would have taken hours and a lot of tears to untangle.

While most would have brushed it at this point, depression restrained me from doing so. I dealt with it in silence, not telling a single soul about it, chuckling at the nest of hair I created and blaming it on laziness in front of other people, laughing about it so I wouldn’t start crying. But one day I found the dose of courage I needed to do something I had been wanting to do for a long, long time. I made the choice then and there that I was going to be free of this monster who had been consuming me for as long as I could remember. And if I couldn’t do that, then I would at least cut off one of his main resources.

So, I did.

That afternoon, I decided it was time to tackle this head-on, alone, with strength, a smile and a pair of scissors. I had someone transform a mundane, medium length, matted mess into a fresh, brand new start. No one else influenced me in doing this, no one else was even allowed to give me an opinion on a process that was so deeply personal to me. I would not change a single thing if I were to go back and do it all again.

This wasn’t about hair.

This was about taking control of the demons that held me captive for so long. This was about getting a good enough grip and deciding that from now on, I could go after what I wanted to do and be and look like in life, rather than have depression decide for me. For once, I was going to be in charge. I wasn’t going to let depression do whatever he pleased. Shedding the dead weight I carried for so long freed me and left me feeling in control in a world where there was so much I could not.

I feel as though this hair is fitting for who I am, who I have become. It’s almost representative of the growth I’ve undergone while here in the city. Everything felt right, all was aligned and, in a sense, I felt like myself for the first time. Disregarding the expectations of everyone else, the standards that society has set for me and every other woman out there; forgetting all of that and doing what I wanted to do was one of the most incredible feelings i the world. It set the tone for how I would take on life from that moment on.

Depression still follows me, lingering behind like a lost dog, but I am more in control now, and he no longer chooses what I say, do and want in this life as much as he used to.

I’m not ashamed of the past and I’m not ashamed of having a mental illness, because I know that it does not define me. Talking about mental health and normalizing depression and anxiety through conversation is needed. It is what will give a little girl, like me 10 years ago, hope as she tries to deal with her own mental health. When I look in the mirror now, instead of seeing someone that I don’t recognize, I see a girl who makes decisions for herself, tackles life with a smile no matter how difficult it might get, and can tough it out and brave it all through anything life throws her way. Some might see short hair, but I see so much more than that. I see strength, I see resilience, I see radiance. I see someone who is more at peace and comfortable with embracing herself and who she is; and who she has grown into and who she will become more than ever before.

This wasn’t about hair.

It never was.

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Originally published: November 6, 2017
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