“So, what can I help you with today?” asked my new psychologist. We were both sitting in armchairs, facing each other. Anne had her back to a floor-length window.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I was eight and a half months pregnant with my first child, and couldn’t find the right position to sit in because everything was sore. My high blood pressure made me sensitive to light, so I squinted at Anne and wished I could wear sunglasses.
Anne smiled at me encouragingly and I knew that I had to tell her the truth if I wanted to get better.
“I’m here because I got a bad haircut, and now I think I’m depressed.”
It all sounds like a joke, or an Amy Schumer skit, but it was true. The final straw that made me pick up the phone and book an appointment with a psychologist was a bad haircut.
After everything I’d been through in the past few months, I couldn’t believe that it was an ugly haircut that had sent me over the edge. I thought I was stronger and better than that.
Luckily, Anne seemed to understand my dark sense of humour, while also respecting the truth behind what I had to say. I really had plunged into depression because of a dodgy haircut, and I needed all the help that I could get to dig myself out of this hole.
In the months leading up to the Haircut From Hell, my life had changed so much it was unrecognisable. I didn’t know who or where I was any more. And yet, I told everyone that I was okay and I meant it.
Early on in my pregnancy with my daughter, Emmy (who is now two and healthy as anything), my blood pressure skyrocketed to absurdly high figures. There was blood and protein in my urine. I was hospitalised. Later, my obstetrician told me that he had prayed for me because he feared the worst for my 22 week old foetus. I was told that both of us could die.
After seeing various specialists, I was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease called IGA nephritis, which was causing these symptoms and more.
I resigned from my high school art teaching job as the stress of it was exacerbating my high blood pressure. And yet, I couldn’t rest, as my apartment was being renovated and that in itself was a disaster. The kitchen company we’d chosen had gone into liquidation. A pipe burst under our flat, water was everywhere and strata wouldn’t fix it. (Watch: the secret to a great haircut. Post continues after video.)
My body became bloated with fluid, so much so that I had to wear pressure stockings almost 24 hours a day. And still, my ankles were so swollen that I could barely walk. My whole body and face felt tight and uncomfortable. I had to get the arms of my glasses widened, as my face was too swollen for them to fit any more. Even my eyelids were puffy.
I began to visit the hospital regularly. At all hours. Because my blood pressure would feel so unbearably high that I thought my head would explode. Daily, hourly, I feared that my baby would die.
And yet, throughout all of this, I told myself I wouldn’t crumble. I would stay strong and endure this. I knew that things could be worse. In the hardest and scariest time of my life, I wasn’t going to break down. I was going to be a mother to this baby, even if it killed me. I told my doctors and husband this – that I didn’t care if I died. I just wanted my baby to be okay. They told me that they would prefer the both of us to survive. I wanted them to believe my conviction.
A small, feminine thing that cheered me up during that time was doing my hair and makeup. In fact, it was one of the only activities that made me feel good. It became a form of self-care. Adding colour to my cheeks and lips made me look and feel alive.
I loved my long, black hair, and wore it out as much as I could. I used my hair as a curtain and blanket, to hide the swelling in my cheeks and my fluid-filled shoulders and arms. My friends and family, eager to cheer me up during this difficult time of my life, complimented me on my hair.
Six weeks before Emmy was due to be born, I decided to pamper myself and get a haircut. It would also be the last chance in a long time to get my hair trimmed before the chaos of having a newborn began.
My regular hairdresser had left her salon, so I took a recommendation from a friend and visited a new hairdresser named Priscilla*. She looked like a Chinese version of Stevie Nicks, with feathered hair and a floor-length shaggy coat. She made a big, excited fuss about me being pregnant, and when I told her that I only wanted the tiniest trim, she exclaimed, “But all new mothers want short hair! It’s much easier to take care of!”
“Not me,” I assured her. “I love my long hair. I definitely want to keep it.”
Priscilla began to hack away at my hair, and I saw chunks that were about six inches long fall to the ground. This seemed strange to me but I trusted her. Being Chinese myself, I’d always wanted to go to a Chinese hairdresser, and I thought perhaps that Priscilla understood my hair better than a non-Chinese person. It’d been a long time since I’d had a haircut, and perhaps she was using some new techniques. And also, the friend who had made the recommendation had fantastic hair.
I realised too late that Priscilla had not listened to me and that she’d gone ahead to give me a shorter, layered haircut to suit my new lifestyle as a mum. My hair sat at just below chin length, but wasn’t what anyone could call a style. Some bits were longer, and some were shorter. It wasn’t a bob or a crop. It was just ugly.
The damage was done so I lied and told Priscilla that I loved it. I paid for the haircut and went home.
I didn’t cry about it. I sent jokey texts to my mother and husband, saying that I’d accidentally gotten a “mum cut “. They told me that I’d still look nice. I spent a lot of time looking at my hair in the mirror and also taking selfies. There was nothing that I could do to make it look good.
I tried to pretend I didn’t care about my hair. I experimented with DIY techniques, from lightening sprays, sticky hair products and heat stylers, but there was no sign of improvement. I had to accept that I hated my new haircut.
Regardless of your religion, the story of Samson and Delilah from the Bible is one that many are familiar with. Samson is renowned as one of the strongest, fiercest men in the world – as long as he doesn’t cut his hair. Samson’s lover, Delilah, is bribed to find out the secrets of Samson’s strength. When she finds out that Samson is powerless without his supernatural hair, she has it shaved off and Samson becomes weak. He also has his eyes gouged out. Then he dies in tragic circumstances.
Like Samson, my powers of internal strength disappeared once my hair was cut. The one thing I still liked about myself – despite being unemployed, sick and physically changed – was my hair. And now that it was gone, I felt bereft. My body had betrayed me and now I didn’t even like my hair.
These feelings about my hair confused and appalled me. It was like my brain had made a mistake, and was reacting to the wrong thing. Did this mean that I cared more about my hair than about my life or baby? How could I be so devastated about something which would grow back and replenish, when my body and baby were in a life-or-death situation?
Despite my awareness of the incongruity of my emotions, I couldn’t change them. Whether I liked it or not, my bad haircut made me feel hideous on the outside and reminded me of the horror that could occur within my sick body.
I tried to make myself feel better in every way I knew how – binge watching TV shows, shopping, prayer, seeing friends – but I began to plunge deeper and deeper into depression. I knew it was depression because I’ve suffered from it for most of my adult life, although with reprieves every now and then thanks to medication or circumstance.
I knew all the symptoms off the top of my head – the lack of pleasure in my life, the lethargy, that awful feeling of waking up in the morning with seemingly nothing to look forward to.
I began to realise that the bad haircut was the trigger for my depression, rather than the cause. Through becoming unreasonably upset over a seemingly superficial part of my life, I’d somehow given myself permission to be upset about the bigger, scarier, things too.
And although I felt shattered I knew this had to happen – I had to truly feel and address all of the changes that had happened. The events of the past few months were clearly taking more of a toll than I was willing to admit. “Being strong” ultimately wasn’t working.
I knew what I had to do, because I’d done it before: I made an appointment to see a psychologist and told her the truth.
I’ve forgotten most of the psychologist’s advice, but I do remember she understood that there was more to my despair than a bad haircut. She never told me that I was silly or stupid for valuing my hair so much.
It felt good to finally tell a professional about all of my fears and troubles, from my anger and frustration at my body to my concerns that I wouldn’t know how to be a good parent. And of course, the fact that I hated my hair. (Post continues after gallery.)
I continued to see Anne and do all of the exercises she recommended and I also talked to my obstetrician who prescribed me with some pregnancy-safe anti-depressants. By the time I had my baby, I was better. But it had taken a lot of hard work and I had to face up to a lot of things I disliked about myself in order to get there.
My hair eventually grew back as I knew it would, without effort or thought. It’s funny that the thing that caused me such angst was eventually fixed by itself. Mental health is different. I had to make a huge effort to get well again. I count myself lucky that I had that bad haircut because otherwise, I don’t know when or if I would have dealt with my depression and life changes properly.
Now that I’m eight months pregnant with my second child, and my hair is long, I know I need to get a trim before this next baby is born.
I know so much more this time – that I am a capable mother, that my kidney disease is under control, that I have the ability to find and maintain a job that I like. I also have a good hairdresser.
But most importantly, it feels good to know that if I ever have a bad haircut again – one which unlocks the world of pain within – I’ve sought help before and I will have the strength to do it again. That’s something even Samson couldn’t do.
Has a haircut ever given you a different life perspective?