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  • Mj Pettengill

I Am Not My Hair: A Healing Journey


Nesting, Spring     CC0
Nesting, Spring CC0

It’s challenging to know where to begin. I’ll do my best. I was blessed with a full head of thick butterscotch curls; it was known to be my best physical feature.


Throughout my days, I was accustomed to people commenting on my locks. I have had such nicknames as Goldilocks, the Girl with the Hair, Mermaid of the Woods, Wella Balsam Girl, Farrah, and Stevie. My son’s friend even said, “Your mom looks like Twisted Sister.” Of course, I had to look it up. Oh, dear!

I was recognized by my high school classmates for three things, earning me senior superlatives:

*The Most School Spirit — I was a cheerleader—there it is.

*Worst Driver — Wearing platform shoes in driver training was a bad idea.

(I’m an excellent driver, honest.)

*Prettiest Hair

My recent Covid experience has brought about many unplanned lessons. When my hair started to come out in handfuls, I was presented with a treasure chest overflowing with insight. The most important:

* Gratitude *

This condition is not because of treatment for a long-term illness; bless those who suffer from this.

I am not my hair; it does not define me.

I will assist the birds’ spring nest-building activities like never before. I am alive.

Typically, returning to the wild is my greatest, reliable resource when I’m vulnerable or have temporarily lost my way. I have my inner compass on hand.

Although I reminded myself of the thoughts mentioned above several times each day, it took well over a month to embrace this newly acquired wisdom and strength. Intellectually, they were present. Emotionally, I was at a loss.

Then, after realizing that this was not a dream, the energetic shift began. Don’t tell anyone, but I purchased a wig. Yes, I was naive. I had no idea what I was doing when I ordered it online.

Newsflash! It is best to try on a wig. This was the beginning of acceptance, causing me to laugh at myself. Frankly, I would have resembled Benjamin Franklin if I wore that. (Halloween’s over.)

It was shocking to deal with these mounds of hair. I decided to brush once in the morning and once at night—comb when wet and brush when dry. I have a long list of helping herbs and hair products, which I may outline in the future. This offering is about my personal experience.

One day, after handling a considerable amount of fallen hair, I decided it was time to cut it. What followed was an impulsive act. With scissors in hand, I realized that I had clearly inhabited two primary characters in my historical fiction series. It worked for these women during unusual, trying times. It was my turn to feel, rather than imagine, the act of hacking off your locks fueled by great despair.

While staring into the eyes of the stranger in the mirror, I chopped off more than six inches of hair. I proceeded to open the window and toss it outside. After a quizzical look from one of my squirrel friends, I watched the hair tumble along on the snow; I knew immediately that I could do better.

From that point on, I would go outside and decorate the trees, much like hanging tinsel in days gone by. Within a short time, many of my former curls were in messy, swirling clumps, blowing gently in the trees. The realization that I may have encouraged a well-populated, nest-building community was bittersweet. Again, I asked, where is the learning?

The next step was knowing how to be creative with scarves, bandanas, and hats. At first, it was tricky. I’m doing better now. However, one morning I woke up, looked at myself in the mirror, and went for the scissors again.

I didn’t recognize the woman looking back at me. She was tired and had clown-like hair. I had no choice but to chop off most of what was left of the straggly mop. At first, it was shocking. I had never seen myself in such a disheveled state. Again, I reminded myself that it was only hair. How we have come to place so much emphasis on it baffles me.

Now, I can gauge the wildness of my “do” by the way my cat looks at me. The wider her green eyes, the crazier I look. I am grateful for her expression; it reminds me not to take myself too seriously; it prepares me for seeing my image in the mirror.

The next round of self-hacking was exhilarating and horrifying at the same time. Unfortunately, I was getting good at it—the scissors had become a weapon and an unexpected ally. I looked at the pile of hair in the sink and decided that it was too short to hang on tree branches, so I tossed it out the window. The same squirrel (I know it’s him because of one of his ears and the trust factor) cocked his head to the side before returning to his peanut.

My hair was so short that it reminded me of my eighth year. I had spent the summer in traction after falling Down from the Tree. A kind, local woman in town—Thelma Burrows—gave me a ‘pixie cut.’ Back in those days—in the quaint village of Sandwich—it was all the rage.

By now, I hardly recognized the woman in the mirror at all. She had become an innocent child and a balding woman simultaneously. She was pathetic and amusing at the same time.

Months have passed, and I am still losing hair, but it’s okay. There is a strong, loving woman beneath it. She is somewhat disoriented, in a fog, with things still tasting and smelling foreign and horrific, but she is intact.

I nod to the birds and squirrels when I pass by; there are many here in this neighborhood. (Don’t worry, I don’t use feeders. I get it. My neighbors in the wild forage safely on the ground, in and around stumps and the like.)

I am rocking the bandana and welcome a short layer of thick curls—new growth—that surrounds my hairline like a new fuzzy hat. It seems I am turning the corner. Yesterday, I went out in public with my crown of ringlets and bizarre hair-do. No, it’s not like the me that you always knew, but I am not my hair—neither are you.

I wish to send love and healing to all that need it. If you have lost your hair, your ability to smell and taste things as they are meant to be, or your ability to think quickly on your feet, it is not forever.

In my next offering about this journey, I will share my experience with Scent Therapy and Olfactory Training. I have created scent kits/jars and guidance; the process is promising. Find the lessons.