“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
I started getting gray hair as a teenager. I hated it. I’d pluck them. I’d tried to hide them. I’d often pray for them to disappear. I hated anything that made me stand out.
I hated how folks would tell me it was because I was too stressed out.
If your depressed mind doesn’t have enough ways to make you hate yourself, just imagine what it can do with unruly hair on a 16 year-old head that’s already addicted to the creamy crack, the hot comb for the edges, and the flat iron (+ grease) for that swing-your-hair-in-the-wind look that I never achieved and would never achieve because it was so far away from who I was.
The gray started coming around the same time I started getting depressed.
They’ve only multiplied over the years such that now, at 33, my crown is probably 50% gray. I have a silver/brown/black things going on right now. And I’m trying my very best to like it.
But it’s so hard.
See, as time has gone on, I’ve realized that being gray and going gray have something to teach me. They are kind of the same.
My grandma said that my gray is a sign of wisdom, a sense of maturity beyond my years. Pema Chodron says that when things fall apart, that’s when true growth begins.
I feel like I’ve fallen apart more than enough times to fill three lifetimes.
My emotional destruction reminds me so much of my hair. Gray hair is not falling apart, but it is the permanent loss of something you thought was you but now is changed.
Every time I “fall apart,” I learn something new about myself. Every time, depression makes me return to what is truly important. It makes me take long walks, spend time praying and drawing and singing until my heart hurts. It requires me to strip away all the pretenses, all the ways I’m (still) trying to please others, all my good-girl perfectionist behaviors and just BE. The victories of the day are showering, eating, and believing that self-care, as hard as it is, is paramount.
My gray hair requires the same.
My gray has increased exponentially since my mid-twenties, even since I began locing my hair. If you don’t know about locs, they happen when you allow the natural curl pattern of your hair “lock” around itself, such that when the hair sheds, for the most part it sheds into the lock. It’s unlikely that one strand of hair runs from the top to the bottom, but rather its a collection of hair that have come together and joined.
But even with locs — my grays refuse to be tamed.
They won’t stay in the loc when I go to retwist my roots. They pop out, frizz up, and simply act a damn fool. I never have the perfect look of perfectly coiled locs because my gray hair will not behave!
So I have to let it go, and let it be. When I retwist, I do so gently and with care, not pulling or tugging or forcing. Just coaxing. I’ve stopped using artificial products in my hair — just water, diluted shampoo, and shea butter. They grays like that. They really just want to be left alone.
And sometimes, depression is like that too. The more I resist it, the more unruly and unpredictable my moods get it gets. The more I try to “fix” it, the more frizzy and messy my life gets it gets as I stop and start and try and try harder. The more I try to coax it into the loc of my life, the more it rebels and makes it that much harder to maintain – both my hair and my life.
So my gray hair has taught me the value of simplicity and acceptance, and my depression has taught me the value of just letting it be.
Maybe my grandma was right. Maybe I am wise.