My daughter was born on Dec. 8, 2016. On Dec. 11, 2016, I found myself crying inconsolably as I cradled her in bed at 3 a.m. My tears felt like a reflection of her own. As I looked down on her, I couldn't imagine what she must be feeling. After all, she had been abruptly taken out of her warm womb home. Suddenly she was surrounded by loud noises, bright lights, and so many people wanting to poke and prod her small face and squirming body. Everything she'd ever known prior to being born was gone. Everything I'd known prior to her arrival felt like it was gone, too. It's part of the reason why dyeing my hair helped with my postpartum depression.
Although I was never officially diagnosed, I'm pretty certain that I spent the first 50 days of her life in a hole of postpartum depression (PPD). As someone who has long struggled with both depression and anxiety, my newfound misery wasn't really a surprise. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 80 percent of new mothers develop the baby blues, which can manifest in "weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, impatience, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, sadness, mood changes, and poor concentration." My every waking moment was spent in a state of all of the above. I still cannot fully describe the emotions coursing through my mind during that initial period of motherhood. Everything was overwhelming. I felt like I was losing sight of myself. I wondered whether I'd ever be able to be a whole person again. I doubted my abilities as a mother. I questioned how the doctors could've let me of all people take home this co-dependent, fragile little thing.
After a particularly bad couple of days, however, I decided to do what I always do when things get rough: I dyed my hair.
I'd never bleached my whole head before. I'd never really undergone such a dramatic hair transformation, let alone one orchestrated by my own hands. And for the first time in months, I felt a semblance of energy manifesting in my body and mind alike.
As a teenager in the throes of an eating disorder I just couldn't seem to break away from, I dyed my hair auburn. When I grew especially lonely my freshman year of college, I went blonde. After a devastating family loss, I asked a local stylist to give me turquoise streaks.
And now — as a new mother seemingly unable to get a grip on the whole situation — I bleached the sh*t out of my hair and dumped a couple of tubes of fiery red dye on it. I'd never bleached my whole head before. I'd never really undergone such a dramatic hair transformation, let alone one orchestrated by my own hands. And for the first time in months, I felt a semblance of energy manifesting in my body and mind alike.
I'm a big believer in utilizing physical metaphors to depict emotional changes you're embarking upon (or want to embark upon). When I realized that I wasn't getting any happier — and that my sadness and anxiety were preventing me from bonding with my daughter as fully as I had always hoped I would — I knew that I had to start making changes. But as a lifetime of anxiety has shown me, making positive changes is often easier said than done.
The little energy I had all went toward looking far more put-together than I actually felt. But this person looking at me from the mirror — this person with hair the color of a fire truck — didn't look devastated or broken or wounded. She looked ready to take on the world. She looked ready to smash the sh*t out of motherhood.
Personally, I usually need physical reminders to reassure me that I'm capable of bettering myself. I need to feel strong when I look in the mirror. I need to feel brave and bold and whatever the opposite of "hot mess" is. Hair dye has always facilitated this for me.
When I first looked in the mirror after going bright red, I was shocked to see a smiling reflection staring back at me. Every smile for weeks had felt feigned. The little energy I had all went toward looking far more put-together than I actually felt. But this person looking at me from the mirror — this person with hair the color of a fire truck — didn't look devastated or broken or wounded. She looked ready to take on the world. She looked ready to smash the sh*t out of motherhood.
While I'd never want to claim that a box of hair dye can be a cure-all for mental illness, I remain a strident advocate for experimentation with fashion and beauty in times of distress. While both are practices regularly deemed flippant or shallow, I find nothing but empowerment from my dark lipsticks or loud jackets or passerby-attracting hair.
A friend of mine often preaches for the "weaponization of femininity:" the utilization of traditionally feminine activities to help breed strength. When all things feminine are still too regularly considered weak or trivial, it can feel radical to prove the opposite. This is, perhaps, why my change in hair color was so helpful as I struggled with PPD.
Not only was I creating a metaphor for the positive changes I wanted to experience in my life (principally, the steps I wanted to take towards feeling less depressed), but I was using something traditionally feminine as said metaphor. I was taking something associated with female weakness and vapidity, and assigning power onto it. And as a result, I felt a newfound sense of confidence in myself, in my womanhood, in my femininity, and even in my ability to be a good mother.
I guess it all circles back to the "fake it 'til you make it" trope. There's a lot to be said for presenting powerfully when you feel weak, for using whatever affirmations necessary to convince yourself that you're the kind of person who can get through this (whatever the "this" may be).
You might need a lot more than hair dye. I definitely needed more. I needed to do a better job at being open and honest with my partner — telling him how I was feeling, what I needed, and how much help I actually wanted. I needed to start making more time for myself without the guilt that can often accompany doing so as a new parent. I needed to remember to bathe daily, to brush my teeth, to eat throughout the day, to exercise self-care. But the hair dye was kind of the first step. When you're experiencing PPD or depression of any kind, even the most basic acts of self-care can feel impossible to achieve. As soon as I dyed my hair red, however, I felt more in control. I'd done something that was just for me. And as a result, I reminded myself that there was strength within me all along.