A couple of weeks ago I got a haircut.
This may not seem like a very significant statement, so let me provide a little backstory. I have four children, aged 16, 14, 12, and 3. I started growing my hair out when the 14 year old was a baby. Two of those children had, until my haircut the other day, never seen me with short hair.
Things have been very stressful here of late. Funding for grad school fell through, preventing me from pursuing that goal right now. We had been preparing for a very stressful move for grad school. I say stressful because all disruptions are stressful, even if the events themselves are good ones.
While we were going to be leaving the only city I have called home, I was excited about new opportunities and a chance to start over. Yes, I would be leaving the house I’d lived in for 16 years and the city I had lived in for 37 years, but I had come to terms with that The irony then is that, while the idea of leaving was stressful, the decision to stay became even more so.
Money has been tight. Actually, our financial situation has been dire. Without family support we would, quite frankly, be homeless. Times are hard. Things are rough. The stress of that is overwhelming. Stress from broken (delayed?) dreams. Stress from the whirlwind of moving and then not moving. The stress of not having enough money to even pay the bills. This stress would be hard on anyone, even “neurotypical” people. It’s damned near impossible for people with bipolar.
I have a coping method for stress. It’s not a good one but it is pretty consistent. I cope with self-harm. That’s alarming to type. It is alarming to say plainly. It is difficult to not hide it, as it is both stigmatized and fetishized. But there you have it. I hurt myself. I do it on purpose. And, truth be told, I kind of like the pain.
When things are spinning out of control and stress is overwhelming I find pain to be quite focusing. Pain is centering. Pain is cathartic. I need the pain. I deserve the pain. It is as much about self-flagellation as it is regaining a modicum of control in stressful, uncontrollable situations. While not ideal, pain is a pretty effective coping mechanism.
But in the midst of the overwhelming stress of our family’s rather dire situation I did something different. I got a haircut. It’s short. Very short. My beard is, too. For someone who recently had hair half way down his back and a beard that fell to the middle of his chest this was a huge change. But I kind of like it. It feels good and I think it looks pretty darned good, too.
A haircut is a dramatically different coping mechanism than self-harm. But, in a way, it allowed me to have the same kind of sense of control in the midst of a sea of stressors that are beyond my control.
And besides, hair grows back.