Interview With My Witch Self

Friends, I have asked many women in the past few years what the word ‘Witch’ means to them, and what it means to be a Witch. This has been in an attempt to better understand my own feelings about the Witch, which have been swirling in a spiral, un-worded for my entire life, waiting to be brought to light. I decided it was time to interview myself on the topic of the Witch, because I am finally  feeling comfortable and clear in my own and views and experience to be able to apply it to language to be shared.

As you likely know, I have a 4 month old baby which makes it hard to find the time to write, and believe it or not, I sat down to write this with a full 3 hour block of time with which to focus. I have literally not given anything besides my children that amount of my own self in years. And it feels so good. 

So, that said, thanks for being here and reading this. My hope with this series is to get more people thinking and talking about The Witch, and more witches to step forward and claim their power. Because witches, we need you now.

I think that now is a really big time for women from all walks to connect over shared oppression and heal together. This is not to discount the importance of women from different backgrounds and histories of oppression to differentiate their own unique experiences…..That is hugely important too. I just think that we have a powerful point of connection between all of womankind, and all of humankind for that matter, to deeper understand each other’s traumas and hold each other up in our collective healing. And I believe that The Witch discussion fits right into that. So, here, my Witches, are my thoughts.

What does the term Witch mean to you?

To me, A witch is a woman who understands the implications of drawing her deepest personal power from listening and following her inner wild, and is unafraid to wield that raw power. A witch is a woman who understands the balance of lightness and darkness, the duality of all things and the incredible spectrum of possibility within them. A witch is sensitive to the subtleties of the most subtle energetic shifts, and has the ability to listen very deeply, read between the lines. A witch reads the signs as they are unveiled.

A witch channels her own healing path to heal others. A witch is a bridge between worlds and she knows it.
A witch appreciates life’s great mysteries without trying to solve them, because a witches wisdom comes from within, an unnamed wellspring of knowledge that keeps flowing. A witch believes in the animation of things. A witch sees where the web is thinning and weaves it back together. A witch remembers. A witch knows how to use intention and alchemy to shift consciousness at her own will. A witch feels it all, at once. A witch lives in relationship to the natural world around her, walking in deep connection to the elements and the seasons and the living world in plants.
How would one know that one was a witch?
As a really young child, a radical school teacher taught me a song that humanized and demystified witches and sort of turned my simple child mind inside out by shedding light on the oppressed and demonized female-witch-archetype that we are taught as children to fear. This taught me very young to seek light in the shadows.
somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to ignore the stirrings of my own heart any longer, and began to embrace my own shadow and dig into hidden sides of myself that were begging for attention, namely the part of myself that felt forbidden and magical and deeply wedded to the earth.
There have been moments along the way, like rediscovering the nettle plant, bleeding into the earth, learning how to listen in stillness to the inner voice, mapping my dreamworld, beginning to trust the part of me that knows and doesn’t know how or why she knows, understanding how I use my own abilities to heal others, and singing around fires with other women, where the Witch has become more and more awake inside me over time.
I knew for sure I was a witch when I started to be able to look around identify other witches.
 

Talk about intention and manifestation…..How do they work together, Can you recall the first time you experienced their power in action?

YES! I love this question. When we learn to work with intention, we begin to magnify our power to create what we want in the world around us. Intention can be seen as energy applied to a particular direction for a particular reason. It can be seen as a prayer, or a wish, or a vision that we want to see through to fruition. Intention requires a vehicle to travel to its destination which is  manifestation or creation……The birth from an thought into reality.

How do we become the vehicle for our own intentions to manifest? Through the process of creation. There are a million and one ways to manifest our intentions, and I invite all to find the ones that work for you. Creating rituals around our intentions are a great way to build the energy up around them to help them carry through. The process of creation is a very powerful vehicle to infuse with intention and manifestation.

When I work with color, and mix color with from the primary colors, I am effectively creating something raw and magical that is begging for intention to be woven into it. Whoever gets that raw, magical color in their hair becomes the vehicle. This is how I use intention in my daily work.

During the consultation before hair color, I decide what the intention is that I want to pass to my client and help them weave into their lives. Sometimes, they have their own intention. As I mix the color, I think about this intention and during the creative process of formulating their shade, the intention informs the color, and the color becomes the intention. This is all in an effort to help my client manifest whatever it is they are needing in their lives. Maybe it is more patience. Maybe it is humor, or sexual energy. Maybe it is quiet. Maybe its a new job. It can be as specific as you want it to be.

I do this when I make mandalas from plants and flowers. Each one has an intention, sometimes for me, sometimes for you. Somethimes for the earth, sometimes for itself, and sometimes for the collective. As I think about this intention, while I design a mandala, the two become one, and the mandala becomes the vehicle of manifestation.

I set an intention every time I brush my hair. Anything can be infused with intention and magnified towards manifestation. You have to find your vehicle.

Here are a few examples of times when I began to understand how Intention and manifestation work together. One illustrates the power of the creative process. One illustrates the power of our mind/body.

As a child, I was hellbent on creating my own family after my parents divorced. I knew just what I wanted it to be like. I felt like I already knew my daughters. I drew them, painted them, told stories to myself about them. I had every intention of manifesting them in reality as an adult. Every time I created something, they were in my mind. And then, finally, I created them. I tell my daughters now…….If you really really want to change something, create something, let go of something, become something, imagine it, draw it! paint it! It builds energy and momentum in a positive direction towards what you want.

Another lesson that still feels very profound to me was during a time when learning to snowboard was the most important thing in my world. It was all I thought about. When the season ended, I was lost and depressed because I had not mastered a toe-side turn, which, if you are a snowboarder, you know is a crucial step in being confident on your board. I had had what felt like a very frustrating and tangible mental block AKA fear of failure and lack of confidence that had kept me from progressing through that step and I was so mad at myself and felt actual despair about it.

Every day in the off season, through the Spring, Winter and Fall of that year, I imagined myself doing a toe side turn. I saw myself doing it, I imagined what it felt like to do it, and what it felt like to finally bust through that block of my own fear. When the next season started, I jumped on my board and had mastered the turn in my head, and on the mountain. This was a major moment of clarity to me……I had the power in my mind and imagination to create my reality how I wanted it. Didn’t feel like witch craft at the time, but did feel like magic and it taught me the power of using my intentions to manifest.

How do you think that a collection of witches is magnified in power to an individual witch?

In the same way that intention magnifies manifestation, intention magnified by numbers magnifies manifestation by number. This is why covens are a thing. This is why gathering with other like minded people to create change is so exhilarating and wonderful……We see our intentions begin to swirl around and take their own shape and course. They become sometimes larger than all of us combined!

This is why we really need to put our minds and hearts together right now, in this world.

Where would you direct a woman who is interested in exploring her inner witch for the first time? (books? Plants? etc)

Look to the dark to understand the light.

Into her own shame, fear, anger and darkness. Into the wild. To the places inside her that make her feel alive. To Persecution. To her dreams. To plants like Nettles and Mugwort. To Amanita. To Foxglove and other shamed/dangerouns plants. To the elements. To the Stars. To songs, and sharing her voice. To other witches. To her ancestry, to the history and folklore and botanical world of her ancestral landscapes.

How do the facets of our souls (shadow side, sun-lit side, good, evil) effect the process of owning our power?

I believe that we cannot use our powers wisely and purely without really digging into the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. Of course we never stop learning about our own selves and our own blind spots, but I think we need to really strive to understand, integrate and embrace those parts of ourselves constantly to be able to fully own our power to heal, BECAUSE we cannot heal ourselves without healing those hidden parts of ourselves and therefore we cannot effectively heal others without healing those parts of ourselves.

What traumas do we carry? What are our triggers and why? What of this trauma is actually ours, and what do we carry from others like our mothers and ancestors? Where in our physical bodies does our trauma live? What can we do to soothe ourselves without hurting others or masking our feelings?

Sometimes it feels too big to understand and accept our own dark mystery, and accepting that integration can be as simple as just forgiving yourself and agreeing to hold and love your own dark self for one more day……..There is power there.

Why do you think it is so hard for some of us to own our power, speak to the woman who knows she has it but is afraid to use it.

Well for one thing, we remember in our DNA how dangerous it is for us to be powerful, due to worldwide persecution and witch burnings at the hands of centuries of partriarchal systems of oppression. We remember. I think that is the biggest reason. Because it is fucking huge.

I think today, in our society, their is a strange sort of thing happening where ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ is being both commodified in a major way, and jeered at and shamed for the Woo factor, which feels to me a bit like the 21st centuries version of Witch Trials.

Woo Woo is, according to the Urban dictionary …….any belief not founded on good evidence, the poorer the evidence the more Woo Woo the belief.

To me this is basically a way of saying that anything that can’t be explained doesn’t exist and shouldn’t be considered. And every witch knows that this is a very limited, dangerous and close-minded way of thinking about ourselves and the world. There is so much power in the mystery but we are afraid of being shamed for understanding that fact and believing in it.

What is one concrete way we can empower women to own their witch powers?

I thing that there is so much power in teaching young women about the magic and mystery of their bodies, their cycles, and how they are connected to the cycles of the earth. Teaching young women how to care for themselves, body mind and spirit. Helping them celebrate their unique qualities, bodies, hearts, minds. Bring back Rites of Passage. Creates safe spaces for these important learnings to be nurtured, and get as many generations involved as possible. I truly think this will help raise a generation of kind, strong  and aware women who respect and value themselves and each other and the earth. Empowering women leads to a better planet, all around. This seems like a great place to bring more healing and awareness.

Witches, we need you now more than ever to keep believing in the greatness of the mystery, and to spread that light drawn from the deepest darkness. Keep spinning your webs and over time, they will become one……. the greatest web ever spun, to reconnect and heal the frayed and thin worn parts of the collective back to vitality.

H A I R M A G I C C O L L E C T I O N

HAIR MAGIC

elemental haircare alchemy for styling + transformation

Hello friends and family! Thanks for being here today, as I launch this project that I have been working on and tending to for the last 9 months. It is a real honor to share with you.

The theme for these offerings is Transformation + Vision because I believe these things to be incredibly important personal invocations to be calling in at this moment in time, for the greater good of all life.

In creating this upcoming collection of hair remedies, I knew what I wanted as far as hairstyling and care, but I left a lot of space for more subtle alchemy intended for healing of the identity, and the essence of transformation and clarity of vision. Weaving the intention into haircare felt very powerful because it gives a small yet potent starting point to cultivate these intentions into our self-care ritual + hair and our crown chakra (our connection to the greatest good and our highest selves. )

The small transformations that begin with the way we care for ourselves and our hair, and in honoring our reconnection to the natural world, we manifest outer changes that radiate from us exponentially and effect the world at large. This is how magic works, with massive intention and a shift of consciousness at will.

In short, I formulated this collection with elements and prayers to help bring positive transformation to this world in a way that I know how, and then I sat back and let the magic take shape.

Ingredients began to offer themselves left and right, from owl feathers to mugwort ash, monarch wing dust, opium poppy, crown vetch, fossil powder, yerba santa, local beeswax, powdered black tourmaline and arkansas quartz, amethyst and smoky quartz, sunlight, smoke, pine pitch.

Sun and Moon and a bit of the 4 great elements…….And the magic manifested.

Once I had all my ingredients gathered, I began brewing these beautiful hair medicines and styling remedies for The Hair Magic Collection, infused with powerful intention and hair love and the essences of TRANSFORMATION + VISION. These remedies are intentionally formulated for both healing and styling force to compliment any natural hair texture……made with 100% earth based, wildcrafted, foraged or ethically harvested raw ingredients to support healthy, beautiful hair, inner and outer transformation and a whole, integrated identity. Because so much unseen energy and attachment lives in our hair, it should be treated with utmost care and love.

Here is an intro to the collection

LIFT  THE  VEILS

tone + strength + reflect

Night treatment spray for resilient hair

spray into hair before bed to protect + strengthen+ inspire lucid dreaming

mugwort, opium poppy essence, crown vetch essence, arkansas quartz crystal, witch hazel, castor oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, organic apple cider vinegar, aloe, lavender hydrosol, usnea, rose, hibiscus, comfrey flowers

Purchase Here

CRYSTAL VISION

illuminate + clarify + hydrate

nourishing hair oil for shine + moisture

use a few drops at a time as needed in dry or wet hair + as a scalp treatment for healthy growth

mugwort, yerba santa, arkansas quartz crystal, castor oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, olive oil

Purchase Here

SHAPE SHIFT 

texture + transform + embody

create shape + encourage natural movement in the hair

work small scoop of paste between hands,  and run through hair + scrunch into roots for volume + ends for texture

shea butter,  beeswax,  doug fir sap,  black tourmaline powder, fossil powder,  guar gum,  celtic sea salt, coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil,  yerba santa,  mugwort ash,  sandalwood, myrrh, artemesia, morrocon rose, egyptian jasmine, orange blossom

Purchase Here

DUSTED

lift + build + revive

build structure + soak up oil in between washes

sprinkle into roots +  brush through hair or work through with fingers + bring hair back to life

black tourmaline powder, fossil powder, arrowroot, kaolin clay, maca, guar gum, sandalwood, artemesia, myrrh, jasmine, orange flower, morrocon rose, eguptian jasmine

Purchase Here

RITUAL

anoint + reconnect + bless

return to yourself + integrate body mind and soul

massage a few drops into temples and the top of your head to bring it all together

grapeseed oil, sandalwood, myrrh, artemesia, morrocan rose, egyptian jasmine, orange blossom

Purchase Here

 We are also re-stocked in Free Your Hair // Nikki Jacoby hair combs, as a limited release with this collection.

Hairstylists make the best hair products, and witches make the best medicine. Get your haircare from your local Hair Witch and get the best of both. It is a true joy to share these with you! This collection is limited in quantity so get your magic while you can.

xo, Roxie Jane Hunt

 

Hair and Healing the Spirit with Julia Inglis

The more I learn about hair and culture and ancestry, the more interested I find myself in the question of hair and spirit. A few months ago, I asked a question about Hair and Spirit. I was curious about the stories out there that illustrate the link between our hair and our spirits and identities, stories that bring the truth of this link to the surface.

A dear woman healer that I know of and admire very much named Julia Inglis of Sacred Familiar raised her hand over the internet and said, “I may have something to share.”

Julia is an ancestral healer through folklore, storytelling and mythology. She lives in the forest in Australia where she makes medicine dolls, woven and felted characters containing natural elements and found fibers created to assist in the healing journey of an individual.

 

Julia Inglis clearly spends a lot of time thinking about the energetics of fiber and the spirit within, and she offers today her thoughts and a beautifully woven story on a topic that sits deeply in her heart, on hair and spirit and healing, and the women of the Magdalene Laundries.

The Magdalene laundries were Asylums set up by the Catholic
Church in the 18-20th centuries in England, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the US for what they considered ‘ Wayward Women’…….Unwed, pregnant out of wedlock, women who lived alternatively to the normal standards of the day. Much like persecution of the Witches, the Magdelene Laundries served to enslave women who wouldn’t submit to the patriarchal oppression of the Catholic Church.

Julia Inglis has made it a mission to honor these women in her work, through story and creation of dolls to commemorate the lives of those effected. Here are her words on Hair, Spirit and Healing, through the experience of the Women of the Magdelene Laundries. Lets all take a moment to make room for these stories in our hearts so that we may never forget.

 

Hmmm hair and spirit feel forever linked to me. As if the tendrils of our hair are always in constant contact with spirit, moving and communicating with the atmosphere around us and holding ancient memory and DNA. Our hair can feel so electric, it can be a way to sense energy and spirit in a room – the hairs on arms stand up, the hairs on our head prickle and become alert. I watch this a lot in animals too – the way hairs stand up on a dog’s back when it becomes aware of needing to be alert, to investigate or when danger is near. I see hair more like our own personal fiber, our fur, our fleece. It is alive and full of creative possibility. I see the work you do Roxie and it reminds me of weaving with fibres. The braiding is perhaps a way of us to connect to and remember  ancestral arts like weaving and feeling the living and creative spark that lives in our hair.

And there is so much in our hair that is familiar, people can recognise our own individual scent by smelling our hair, we can remember them. When someone we love is returned to us we hug them tight and often without thinking, smell their hair. On the day a baby is born they are passed through the arms of those who love them, each relative taking turns to hold the baby and smell their hair. We do it without thinking but I believe this is very old, that we are taking this moment to imprint the memory of their smell so that we will always know them, we will always recognise them and know how to find them again.

This ritual and deep memory of hair and it’s connection to us runs through a lot of my work. I create spirit dolls as companions and friends to anyone in need and I make an effort to work with fleece and fiber from loving farms. I like to the know the people gathered the fiber and how much they love their animals. My own ancestors, for many generations were spinners and weavers and wool workers in Scotland but I only began to work with fibre 4 years ago when I moved to Sherbrooke Forest.

The forest began to heal my own pain, and anxiety and as my mind quietened, my hands had an urge to craft. A friend showed me how to needle felt a woollen and from the moment I began, I have never stopped. And the first thing I did was bend my head and smell the wool. It was just as important to smell as to feel it, it still feels the only true way to recognise it. From the moment I held the fibre in my hand, it was as if I already knew what to do. And it was as if my hands had been longing to return to this ancestral craft.

I became obsessed with learning about fibre and ancestral textiles. I began sourcing all kind of fibers – plant fibres such as nettle and ramie dyed naturally with ancient dye plants such as woad and madder. And fiber from wool workers and farmers from around the world that were working to bring rare breeds of ancestral sheep and goats back from the brink of extinction. The same animals that had lived on the land with our ancestors, and provided them with fleece for clothing and blankets and fine weaving were now in danger.

I became aware of this movement of preserving and caring for ‘rare breeds’ and when I could I created dolls with this wool and fiber, so happy that in a small way I could help to assist in their preservation and I was also aware of this ancient memory in the fiber and the hair of this ancient bloodline living on in a doll and bringing the magic of that land and it’s stories to the doll’s new keepers.

Rare breeds. I thought about this a lot as I made the dolls and carried on the work I had been dedicating my time to for the last 10 years, the work of Swan Blessing. Swan Blessing is the name of the personal and group sessions I hold for women to heal the memory of shame and fear from times of persecution of the women for working as healers, witches, midwives, herbalists. This ceremony works to clear the trauma in the female lineage of the Burning Times and the asylums and institutions that patriarchy built to contain, jail and silence the outspoken and wild women, the orphans and outcast, and the misdiagnosed psychics and mentally ill. The ceremony works not only to heal past life memories but also the collective memory of what happens to women who speak out, are different, are natural healers or unmarried mothers or women who have a healthy relationship to their own sexuality.  Over the years of travelling and offering this ceremony to hundreds of women I kept hearing again and again how it was believed it was safer to be hidden, to work undercover and to not be found.

In 2013, six months after making my first doll, I began to dream about the women of the Magdalene Laundries. I had known about these Catholic institutions where women and children were locked up and forced to wash laundry from morning to night without pay, poor food and very little if any education. This was their punishment for being too outspoken, too attractive and bringing too much attention to themselves, for being homeless and for being pregnant without a husband. 

The Magdalene Laundries named for Mary Magdalene the redeemed prostitute and sinner in the eyes of the church were meant to be places of penitence for ‘fallen women’. Ah yes, you may say, well this happened in the Victorian years and you are right – but did you know that the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland only closed it’s doors in 1996? Many survivors of these cruel and damaging institutions are living among us now.

The dreams about these institutions grew stronger and stronger until one day I knew that I must gather at the site of the old Magdalene Laundry at the Abbotsford Convent here in my home in Melbourne, Australia and hold a ceremony to not only let the spirits of the women who were abused there know that they were loved but to also heal ourselves of the invisible chains that are still keeping us quiet, unseen, and afraid.

One of the first things that was taken from you when you were incarcerated in the Laundries was your hair. It was cut roughly and as punishment – hair was seen as women’s vanity – another sin. There is a history of women having their heads shaved before entering prison, asylums, during wartime as punishment and even when women became sick.

I once made a doll for a grandmother in her 80s and the doll had long, long plaits. She told her granddaughter that she cried when she saw her because it reminded her of her own hair that had been cut because it was seen as ‘draining her health’ when she was a little girl and she’d never really gotten over it.

I have spoken to survivors of the Laundries and they have all spoken about the huge trauma and degradation of having their hair removed or even changed without their permission and under force. It is almost one of the strongest memories of their time there. It was a way to break the spirit of a wild young woman the moment she stepped through the door and it was affective.

Hair and the way we choose to wear it is so personal. It is not like clothing or fashion. It grows from us. It carries our DNA and ancient memory from our great grandmothers. The church did everything it could to cut ties and family bonds. A sure way to help break a familiar bond is to tell a family a lie about their daughter and how evil she is and then present to them (if they were actually allowed to visit), a child that no longer resembled their daughter in any way.

It is much easier to disconnect when we can no longer recognise the one we used to love. When a baby animal is born to a sick or grieving mother, it doesn’t get enough nutrients for it’s hair and it is born with what is called a ‘fever coat’. The fever coat is dull and lifeless and usually lacks vitality and colour. I think of these young girls ripped away from their families and away from their own mothers and many of them pregnant with their own babies, terrified and worked into the ground and fed so little. 

I imagine their families finally getting a visit with their daughters in the Magdalene institutions and hugging these abused unrecognisable girls and leaning in to smell their chopped off hair and instead smelling not their child but a fever coat. Another link and memory lost. Not your daughter any longer but a different creature entirely who no longer looks like your own or even smiles like it. In her place an unfamiliar and sickly creature that has no trace of the wild spirited girl that once lived inside.

A couple of years ago I began a project called Dolls for the Outcast – travelling to places of trauma neglect and leaving a spirit doll made from pure and loved fibers for the spirits who had lived through those events and also dolls for the living survivors. I have gifted dolls to survivors here in Australia and travelled to the Cross Bones Graveyard in London, once known as a Magdalene Grave for the prostitutes of Southwark who were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground even though they had to pay the Bishop to work on the streets of his borough.

It was a huge joy to see a doll I made for the women of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland come to live with survivor, activist of Forgotten Mothers, Terri Harrison. In the video I received of Terri holding the doll she is constantly caressing and smoothing down the doll’s hair with great affection. Nothing could have made me happier than to see this moment.

I am now going even deeper with this theme of returning hair to the women and children of the Magdalene Laundries by beginning a new project called the Memory Shawl. It is my intention that it heals the Fever Coat of so many women who lost their mothers and then had their babies stolen from them. Over the last year as I have travelled and shared the Swan Blessing ceremony around the world, women have gifted me strands of their hair to spin on a spindle with fibers from rare ancestral breeds of animals lovingly being brought back from extinction and also fiber created from the nettle plant.

Nettle I see is our Grandmother guardian and protector of women. From the nettle plant comes a strong and beautiful fiber. I am weaving our human hair or fiber with plant and animal fibers, making a shawl that like a great spider web, connects all of our families and lineages – human and animal and plant. My wish is that this ‘hair shawl’ will help to reconnect us all to the Great Mother and heal the sickness of the fever coat. So that we remember and find ourselves again by connecting to the ancestral spirits and grow strong in our communities respecting all life forms.  By healing the broken lineages of the past the memory shawl can provide warmth and comfort and new dreams – a gift from our ancestral DNA to the outcast living and dead.

By sharing our own hair we are sharing our own stories and families with the women of the Magdalene Laundries we are warming them so that the fever coat heals in ourselves too. We do not see them as fallen women but as rare and sacred and we speak up, let ourselves be seen and found again.

The human spirit is some of the strongest fiber of all. In my communications with some of the Magdalene Laundry survivors I have been amazed at their fight, their fire and resilience. Some of have become powerful activists, teachers, artists and writers who are now standing up and speaking for the sisters who can not. They are taking on governments and the church that terrorised them as young women. This has shown me that the ‘fever coat’ is temporary and that the human spirit is more resilient than any institution, that bonds of sisterhood can replace the loss of family and that voices once silenced can become a roar.

Thanks Julia. The tears are flowing and heart is swelling. Deepest gratitude and the biggest hug to you, Dear Sister of Scotland.

Shedding Hair and Shedding Fear

I have wanted to shave my hair since high school, when I met a beautiful, free-spirited friend who sported a perpetually shaved head.  I have decided to shave it now because, after finishing my PhD at Stanford and having my first child, I now know that I can take on much more than I had imagined, and I’ve been trying to put everyday fears aside.  

I’ve been attempting the things I have always wanted to do, but have been too afraid to try.  Following one lifelong dream, I tried out for a punk band, failed, and then helped form my own.  On the career front, I aimed my thesis paper for the highest impact journal and negotiated for a bigger salary. In general, I have been working to live a life free of the fear of things that don’t warrant my fears.  

Additionally, as a parent, I have been working to teach my little son to trust himself, to distinguish between the crucial, elemental fears that help him to survive and the useless fears that prevent him from living a life full of boldness and new experiences.  I am preparing to teach the same to my in-utero daughter someday.  All of this to say, it was time to face the fear of exposure I had always felt at the thought of shaving my head.

After reading my sister’s brave and honest post about the experience of shaving her own head, I started to think more about what that fear signified for me.  It wasn’t only aesthetic or practical.  I don’t often worry about being insufficiently feminine, and pregnancy has gotten me past many of my fears of a dramatically changing body or appearance.  

What I fear is being seen by others as dangerous, untrustworthy, or unfamiliar in a threatening way.  I realized that I have worked hard to keep up the appearance of normalcy, modeling my career, aspects of my personality, and my relationships to avoid appearing too “fringe”.  

Why?  Because when I was 14, after periods of major depression and a few destabilizing manic episodes with elements of psychosis, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  At the time, I was told by people whom I loved and trusted that having a mental health label would mark me forever as an “other”, unlike the people around me, and this planted the seed of the shame I have carried about my diagnosis.  

Compounding this, before learning to manage my disease, I was outwardly marked by it.  In middle school, when everyone was striving for normalcy or a way to fit in, my lack of impulse control and sometimes erratic behavior made it hard to cultivate and maintain friendships.  

High school was easier – I found a niche that fit my unpredictability, learning to channel it into a type of apparent fearlessness that attracted friends.  But the cost was a perception by my peers that I could not be trusted, that I was flaky and spacy, that I had chronically poor judgement.  My erratic behavior led one friend to quietly ask another why I constantly acted like I was on drugs.

 In addition, I was cutting myself regularly, but trying to hide the scars from friends and family.  I wanted to be perceived as “fun crazy”, not “crazy crazy”.  This continued into early college, culminating in flunking out of my freshman year and a suicide attempt that landed me in the ER for several days, first unconscious, then incoherent.  This prompted an intervention by my panicked family that resulted in a several month stay in a dual treatment rehab clinic for mental illness and drug abuse.  Afterwards, I spent several years in and out of inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities.

 For the first time, I recognized that people I loved were afraid for me.  Their fear felt like a daily burden, and I was determined to turn things around and show everyone that I was fine, that I could function and take care of myself.  However, after several years of stability, I had an extended period of psychosis that introduced a new, more deeply internalized fear.

 At the time, I was working as a teaching assistant to middle schoolers, struggling to keep myself together and trying to reconcile my irrational thoughts and feelings with the real world around me.  Years of hearing terms like “bipolar” used to describe someone unstable and irrational, of hearing stories of young people with mental illnesses doing dangerous and violent things, of media and popular culture feasting on tales of unstable women who harmed their partners or children, had left me with the sense that I might be someone who could not only be feared for, but be feared.

 Now I felt that I could no longer trust myself and my perceptions, and I became convinced that if I were exposed, people would literally be afraid of me.  After recovering from this psychotic episode, I found a medication that provided long-term stability, discovered running as a way to dampen the remaining highs and lows, and went back to school to become a scientist.

(photo Constance Brukin)

 I now work in a profession where dependability and trustworthiness are my most essential assets, one that relies on careful and methodical thought and analysis.  In addition, I have become a parent, one of the greatest responsibilities a person can undertake, one that requires consistency, self-control, and again, trustworthiness.

 I am privileged that by now my disease is, for the most part, hidden, that I can pass unnoticed through most of my life.  But when a senior scientist with no knowledge of my diagnosis makes jokes to colleagues about my “having a mood disorder”, or when I make errors that call my dependability into question, I feel panicked and unmasked.

 Similarly, dyeing my hair has always seemed a bit risky and potentially unmasking, but it is increasingly socially acceptable.  To be a woman with a SHAVED dyed head seemed to represent a much more dramatic non-conformity, a way of renouncing societal norms and intentionally standing out as someone who goes against unspoken rules of fashion and gender.  It seemed like something that could out me as fundamentally different from those around me.  

I did it anyway.  Here is why, and here is what I have learned.  First of all, while for practical reasons I must still sometimes tread carefully when talking about my mental illness, in shaving my head I am renouncing the shame of this disease.

 I am powerful, I am a survivor.  My experiences have given me a perspective that is unique and important.  As I have increasingly outed myself, I have met women who share my symptoms as well as the fear of what their disease will mean to others in their lives.  THEY are powerful, THEY are survivors, THEY have taken their lives and transformed them into enriching, successful, connected existences that anyone would be glad to call their own.  

Like me, every one of them has been afraid to talk about their own experiences, and every one has been inexpressibly grateful that someone else is talking about theirs.  We are afraid of owning one of our greatest accomplishments, surviving and thriving with this disease, because we live in a society that questions womens’ emotions, experiences, and perceptions, and pounces on any excuse to invalidate them.

My beautiful naked head symbolizes a shedding of my fear of who I am, and a symbolic shedding of the fears of all women with this disease and other mental illnesses, of the stigma that keeps all of us (your friends, your neighbors, your parents, siblings, and other relatives, and maybe even yourself,  millions of your fellow Americans, over one billion people on this planet) hidden away from the world cowering in fear of discovery.  As the brave, beautiful, and bipolar Carrie Fisher demonstrated with her words and her example, we are all many things; for some of us, one of them happens to be mentally ill.  Or, as Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes”. I am a mother, a scientist, a runner, a musician, a wife, a sister and daughter, a friend, and someone with bipolar disorder. And I am not afraid.

Check out Brook’s Transformation from a few months back HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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