PURPLE HAIR

A few weeks ago I posted THIS post about why I was planning to dye my hair purple, and why it was all my therapist’s fault.

Some of you said you wanted a picture of the final product, so here it is!

hair

I’m really happy with it.  My father-in-law hates it (which surprised no one).  My husband loves it (yay!).  Everyone else has been varying shades of in the middle.  It’s a really fun twist for summer, and it’s allowed me to feel a new level of confidence: “Yes, I know this is crazy, but I’m kind of crazy.  I’m rolling with it, and I LIKE IT.  I don’t care if you do or not.”

I haven’t felt that way a lot in my life.  It feels good.  Maybe I’ll never go back to blonde.

Ha ha.  That was a fun thought for a second.  My school would freak.  Oh, well.  September is a long way away.  Purple stays for summer; confidence hopefully stays after the summer ends.  🙂

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Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 3)

I’m dyeing my hair purple, and it’s all my therapist’s fault.

Sometimes I do weird things in therapy (you can read episodes 1 and 2 of this series here and here).  I really do like my therapist, I swear, but she’s got some weird ideas every once in a while.  As an even rarer occurrence, her ideas lead to questionable life choices such as dyeing my hair purple.

A few months ago, she gave me a bizarre homework assignment: she handed me a shoe box and a stack of magazines, and she told me to go home and cut out pictures.  I had to glue pictures that represented my “inner self” on the inside of the shoe box, and I had to put pictures that represented how others see me on the outside of the shoe box.  I wish I had a photo of my face when she told me this.  I think it was…skeptical to say the least.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.  “You want me to cut out pictures?  Like, what the kindergartners at my school do?”

“Yeah…it could help…” she said, looking a bit uncertain.  She was probably worried I would flat out refuse (a very real concern, by the way.  I thought about it).  In the end, I figured that she’s the one with the degrees and I’m the one with the defective brain, so it would probably be best to do what she said.

I went home and got to work.  Shards of magazine paper were quickly strewn about the living room.  My husband walked in at one point and asked what I was doing.  “Therapy homework,” I answered, as if this explained everything.  He looked at me a moment longer, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I held up a picture of spaghetti in response.  “Do you think pasta is more of an inside piece of me or an outer piece of me?  Because, like, everyone who knows me knows that I love Italian food, but I actually really do love Italian food.  Does that make it inside or outside?”

“Uhhh…cut it in half?” he suggested.  Perfect.  Great solution.  I hadn’t even had to bother with explaining the project.  This is why Andy is great.  I cut the spaghetti in half, and Andy walked away (probably to shake his head and swear that he will never go to therapy).

When I brought my shoe box into therapy the following week, I presented it like a kindergartner presents a finger painting masterpiece.  “I did my homework,” I said.  “Is it good?  Do I get an A?”

“There are no grades in therapy,” my therapist said for the thousandth time (which is not true, I say.  What else could possibly go in that thick file of notes about me?!  I know she’s writing if I did a good job or not.  I JUST KNOW IT).

We talked about the box for a while and how the optimization of happiness occurs when the inside of the box matches the outside, or when people are projecting an authentic image of themselves.  Perhaps this is why I’m happiest when eating spaghetti!

An interesting conversation sparked when she noticed a picture of a girl with purple hair on the inside of my box.  She asked me about it, and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…I just put that in there because I’ve always thought it would be fun to do something really crazy with my hair, like dyeing it purple.”

“Then why don’t you dye it purple?”

I looked at her as if she was the crazy one, not me.  “You don’t just DYE your hair purple.  People would think…I mean…you just don’t DO that.  It’s weird.  My husband would kill me.  I would get fired.”

“You’re a teacher, right?  Why can’t you dye it purple for the summer?”

I shifted uncomfortably on the couch.  “Because…um…because it’s just not done.”

“I say if you want purple hair, you should go for it.”

I assured her that no, that’s crazy, and theoretically wanting purple hair and actually dyeing it were two totally different things. I was squarely in the camp of the former.

Still, somehow, the next week when I was getting routine highlights done, I struck up a conversation with my stylist.  “So…umm…theoretically, how difficult would it be to dye my hair purple?”

Her eyes got wide and excited behind her thick square-rimmed glasses.  “Oooooh, like a purple strip on the inside by your neck?  That would look awesome.”

“Uhh…no…”  I said slowly, wondering if the highlighting chemicals were seeping into my brain.  “I actually meant…sort of…all of my hair.”

“All of you hair?  Like…your whole head?”  Apparently this is not a common request.

“Hold on,” I said.  I quickly grabbed my phone while she kept wrapping highlights.  Amazed that I was even thinking about this, I google searched some ideas for purple hairstyles.  I found one I liked, and I held it above my head.  The light of the phone reflected in the tin foil strips of my highlights.  “Like this,” I said, watching her reaction in the mirror as she stopped to look at my phone.  She looked even more excited than she had earlier.

“Seriously?” she took the phone out of my hand to look at it more closely.  “That would be so fantastic.  Let’s do it.  This is going to be so fun.  When are we doing this?”

“Summer,” I said definitively.  “Right when school gets out.”  As soon as I said that I thought, “Wait, what am I saying?!?  Back up! Take it back!”  Except I didn’t do that.  I looked in the mirror, head full of foil, and smiled.

After that appointment, months ago, we put my purple hair appointment on the books: June 15.  At the time, June 15 was such an abstract date – far in the future.  Now it’s…in eleven days.  I’m a bit nervous, but I’m mostly excited.  When I told my husband about this idea, he was surprisingly supportive.  He said he thinks purple hair will look really sexy.  I don’t know if it’s the purple hair or simply the fact that I’m not trying to fit into what I “should” be anymore, but one or the other is definitely attractive.  I feel sexy.

My sister went to that same stylist last week, and the stylist was talking about how excited she is about my crazy hair project.  My friend Bri lives in Maryland, and she texted me this week to say, “Purple hair, Hazel?  Seriously?”  This made me laugh, as this friend was voted Biggest Gossip in high school.  Even ten years and multiple states later, she somehow still has the pulse on the latest news.  She must have heard it from the ONE other person from high school who knows about it.  My husband said he’s pumped to see it.  I bought new nail polish to match it.  There’s no going back, people.  I’m going purple.  THIS IS HAPPENING.

I asked my husband to take me downtown this weekend, as I have some new white shoes I want to wear.  I told him that I’ve been waiting until after Memorial Day to wear them because they’re summer shoes.  He said, “Wait a second…you’re dyeing your hair purple, but you can’t wear white shoes before Memorial Day?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded, appalled.  “I’m edgy, not TOTALLY INSANE.”  This made us both laugh.  There are so many issues with that statement.  Maybe I’m not quite done with therapy yet.

“Are You Bipolar?”

This past weekend a bunch of friends and I went to my parents’ cabin to celebrate my birthday.  When I say “cabin,”  I mean cabin.  It’s a log cabin in the middle of snowy nowhere.  It doesn’t even have an address because it’s that remote.  Think 1800’s if the 1800’s had a working toilet.  That’s where we were.

We were sitting by the stone fireplace, and our entertainment at that moment was me reading from my recently discovered middle school diary.  Let me tell you – reading my middle school self was HILARIOUS.  I mostly wrote about how in love I was with this kid in my class, Andrew, and how I kept trying to get him to notice me and he KEPT NOT NOTICING ME.  It was really funny (in retrospect, that is.  When I was in middle school it sucked.)  All the girls at the cabin said they could totally identify with how I felt – some pieces of the middle school girl experience are universal.  All of the guys looked appalled – that’s what their wives and girlfriends were like in middle school??  Yep!  It was enlightening for all involved.  We were laughing to the point of crying.

I got to one part of the diary where I was SO ANGRY at my dad for not letting me invite boys to a party I was throwing (the nerve!!).  I couldn’t believe he would be so closed-minded and stubborn.  One post later, in true junior high fashion, I said, “Actually, never mind about my dad.  I’m cool with it.  There’s enough drama when I only invite girls over.  I certainly don’t need to add guys to the mix.”  Everyone laughed at my sudden turnabout, and one of the guys, laughing hard, said, “Oh my gosh, are you bipolar?!”

Not funny.

It was amazing how the cozy glow of contentment I felt by that fireplace was instantly extinguished, like someone had poured cold water over my head.  Thoughts that I’d been able to finally – for the first time in weeks – push into background noise were suddenly loud and clear in my head again.  There was sharp focus on things I’d tried so hard to make a little bit hazy.

I know the time between his comment and my response was a split second, but it was such a crucial, time-stopping split second.  I knew I had to make a decision on whether to laugh it off or call him out.  I looked down at my diary page, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes.  I knew the few people in the room who knew my secret were looking at me nervously, waiting for my cue.  They would be all over him if I wanted to declare how not-funny that joke actually was.  I knew that.  I also knew that I had the capacity to make everyone’s night really awkward really fast, and we were all having such a good time.  I didn’t want to cold-water-bucket everyone’s night just because my feelings had been hurt.  In the end, I took the (cowardly? selfless? self-deprecating?) way out and laughed it off.  “Clearly yes,” I responded, not looking up from my diary.  “Haven’t you been listening?  I’m obviously crazy.”  I gave my best attempt at a laugh, which put the people in the room who were formerly on high-alert back at ease.  The laugh didn’t reach past my face, though.  It wasn’t real.  That joke wasn’t funny.

Aside from the fact that his joke about a very real illness was totally inappropriate, I also wanted to say, “Being a moody pre-teen is not a symptom of bipolar disorder.  It’s a side effect of being in junior high.  You want to talk about symptoms of bipolar disorder?  LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT.”  But I didn’t say that.  I really didn’t say anything.

Why is it socially acceptable to make jokes about mental illness?  I don’t understand.  I would never go up to someone and say, “Wow, you’ve got a huge bruise on your arm.  Do you have leukemia?  HA HA HA.”  or “I see you’ve gone to the bathroom twice in two hours.  Are you diabetic?  LOL!”  Because those jokes wouldn’t be funny.  No one would laugh.  Why, then, is it okay to joke about bipolar disorder or any other mental illness?  Why do people make jokes about cutting themselves or killing themselves?  I’ve cut myself and I’ve tried to kill myself – I assure you that neither are remotely funny.  Not at all.  Where is the humor in this?  Why do people laugh?  More importantly, I suppose, how do we stop it?

I know it’s not by laughing it off when someone makes a joke about my diary, that’s for sure.  I just wasn’t ready to battle that issue when I was having my first “I’m glad to be alive” weekend in a long time.  I hope that doesn’t make me weak.  One day I’ll be ready to battle people who make jokes they know nothing about.  I guess it just wasn’t this weekend.

The “Really Crazy” People

Weddings usually provide their fair share of awkward moments, especially if you don’t know many people there.  Last night Andy (my husband) and I were at a wedding for one of his best friends from high school.  We were placed at the awkward table – you know the one.  Every wedding has an awkward table where the bride and groom put the hodgepodge of people that don’t fit at any other table: the cousin they haven’t seen in years, the plus-ones from the wedding party, the random guy from work who doesn’t know anyone, and the old friends from high school.  That was our table: Table 15.

We engaged in the usual small talk that happens at every one of these awkward tables everywhere in the world. Seriously – if you could say the following questions/statements in every language, you could hold your own at the awkward table for any wedding anywhere:

  1. How do you know the bride and groom?
  2. Doesn’t the bride look beautiful?
  3. These centerpieces look great.
  4. This food is delicious. (Which you say even if it isn’t).
  5. Gorgeous day for a wedding.  (Alternatively: Too bad the weather is terrible.)
  6. What do you do for a living?

The awkward table quickly became “the nightmare table” once we got around to question 6.  I answered that I’m a teacher (normal answer).  My husband answered physical therapist (normal answer).  This British dude who’s a friend of the groom answered mortgage lender (normal answer).  The random cousin from Ohio answered nurse (normal answer…so far).

“What kind of nursing?”  I asked.  I didn’t actually care.  I just asked because, you know, I have to sit at a table with these people for an entire evening, and I know there are a zillion different kinds of nursing.  I was trying to make conversation because that’s what you do at the awkward table.

Her answer stunned me.  “I’m a nurse at a psychiatric facility,” she said.  “But I only work with, like, the really crazy people.  The ones with bipolar and schizophrenia and stuff.”

I attempted a polite smile and head nod.  “That must be difficult,” I finally said.

“Yeah,” she responded casually.  “I don’t like it much.  They’re like, seriously insane.  I never know what I’ll be dealing with.  It’s hard.”

I didn’t have anything else nice to say, so in following my mom’s age-old instructions, I didn’t say anything at all. I was thinking Hard for you?  Ummm…how about those of us living with those ‘really crazy’ disorders?  You don’t have any idea about ‘hard.’  And you’re a nurse…shouldn’t you have the slightest bit of compassion?  Do they not teach that in nursing school anymore?  

I looked down and tried to act really interested in my mashed potatoes.  Have you ever tried to act really interested in mashed potatoes?  It’s impossible.  They’re colorless blobs of nothing, but I was studying them as if they were a display in the Museum of Modern Art (which, actually, modern art can be kind of weird.  I bet potatoes could pass for a brilliant piece in certain galleries).  The potatoes blurred as tears sprung to my eyes, but I was not going to let any tears fall.  I studied the potatoes harder.  Andy put his hand on my leg under the table – his way of saying, “It’s okay.  She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”  And I know she didn’t.  It still doesn’t make it okay.  Since when am I one of the “really crazy” people?  Come to think of it, who are the “normal crazy” people?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Actually, if we’re getting right down to it, isn’t “normal” a phantom anyway?  Who’s “normal”?  Is there such a thing?  Probably not.  Regardless, it felt like she’d just slapped me.  Why was she allowed to look down on me and talk about how I’m a completely different level of difficult craziness?  How dare she insinuate that we should all feel bad for her for having to deal with people like me?

Imagine my complete shock when mortgage lender British dude came out with, “See, what you probably didn’t know when saying that is that I’m actually bipolar.”

My head snapped up from the potatoes so fast that I might need my physical therapist husband to fix it from whiplash.  The British guy is bipolar?  And he is confident enough to tell an entire table full of people?!  The nurse suddenly seemed very uncomfortable (which I sadistically loved… #sorrynotsorry).  I probably should have chimed in with a “me too,” but I’m just not there yet.  Instead, I stared wide-eyed at this man who had just flipped our conversation in a very different direction.

“I was diagnosed fourteen years ago,” he said to a table of six very uncomfortable people and one person feeling a rush of relief that oddly also felt a bit victorious (Don’t degrade mental health patients, you idiot nurse!).  British dude continued.  “My brother has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder in the past, but he’s fine now.  I’m fine too.  People don’t understand that people with mental illnesses can fight them, overcome them, and lead very normal and meaningful lives.  None of you would have even known I was bipolar if I didn’t tell you.  It was a long road to get where I am, but I got here.  I’m okay.  And that’s cool.”

I wanted to stand up and start clapping or go southern Baptist style and chime in with a loud “AMEN,” but I only stared.  That must be what it feels like to feel starstruck – I had so much to say, but I said none of it.  All I could think of was I want to be like this guy.

“Anyway,” he said, totally comfortable. “Sorry to take that conversation in a dark direction.  I just thought I should mention it.”  The conversation slowly dwindled back to safer topics such as “where was your last vacation?” and “does anyone know where the bride and groom are going for their honeymoon?”  I didn’t talk much.  My mind was spinning.

Later that night, there was a point where the rest of the table was out dancing and it was only me, Andy, and British dude sitting at our table.  I took my chance while I had it.

“You know how earlier you were talking about being bipolar?” I asked.  There’s no natural way to bring that up in conversation, so I figured I’d jump right in.  “Well,” I continued after he nodded yes, “Here’s the thing – I’m recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I’m so very much not okay with it.  How did you…I mean…how did you do that?  How are you okay?”  He explained a bit about his story, a bit about his family, and a bit about the quirks he still has.  He told me he never matches socks, and I gasped.  “NO WAY,” I said, “I NEVER match my socks!”  I made him prove it by showing me his socks.  They didn’t match.  I know “mismatching socks” isn’t a symptom of bipolar disorder, but it was one more thing this guy and I had in common.  It was one more thing that made the all-too-rare thoughts cross my mind that Maybe I’m not the only one and Maybe I’ll be okay.

We were only a few minutes into talking when the now drunk out-of-town cousin stumbled back to the table with her boyfriend.  She had busted a bra strap.  Classy.  We switched the conversation over to her wardrobe malfunction, and we didn’t get back to bipolar disorder for the rest of the night.  Before we left, though, the British guy gave his e-mail address to my husband and me and told us to contact him anytime – that he knows what it’s like to struggle with bipolar disorder and that he’d love to help in any way possible.  Also, I’m pretty sure he meant it.

What started out as the awkward table ended up making me feel more understood than I had in a very, very long time.  Maybe one day I’ll have the confidence to speak up too, and to make only the people looking down on me feel awkward.

Got Any Secrets?

I don’t usually find myself sitting on the floor in a dark corner with a lady fifteen years my senior.  When I did find myself in that situation, I didn’t know the social protocol of what to say.  What came out of my mouth was, “So, got any secrets?”

*facepalm*

But seriously – it felt like junior high where my girlfriends and I would crawl into the dark crawlspace above the laundry room and confess who we liked, as if these secrets were of utmost concern and to be guarded as closely as matters of national defense.  If I’d had the opportunity, I’m sure I would have stashed a little piece of paper that said “Hazel loves Marcus” in D.C. right next to the files that contained codes on how to launch nuclear missiles.  That was a long time ago; those files are all digitized now, I’m sure.

Actually, that brings me back to my main story.  At my school, we have a consultant come in once a month to help us with technology issues and advancements for our school.  I’m the lead teacher for technology here (HA! – I’m pretty sure I only got this job because I’m under thirty and therefore must be “up on all of the new-fangled contraptions”).  On the day that the consultant comes, I get a sub for my normal classes and take the day to hold meetings, address issues that teachers may be having, etc.  She and I hang out and do teacher tech stuff all day.  It’s kind of fun.

Back in the early fall, my life was crumbling. I didn’t have much time/energy to create stellar plans or even pretend that I knew what I was doing.  I forgot our October meeting entirely, so she showed up and I was completely unprepared.  I didn’t try to cover for myself – when she came in I immediately said, “I am so sorry – I completely forgot you were coming today.  Don’t worry; I’ll get together a schedule and we’ll still get a lot done.  Just give me ten minutes.”  And, because improvising is a strength of mine, I did.  And, because kindness is a strength of hers, when my boss asked how things went at the end of that day, she said, “Great!  Hazel always keeps me on my toes.  We got a lot done.”

I could have hugged her.

With that kind of early impression, there was really no rebounding.  Obviously every meeting day since then I’ve been ready, had a sub, had plans, etc., but when things didn’t go according to plan or a new plan sounded better halfway through the day, I just quickly switched things around and rolled with whatever.  I joke around with this consultant and have fun because – come on – I lost all sense of professionalism back in October.  No reason to pretend I’ve got my shit together.  She knows I don’t.  It was actually kind of freeing.  Pretending gets really tiring.

Last week the consultant was here again.  We had a lockdown drill in the middle of one of our meetings, so I had to lock my door, pull the shades, turn off the lights, and then we had to go sit on the floor in the corner.  It was, as I said, kind of awkward.  That’s why I came out with “Got any secrets?”  I explained how my friends and I used to tell secrets in the dark, and she thought that was funny.  Then she surprised me and said, “Yes, I actually do have one.”

Intriguing.

She went on to say, “This is totally unprofessional so please don’t tell anyone…but your school is my favorite of all the ones I consult.”  Really?  I told her no way, that she probably says that to every school.  She continued, “No, seriously.  I go to other schools, and people are so stuffy.  They have these perfect schedules that we stick to down to the minute.  They’re overly organized, and they’re stuck-up like they completely know what they’re doing all the time.  You are fun, funny, and we get a ton done, but I never feel nervous when I’m here.  You’re super relaxed and just roll with whatever comes up.”  I laughed and responded, “You don’t know how badly I wish I could be like those people!!”  Which is absolutely true.  If I could be stuffy and organized and totally prepared for everything, trust me, I would be.

Trust me, I have been.

I won the award for “most organized” at my school last year.  I was promoted to head of my department after only one year of employment at my last school.  I’m the teacher who generally “has it all together.”  My principal has sent in other teachers to observe me.  The truth is, my technology consultant let me in on quite the secret last week.  It’s just not the one that she thought she was telling me.  Here’s the secret:

People like authentic.

People like real people.

People don’t like perfect people, because perfect people aren’t real.

I was authentically me only when I lost the ability to be anyone else.  When I was so down that I literally couldn’t perform my usual “A-game,” that’s when I became likable.  My consultant had never met pre-apocalyptic Hazel.

Apocalypse summer 2015 was when my life completely exploded.  Full nuclear.  Nothing was left of what it was before except for my cockroach-like husband (cockroach-like because he would stick with me through any sort of life explosion and destruction, like how a cockroach is supposed to survive a nuclear bomb.  Other than that, my husband has nothing in common with a cockroach.  Just to be clear).

Anyway, because the consultant didn’t know pre-apocalyptic Hazel, she didn’t know that I was supposed to be organized.  She didn’t know I was supposed to have it all together like the stuffy people she can’t stand.  She just knew that I was relatable and fun and that I don’t try to pretend to be someone I’m not.  Truly, I feel like most days I am trying to get back to my super-teacher A-game.  When I really think about it, though, that’s silly.  Why do people spend so much time and energy trying to impress people they don’t even like?  What if we could get our jobs done, still be very effective, but be okay with mistakes and shake the feeling that everything has to be perfect?  What if we could be honest and confident about our strengths and weaknesses and just let the chips fall where they may?  Confidence isn’t saying, “Everyone is going to love me.”  It’s saying, “I don’t care if they do or not – I’m going to be me, and I’m going to be okay with whatever comes with that.”

That, my friends, is a way more important secret than the ones I told above my laundry room.

But seriously – if you run into Marcus, don’t tell him I liked him in seventh grade.  Whoa.  Embarrassing.