How do we notice that change has begun?
Is it a feeling?
And once we’re attuned to change occurring what happens to us when we realise there’s no going back?
That your future has now unutterably been altered.
When you’ve arrived at such a moment in your life, how have you responded?
Was there immediate fall out or did the impact bit you like delayed aftershocks?
For me, there was this one time in my life it happened, I knew right away everything would be different about my life, about me, from this moment forward.
My knees wobbled.
I got that punched-in-the-stomach feeling so intense I thought I might vomit.
At the very least I felt like I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and never stop.
This tectonic shift occurred when I was eighteen.
It was a Friday evening – I know this like I know my name.
It was late April or very early May 1995
I was in the bathroom staring at my reflection in the mirror whilst getting ready to go out.
I had a dance lesson to attend.
My good friend from school, Christine, was having, as the centre piece to her 18th birthday party in June at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Sydney, a choreographed dance sequence that about twelve of her friends, six guys, six gals, would be involved in.
In pairs, we’d tackle the waltz across the parquetted floor like we were part of the Viennese aristocracy from the 18th century. This meant each Friday for a couple of months leading up to The Event we had to practice – sometimes at St Clair Rec Centre, other times at Christine’s house. Our instructor was the wonderfully young-at-heart Miss Shirley, who, at a grand old age, was still footloose, fancy free and loved nothing more than to kick up her heels and have a good time. Don’t get sloppy or loose though – Miss Shirley got frustrated quickly when weren’t taking it seriously enough.
So, there I am, in the bathroom, getting ready ahead of the very first lesson.
Getting ready for me back then was a tightly controlled routine especially when I came to doing my hair.
I would spend endless minutes trying to align each hair in exactly the right place. I was seeking a perfection with my hair, a control of the process I couldn’t find or master anywhere else in my life.
If I tell you that my favourite story from The Bible is Samson and Delilah that might put you in the picture to understand how important my hair and my hairstyle was to me. I believed that Samson, got his extraordinary strength from his hair, but not literally from his hair – from the confidence his thick and full head of hair gave him.
His hair was his identity and in his identity lay his power.
I get now that this is a classically employed screenwriters device whereby a character, losing something of immense importance to them, must struggling desperately to get it back, only to learn along the way the thing means something different to them when they get it back. And thus, the dawning of a new revelation.
Samson learned his strength came from within him, not his hair.
Back to 1995 I hadn’t come to this deeper understanding of Samson’s story yet – I was still caught up with the importance of identity and image.
My hair process was repetitive, and I NEVER went so much as a step outside the door to my house without going through this:
- Wetting my hair (I’ve often varied between cold tap water, sticking my head under the shower or hot tap water, splashed over my hands)
- Running my hands through my hair to smooth it out
- I would then, with a brush, slick my hair back and being so wet, it was practically stuck to my crown.
- Then dry my hair – in my teenage years I was a devotee of the hairdryer, my hair style resembling an Aldi version of Hugh-Grantish foppish mop.
- I’d get a nice side part going – a clearly defined line, left-aligned and then I’d try and tease out a fringe that would overhang my forehead.
And god, the amount of hairspray I would use only to see, within minutes, all my efforts collapse in vain as from the right edge of my forehead, the fringe wilt and sag and the holding powers of hairspray give up the ghost of strong hold.
I knew it then, yet would never allow the thought to fully form:
I am vain.
I get the whole Narcissus thing, amazed at himself as he stared into the lake at his own reflection. What is more fascinating that the self?
Except, I don’t think I was in love with myself. I was angry at myself. Angry because I didn’t look the way I wanted to look.
And, for better or worse, I was obsessed with my hair.
This particular Friday, as I was doing the routine, getting my hair as good as I could get it, something struck me as odd. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Just this queasy sense that something was off.
Then, as I was using the hairbrush to flick up my fringe, I noticed what appeared to be a weird angularity around my right temple.
Where once there’d been a clean and correct ninety-degree angle of hairline, there was now maybe a seventy-five or eighty-degree recession towards my ear.
My body knew before my mind did and it tightened, my breathing shallowing.
This lump of dread formed at the base of my throat and I couldn’t swallow, which was momentarily fine because my mouth had gone bone dry.
Surely not? I was thinking. No. Way.
And then something became known to me that could not become unknown – my hairline was receding.
I was going bald. I was going to be bald.
Why me, huh, why me? I thought to myself as my face drooped in the mirror, my skin turning a weaker shade of grey as the blood drained from my head to my toes.
I went to my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed going through my personal checklist of why I was such a loser, which included all of my greatest hits. My life did flash before my eyes, and it didn’t feel like it amounted to much.
And now this.
Really? I get to go bald?
I felt like crying. I really did.
There it was – at either side of my temples, where there was once hair, there was now a recession, like British forces retreating from Dunkirk, leaving more forehead, skin that hadn’t seen daylight since I was an infant.
I will NEVER get laid now, was the next thought that began banging around in there.
I was doomed.
Sometime soon, I guessed, my hair would start falling out in clumps, just like the guys in those Ashley Martin commercials who seem who find great tufts of hair in their sink plughole.
Devastated wasn’t strong enough a word.
I felt my life had ended. Any hope, any sense of potential future happiness and success, just vanished.
What a thing to realise. What a thing to know about one’s self.
I had apocalyptic visions of what I would look like without hair and how my image would dictate the quality of life I would live.
To this day, I don’t know how I pulled myself away from that mirror and actually left the house. I can only assume it was a Herculean effort. I must’ve found a resilience deep down from somewhere.
Since that moment this realisation has lived with me in my head – I would one day be bald. There would be NO HAIR on my head.
Going into University in 1996, I didn’t think I’d make it through.
When I moved to Ireland, I imagined myself soon after the Millenium looking like Mr Sheen.
I couldn’t imagine myself older than thirty with more than a couple of patches of hair over my ears and to the back of my head.
And here I am, twenty-four years later, still with a thick crop of hair on my head.
Sure, there’s obvious receding on both sides but I still get to brush my hair every day and take more than an obsessive sense of pride in it.
What A LOT of worry I experienced because of this realisation. It near-crippled me emotionally for years. A real anchor keeping me at the bottom of the ocean.
A lot of worry for nothing. What a thing worrying is.
We can never truly know how the future will play out and yet, at least for my part, I can get submerged in catastrophising things that may never come to pass.
This is one case where I am happy to report my worry has been mostly, for naught.
Going, going, not quite gone yet.