Recently I was talking with Ian about how strange it is to be pursuing something entirely new at 35, like learning how to be a psychotherapist. It's strange but it's also really wonderful. It's different than when I got my BA in literature because even in a creative academic subject like that, things were more structured; it's even more different than when I went to school to become a hair stylist about a decade ago. It's been years since I went to hair school and that hasn't really been a part of my life in so long that I kind of forget that I did it at all. It's weird how we can lose entire blocks of memory, purposely or not.
I got the idea to be a hair stylist from a friend who at that time was attending and enjoying hair school. I've always had a love of the rituals around beauty thanks to my mom and hearing about it from my friend felt exhilarating. Visiting her at school for a haircut really cemented the excitement I felt about that environment—the seed that had been planted began to grow. Being less than two years out of university and unhappy in my entry level publishing job also made me eager to do something that felt so immediate and present. I wanted to be of service! I wanted to have fun. Knowing I could make more in the beauty industry than I did in publishing also made me really question my parents' constant mantra that getting a university degree would give me success, money, comfort because that certainly wasn't true. I didn't know yet that their experience of the world and jobs and everything was very specific to their generation's timing and not much else. And so I enrolled in hair school.
Theoretically I loved it. I love color theory and haircut geometry and reading about the history of hair styles and doing projects about hair aesthetics in different eras. I loved it. After a few weeks, it was time to shampoo our mannequin heads to practice doing a blow dry for the first time. My partner for this activity and I grabbed a towel along with Brenda the mannequin and took her over to the shampoo bowl. I turned on the water and used the sprayer to wet Brenda's hair as my partner held Brenda in place by her neck. Once the hair was wet, I got some shampoo like the textbook had said and worked it into the wet hair; as soon as my fingers hit Brenda's hair, I felt my stomach lurch and I pulled away.
"Are you ok?" My partner was concerned.
"Yeah, I'm ok," I said. "I just got a little queasy, must be nerves."
I went back to the bowl and touched the wet hair again and felt like I was going to be sick but didn't want to lose it in the middle of class. Maybe it was just the surreal feeling of touching a mannequin's hair. I had never felt that way about touching my own wet hair. I felt sick as I finished shampooing the hair and subsequently combing and blow drying it but I figured it was just anxiety about doing a good job.
It was not.
A few weeks later, I had my first hair model come in who happened to be my mom. We were in a period of our relationship where we were extremely close and connected so I felt loved and supported through the whole service. I had spent the first 42 weeks of my life in this woman's womb, it would all be ok! When we got to the shampoo bowl, I felt confident and turned on the water. This time, I put my hands in my very alive, very human, very supportive mom's completely normal and beautiful hair and instantly knew that nothing would ever creep me out as much as touching wet hair.
actual footage of me at that moment (img src)
If there was a Wikipedia article about the ability of people to push their own feelings so far down that in this kind of situation they don't even consider the possibility that "maybe this is something that's not for me", I am telling you that my face at that moment could have been the example at the top of that page. Did I reconsider this educational and career choice and withdraw from school? No, I did not. Instead I completed this 13 month program and every single head of wet hair I touched made me want to yak. I graduated! I very briefly worked in a salon! When I was soon offered a job in the admin/managing side of the industry, I jumped at it, relief at not having to touch even one more wet hair beyond my own. I left the industry after a few years and it was the best professional choice I ever made. Not because I went back to publishing but because it allowed me to work on my own stuff long enough to realize that I really wanted to be a therapist.
I told Ian about this moment a few weeks ago and we both lost it—him first and then me.
"Wait, so was it like a growing feeling of disgust that eventually built up?" He furrowed his brow.
"No, I knew the first time like down in my bones and soul."
"But you thought it would get better?"
"Yeah, I just thought I'd willpower my way into being someone else or having different phobias."
"How is this the first time I'm hearing about this?" said my husband of ten years. The Prestige (2006), baby!
We laughed so hard. I laughed so hard I cried because imagine what it would have been like if I had been able to have even one conversation back then where I felt safe enough to be like "hey I think I made the wrong call here and shouldn't continue this". The money saved! The time, the stress! It is wild what we think we can convince ourselves of, as if we out-reason our gut and intuition. It took me a while to be able to trust those though because I was always told that you had to push through bad feelings and keep going no matter what. Turns out that ain't really it. You don't have to finish everything you try, you don't even have to try everything out there—there's a lot to be said for quitting or as I like to call it, knowing what's not for you. Just listen to your gut because sometimes it will literally and biologically tell you "nah bro".