Today, let’s talk about something of the utmost importance: my hair. Or rather, my lack thereof.
It’s been almost a month now since my brother and I shaved our heads to raise money for Pieta House and, for me at least, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind situation.
Let me begin by saying that if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Pieta House you should check out their website where they can offer more information than I could ever provide. They are a suicide and self-harm crisis centre and that was all I really needed to know before I decided that this was something I wanted to do; it was my very definition of a worthy cause.
We’ve already established that mental health awareness is something that is very close to my heart, primarily because of my own experiences with anxiety and depression. However, in recent years, I have also been bereaved by suicide. And shortly thereafter, so was my community.
Because words simply aren’t expressive enough, there is little that can be said about these two untimely deaths except that they were both tragic losses. Losses which feel impossible to comprehend. Any of my attempts to write about them and the wounds that were suffered as a result of their deaths would inevitably be backspaced and replaced with a series of question marks.
It’s not my place. I can only write about how this led me to where I am now. Bald. Somewhat.
It’s a lot to think about, someone choosing to take their own life. Especially someone of a young age, when the best of life is surely still ahead of them. It doesn’t feel as though my brain has the capacity to even hold all the information, let alone decipher it into reason.
It’s also a feeling of powerlessness. After all, what can you do? It’s too late to help in any way that would have mattered. So when my brother announced to my family that he and two of his friends had decided to shave their heads for Pieta House, I was immeasurably proud and impressed. But also, a little jealous.
He was banishing that powerless feeling. He had thought of the way to help; a way that would matter to somebody, even if it was too late to prevent our own losses. He was making a difference.
And while my brother is obviously very giving and charitable and all those other nice things, he also sucks at organising. I did not realise the full extent to which he was unable to organise, but it soon became clear.
It started off okay. A few days after he had told us of his plans to shave his head he came home with a date and a venue. Excellent! The ball was rolling.
A few weeks later it seemed like there might be some trouble brewing; the two guys who were going to be shaving their heads with him were having some trouble with the date. One of them would be away at the time and the other was worried about having a shaved head due to an upcoming job interview.
So that meant that my brother, Dylan, had the options of either (i) rescheduling the event, (ii) going ahead with it on his own or (iii) recruiting someone else. All fine and well. Except that he did not make that decision.
It was a week before the scheduled event date when I finally joined Dylan for one of his smoking rests in our garden (chez nous=no smoking zone). I asked him to clarify once and for all whether or not the event was going ahead. He reported that he hadn’t heard from his friends so he would probably be the only one shaving his head, which meant that he would cancel the event, shave his head from home and simply collect sponsorship.
That was when I was like “I volunteer as tribute!”
I told him that I would do it with him and the event could still go ahead as planned and all was well once more.
Except that the event wasn’t really planned.
The charity hadn’t been contacted, no one had checked in with the venue, no posters had been made, there was no Go Fund Me page, there was no Facebook event circulating… heck, there hadn’t even been a Facebook status announcing the head-shave!
And, might I add, this was all happening within my final two weeks of college so there were a lot of deadlines to contend with.
It was Tuesday night by the time we got full-on confirmation that the event could go ahead and it was set to take place the following Friday. That is not a lot of time for promotion, especially when you’re in the middle of writing a thesis on the love lives of the Disney Princesses.
It was all hands on deck to get things off the ground. That Tuesday night I made a Facebook event and posted a status about sponsorship in my college chat; the next day I contacted Pieta House and got sponsorship cards and shirts sent out in a hurry; then it was all about promotion and donations.
I was constantly manning the Facebook event (something which is terribly frightening and unfamiliar to me); I was making calls with the venue and the local paper and local businesses seeking sponsorship. I was texting friends and acquaintances to try and get a crowd to come to the event.
In no time at all it was Friday and the event was happening. And I would be shaving my head.
In all of the chaos of planning and coordinating and panicking that no one would turn up, I didn’t even have time to consider the fact that I was going to be bald.
And it’s something that maybe isn’t even worth too much consideration; after all, it’s only hair and it’s going for a good reason. I’m not that much into beauty standards anyway, but still, this felt like a big one.
Nevertheless, it happened. Friday came and, despite the short notice, our friends and family all gathered in support at our local community centre where we finally faced the shears.
My heart pounded wildly as I attempted to be a hostess and entertain new arrivals and organise the logistics of the shaving, as well as having to stop and pose for pictures every now and then. Weirdly, it was what I imagine my wedding to be like: a room full of my favourite people, and me, very panicked about whether or not they’re having a good time.
Fortunately though, no were no disasters.
Dylan went first, taking his spot in the hot seat. I live-streamed it to Facebook as he got the chop so that we could share the experience with anyone who couldn’t be there, and it surprised me to find that people were actually watching! Well wishes were pouring in along with offers of donations. Although our crowd was modest, it was clear we were not alone.
And then it was my turn.
As soon as I hit ‘post’ on Dylan’s Facebook live-stream the reality of what was happening hit me. Dylan accepted his cheers and vacated his place of pride. Matt (one of my best friends, my partner’s brother and also our volunteer head-shaver) dusted the severed hair from the seat of the chair, clearing the way for me.
While Matt was prepping the workstation for me, I ran over to my partner for a quick hug, the last one for a while where we were in danger of her accidentally ingesting any of my mane. That was when my nerves really accelerated; it was happening. No backing out, no matter how much my Nan tried to convince me otherwise.
I took my seat and was caped, our feeble attempts at curtailing the runaway hairs. Oh how naïve I was.
But I didn’t care about that; all I could focus on was the ever-increasing rate of my heartbeat beneath that cape. In fact, I was glad for the barrier so that no one would see my heart attempting to break free of my chest and rip through the skin. The audience remained blissfully unaware.
And even now I can’t quite tell the source of my terror. I have no idea if I was frightened by the idea of losing my hair or if I was uneasy about being watched like a zoo animal. I’m inclined to think the latter, but I’m happy enough to pretend that I was nervous about my impending baldness. Seems more reasonable, somehow.
So, Matt got to work.
First he chopped away strands of my artificially-blonde hair, little tufts raining around me as I tried to remain somewhat composed. Meanwhile, Matt seemed to unexpectedly double as volunteer head-shaver and the event’s MC. He talked to me to keep me calm while entertaining the crowd and trimming away my hair to nothingness. He did an incredible job and was probably even the highlight of the event, so I owe him one heck of a thank you card.
When there was no more hair to be chopped, the scissors were swapped for the razor. Several tense minutes of BBBBBBUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZing later, my head was a clean slate and the taste of hair was everywhere.
My emotions from that point on are a bit of a mystery to even me. I don’t remember much of how I felt until the party had dissipated and I was in the bar with the remaining few who felt a beverage was in order. At some unidentifiable moment I realised that I could breathe again and that everything had gone just as it was supposed to.
And nothing had changed, except that my head was a bit lighter and Pieta House had some extra funds.
A last-minute donation after the event that night brought us up to €500. We have since doubled that and today I made the drop-off to Pieta House, depositing €1,074 with their staff. They were incredibly gracious and spoke to me with interest about the event, but most importantly, they told me that the money we had raised was enough to save a life.
One human life.
As we prepared ourselves for what we were about to do, I had been putting a lot of emphasis on the numbers; how many people were going to turn up and how much we could raise. But that number, one life, means more to me than anything. It made it all so very worth it.