Last week I went to my local hair salon and got my roots done. The process involves several steps. My stylist: applies a scalp protecting fluid all over my head, paints my roots with bleach in meticulous detail, washes out the bleach, heals my hair with restorative shampoos and conditioners, and finishes by applying toner to get the color just right. After almost getting my hair burned off with my old stylist in early April 2021, I appreciate my current stylist’s level of skill and attention to detail, especially given the difficulty of turning my natural black hair to light blonde in one sitting.
When I went home following my appointment last week, I looked at the mirror after my hair had dried and saw silver. I panicked for a couple of minutes because I had wanted a lighter blonde. Taking a few deep breaths, I reminded myself that this had happened once before, that the issue worked out once I went back to the salon a few weeks later and got my silver hair re-toned to the perfect shade of blonde. By the time I went to bed that night, I thought I had convinced myself that I felt calm about my hair color, that I had completely processed and worked through my privileged mini-crisis.
That night, I had a nightmare in which I thought my biological mother would kill me. At the beginning of the dream, I sat outside my former high school on a sunny day, talking with a childhood acquaintance about our academics and other miscellaneous topics. I mentioned that I got an A- on our most recent Honors Biology test. Then, my mother appeared on the bench. She lectured me a little bit about how I should have worked harder to avoid getting an A-, before telling me that the time had come for her to drive me home. She turned and started walking toward her car, and in that moment, I sprinted in the other direction, across the large lawn area in front of my high school. For the remainder of the dream, my mother chased me all around the outdoor perimeter of my high school. I felt certain that if she caught me, she would kill me. At one point, I shrugged my backpack off and threw it at her. It hit her, she fell out of my sight, and I felt a sense of relief until she came back into focus only moments later. She chased me and chased me and chased me. When she reached out her arm to grab me, I woke up.
Hm, I thought to myself as I reached over to my bedside table to document my nightmare, No wonder I have control issues.
I suspect that this nightmare took me by surprise because my day-to-day life at 26 looks so different than how it did at any age before 18. Now, I have my own apartment, so I go out when I want to, I wear what I want to, and I see who I want to. I move throughout my day without fear of getting attacked at any moment by one of my mother’s unpredictable moods. At times I wonder if this trauma and how I worked through it helps to explain why I almost never feel stressed about work – because if I survived my mother then what else could be worse than that? This nightmare, though, reminded me of the nights I would lie awake as a child and think to myself: what will my life look like when I get out of here?
Despite its scariness, I feel grateful to my brain for providing me with this nightmare. The nightmare helps me to explain why I tend to prefer control and how I can freak out a bit in situations without control. From a lens of self-compassion, who wouldn’t want control if you grew up in an environment where at any moment your whole world could flip upside down without any logical reason? At the same time, over the past several years I have put in a lot of self-work to grow more flexible and more open to situations that involve uncertainty, ambiguity, and accepting life’s many shades of grey.
Over the next few days, I worked on my internship/residency apps and my psychology research, I jogged and played tennis in the sun, and I rinsed my hair a couple of times with cold water. One morning after a shower I looked at the mirror and saw that the silver had faded. My hair had turned to a lighter shade of blonde, without me having to exert much control at all.
How do you cope with potentially difficult memories from earlier parts from your life? Or, how do these memories shed insight into your behaviors and feelings now? General reactions to this post? I’m writing this while staying in Boston for a week-long solo vacay before the fall semester at my PhD program starts. Jogging on the Charles River which reminds me of Caroline Knapp and eating a lot of good food. Until next post!