My hair is the wildest in the office;
I leave it natural. Sometimes it looks like I just came from a wind tunnel or out of a hurricane. It’s long, wavy, and untamed. If you look up any of the many “hairstyles for work” articles on the internet, mine is definitely in the “do not” section. What most people don’t know is my hair is a physical representation of something that affects me every day. My mental illness.
I think “work hair” is a good representation of living with mental illness. The average person wakes up, showers, does their hair, puts on their work clothes, brings a packed lunch and goes off to work excited for their morning coffee. As someone with mental illness, I can tell you my mornings are not usually a routine. Sometimes I wake up with a weight on my chest like I have a boulder just lying on top of me, and I don’t have the stamina to lift it up just yet. I lie in my bed, stare at my clock and think,
“How am I going to do this, how am I going to get up?”
hiding under the covers until the clock tells me “Any later and you’re going to be late”. The motivation to move from my depression is the anxiety I have if I’m late for work.
That’s why my hair is the way it is. Instead of taking care of my breakfast, clothes and hair like any other adult, my routine involves using my energy to remove that boulder. Putting all the things like how I look, and eating well off to the side. This pattern has been most of my life, just focusing on getting to work or school despite how exhausted I feel. Surviving is putting everything else on the back burner.
My mental illness pushes plenty of regular activities to the sidelines.
If not my hair, it’s my weight as well, or saving money for something nice. Usually not having enough energy to pack lunch leaves me with the more expensive fast food options; which has made me heavier, and my wallet lighter. Although these habits are known signs of mental illness, they’re perceived as lazy, and indulgent. But in my case and many others, it’s not. It’s because unfortunately when I wake up, I’m already tired.
In previous jobs, I know my mental illness has affected people’s perception of me. I realized this when I told my boss I liked her hair, it was usually slick straight but on that particular day, it had a bit of a wave.
She said to me, “Oh no, I think it looks messy”. I took those words more personally than anyone probably would think. It’s a hidden stigma about mental health; it’s an invisible illness so make sure no one notices. It’s one of the many fears I have about working, that my weird style and my wavy hair will be seen as laziness, even as an unconscious bias.
But I can say coming to Kitestring was a breath of fresh air. No one seemed to care that my hair was untamed or that I wear comfortable sneakers that look good with absolutely nothing. I came to work, and I worked hard. They didn’t seem to look down on me for being quirky (even though they didn’t know that that quirky truly was). It gave me a chance just to focus on improving as a web developer and to get to a place where I’m much better for them and me.
After struggling for a while, I can finally say I’m in a good place. I live 10 minutes from work, money is stable and livable, and I just got engaged. I’m in a better mental health place than I’ve ever been. I’m starting to pack my lunches and working out every day. I’m even in a routine where my hair is a bit tamer. I’ll never not have a mental illness, so I think my hair is always going to be a little wild. But I love my hair, and I love my job, and I especially love my work family.