Under the Surface
I cut my hair off on Monday.
Like, a lot of it.
I chopped nearly a foot off in a braid, and my housemate took clippers to the rest.
After skyping an alumni who considered a similar drastic change, I mentioned something in a group chat about how we could have matching shaved heads. Another kid from the group chat messaged me later that day and asked, "Why did you shave your head?"
"Because I wanted to," I responded.
"I just wondered if there was more to it."
The truth is, there's five converging stories I could tell about why I shaved my head.
1. I've wanted to shave my head since I was in high school. My best friend said he'd disown me - which he did eventually for different reasons - but I missed my shot then.
2. I lost a lot of hair in the hospital and had weird phases of regrowth that led to super unhealthy hair that I hid in a bun for years (I hadn't cut my hair since moving to Germany seven years ago) so shaving it off would give me a chance to have consistent healthy regrowth.
3. I knew shaving my head during social distancing was the best time to have the awkward regrowth phase happen with almost no one seeing it.
4. I asked Morgan and Givorgy about it so it wouldn't be an impulse decision I'd regret, and both of them were super in favor of this decision. Brandi also quickly came around to the idea after I asked her opinion.
5. I mentioned it to my dad, and he got super excited about the prospect of us getting matching buzz cuts which super excited me.
While I eventually kept some cute bangs instead of going for the full buzz, my dad said he'd do a proportional cut and looks nearly bald with his close crop.
I'm delighted with the results, and I love the support everyone has given me for the change. Why the heck not cut off all my hair?
Well, the truth is, I've had a couple students go full Brittany in moments of mental instability, and that would definitely have been a poor life choice for me. As I was telling another alumni when we skyped on Friday, I thought this one through, and there were a lot of positive reasons to cut my hair this short and at this time in my life.
There's one more story to tell related to this haircut and this particular season of life. Cutting my hair is a decision I can fully control, and this time in my life has a lot of other things outside my control: global pandemic tops the list. Here's the thing, as far as the pandemic goes, I'm safe and cared for and relatively carefree. However, there's a huge disruption to my routine and the routines of everyone in my life; that creates emotional chaos and allows for other unresolved issues to surface.
That same student who asked me why I shaved my head has been dealing with a whole lot of emotional issues in super unhealthy ways over the past several months. The physical and social isolation has exacerbated a lot of things he'd been unwilling to deal with previously, and I've had a lot of hurt hurled at me over the past few weeks as he's projected onto me some of the unprocessed problems. Unbeknownst to this poor kid, it's coming out now is connected to the pandemic, but he's unwilling to see how his isolation has irritated his underlying emotional issues. When I recommended he try professional counseling instead of just being a jerk to me, I was met with anger and more unkind words of self-justification on his part.
I talked to a few of my close people about it, and as I went over the circumstances with Givorgy again today, I lamented that I was unsure if I enabled the kid to reach this point. "I can tell a story either way - I can make myself look like I did everything right or see a vantage point that was me enabling him by not calling him out sooner." Just like with the story about my haircut - what version did I tell you at first? Is it any less true than the others? Well, see, those all are equally true, but I don't know what version of me is most true in this kid's life.
There's the surface story that this kid asked me to be his mentor three years ago and that I saw he was interested in theoretical conversations about how to love Jesus better and noticed him avoid practical conversations about how he lived out those theories but chose to lean into the theoretical conversations in hopes he'd eventually live more like Jesus at his own pace. Under the surface is my series of choices to ignore tiny red flags deflecting hard topics, the genuine ignorance of behaviors hidden from me, and hindsight that makes sense of lots of pieces I hadn't connected in the moment. None of this makes either one of us a bad person or a bad Christian. It makes us complex human beings with more going on under the surface than people realize at first glance.
For example, when this kid had a meltdown and called me to rant to me a few weeks ago, he thought I was withholding divine revelation from him (two of my friends who heard me relay the conversation asked me if he was drunk when he called; I'm honestly not sure) and he was convinced that this prophecy I had was the key to his one and only current issue in life. Unbeknownst to him, he was already dealing with trauma surfacing under the conditions of this pandemic and started taking it out on me in unhealthy and hurtful ways that objectified me rather than viewing me as a whole person with needs and feelings and problems of my own.
For example, unbeknownst to him, I was a month into a battle with my insurance that continues today and am nearly $3,000.00 out of pocket as I fight for my new provider to reimburse me for the medically necessary catheters that enable me to pee every day. Sure, I love staying home and taking time to walk on my treadmill daily and have a relaxed routine where I don't have to be at school for classes and meetings and can do emails from the convenience of my couch, but the pandemic surfaced some other things for me. Sure my employer can give me supplemental income in my next pay check to cover these costs since I've almost depleted my financial safety net as the cost of my catheters equals nearly half my monthly income, but there's still quite a bit of stress related to the insurance company's request on Friday that I provide paperwork from six and a half years ago that I'm not sure exists in my house anymore. Sure I'll be able to email my hospital doctor and request proof of my disability, but I don't know how long it'll take and Swiss doctors usually send you a bill for responding to your emails.
Unbeknownst to me, you're dealing with a whole host of issues related to your own circumstances that I may or may not be familiar with, and I don't know how the global pandemic is affecting you. I'm still going to ask you to pray for me as I head back to work this week - remote learning again - and adjust my routine and make significant effort to meet the needs of my students in various stages of trauma from this unprecedented school year shift. I talked to several people this week about how to balance my own needs with the needs of the people I interact with. In the case of this particular student, Givorgy supported me that turning off notifications from him so he couldn't ruin my day with insensitive messages was wise while not cutting him out entirely because I previously agreed to pray for him everyday and we have alarms set for the same time daily when I pray for him while he spends time in contemplative silence learning to listen to God. (To be clear, I did multiple times tell multiple people I was ready to block this kid forever but was then convicted of my "press k" default to cut off people when I feel hurt or threatened and instead processed with a couple trusted individuals how I could have a healthy response that kept me from enabling or being taken advantage of while also being able to remain supportive and encouraging.)
A couple weeks ago I encouraged my readers to think of three people who support them and say thanks and then find nine people to reach out to and offer kind words. I stand by the suggestion, but this week make sure you consider what's going on under the surface in your life and potentially in their life as you reach out. Let's be willing to offer a little extra grace as we don't know all of what's going on beyond the physical distance thing - sometimes even in our own life.