Freeing my sparkle and raising money for Mind
Liz has stopped dyeing her hair to let her natural sparkle (that's grey hair!) come through, while raising money for Mind. She wants to start a conversation about not dyeing your hair when you go grey and what having grey hair means.
I've been dyeing my brownish hair since I was 17. I've always used copper coloured henna and as my hair has got more sparkly (that's greyer!) underneath, it's got redder on top, which is funny as I’ve started looking exactly like my two red-headed daughters, who get their colour from their Dad!
I've always been a bit lazy about re-dyeing the roots, and recently got really curious about what my natural hair colour was like underneath. It started me thinking about how I would feel about not dyeing my hair and what other people's perceptions of it would be. I've heard things like, “40 is way too young to go grey – maybe at 60 you should stop dyeing it” and “grey hair wouldn't go with your face – it's too young”.
"I started imagining a world where people are thrilled and delighted to get their first sparkly hair, and really value the experience that comes with it."
I wondered why someone’s natural hair colour is often rejected or not 'good enough' and I realised it’s all just individual perception. I started imagining a world where people are thrilled and delighted to get their first sparkly hair, and really value the experience that comes with it, rather than feeling down and scared about feeling 'old'.
A friend suggested I stop dyeing my hair, and that gave me the courage to do it. I decided to raise money for charity by 'freeing my sparkle' as a personal challenge. It's a great conversation opener and it means growing my hair out is a talking point. It’s something I can be proud of, instead of feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
Raising money for Mind was a natural choice because I have experienced mental health problems myself.
On my 43rd birthday, instead of being at home celebrating with my family, I was being driven by ambulance to a high security mental health ward suffering from a manic episode. I had been on an amazing, but very intense weekend conference in the US, and with jet lag, the time difference, and being 'over-stimulated' from the buzz and high energy of the conference, I was finding it really difficult to sleep. By the time I arrived back in the UK, I was starting to suffer from severe sleep deprivation. After three days of very strange, out of character behaviour, my husband called the emergency services for help.
"Mind's website had brilliant advice and information. It really helped my husband and I understand what was happening."
I was sectioned and spent three nights in the Lambeth Triage Ward, a high security mental health setting. I remember arriving, and seeing the thin sheet over the plastic mattress – I felt like I was in prison. It was one of the most frightening, yet in some ways amazing, experiences of my life. It feels like a huge achievement to have been in what to me was a very scary place, and to have come out and recovered so quickly, thanks to the amazing support and love I received from my husband, friends and family.
Not having any experience of this before, not really even knowing what being 'sectioned' meant, Mind's website had brilliant advice and information. It really helped my husband and I understand what was happening.
At first I felt embarrassed about my experience, but gradually through talking to different people and being able to see the silver linings, I realised what an amazing experience I've been through and how much I can learn from it.
"The idea of me covering over my real hair colour felt linked to me covering my 'real self' and not accepting myself as I am."
After the episode, I was lucky to have time afterwards to sit and think. I did therapy, and spent time looking deeply into myself. When you have young children, life takes over and you don't have much time to think about yourself. I read and worked through books recommended by my therapist, which taught me more about myself than I knew before! The idea of me covering over my real hair colour felt linked to me covering my 'real self' and not accepting myself as I am.
I realised that dyeing our hair to cover grey is related to not accepting who we really are underneath, and trying to change ourselves to be acceptable to society. In children's books, it's only ever grandparents that have grey hair, whereas in reality, many people in their 40s, 30s and even 20s and younger start getting sparkly strands. I would love to see people of all ages with naturally grey hair portrayed in books or other media.
Ideally I'd love to find other people who want to join me and take up the 'Free your sparkle' challenge to raise money for charity. There's nothing to lose, as at the end of the day, if you don't like your new or natural colour, there's nothing stopping you dyeing it back. And you might just learn quite a lot about yourself in the meantime, as I have done.
In the few months I've been freeing my sparkle, my perception of sparkly hair has completely changed, and I know I am going to carry on my journey of discovering my authentic self. I'd love everyone who reads this to think about your perception of sparkly hair and to start the conversation where you are – or even consider going on a journey of self discovery and freeing your sparkle too – if you're lucky enough to have any, that is!
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.