This is hard to write.
It’s hard to look at the pictures. Hard to remember the reactions of people seeing my swollen face. Hard to recall the calm, swiftness of my husband driving me to the emergency room around midnight after an ice storm.
This is the story of how hair dye almost killed me and my big chop.
As I’m writing this, I am officially 13 months natural (no perm, no heat, no gross products) and it’s been 5 months almost to the date of my big chop. But we’ll get there…
July 5th 2016 was my semi big chop – 7 inches gone and my bantu knot outs were POPPIN’! But as the months go by and the holidays roll around I was getting bored. So of course, I thought “why don’t you put a lil’ splash of color on those ends?”
Mid-December 2016, I pulled up to The Mart – hit that good ‘ol Ethnic Hair Care Section (#shade) and found some honey blonde dye I liked. The WW on the front looked bomb so, I figured that was it – this was the one. Ya girl was ‘bout to have that ombre…
Got home, did the thing, rinsed it out. Hair went from blackety black to blackety dark brown. In the sun it was dark brown with a tiny hint of gold though *cardi B laugh*.
A few weeks pass (we’re post new year now) and I’m sick of this brown. It makes me look pale. So I go pick up an old faithful dye. Now, I have been using this brand’s oriental black dye for over a decade, maybe once or twice a year. Did the thing – boom, baaaack to black.
My mother always said that when my hair was dark, I looked the most like Pocahontas. That’s where I began seeing patriarchal euro-centric, long, straight manes as the epitome of “good hair,” but I’ll get to that.
At the time I was also mastering the Kanekalon bun (shout out to black hair YouTubers). About 48 hours after dying my hair, I was in the bathroom taking out all 687 bun bobby pins and giving myself a little scalp massage. Eyes closed. It felt so good. Orgasmic almost. Like the stress of the day just released in a wave of warmth washing from the crown of my head to my cheeks. But something wasn’t right. I opened my eyes and see my temples slowly swelling and my cheeks puffing and my eyes too! I thought it was a dream. I tried to push my face back in like it wasn’t happening.
I ran out to the living room where my husband was playing 2K and panickily screamed “IS MY FACE SWOLLEN?” He looks at me and says something like “woah…yeah…you’re having an allergic reaction…do you need medicine or the emergency room”…I don’t remember really. I do remember being mad though, because he was SO calm and I was freaking the cuss out.
I’m digging through the medicine cabinet, choking down pills and looking in the mirror as if it’s an instant remedy. I start googling this Hey Arnold, football head type swelling and all the articles that pop up are related to this hair dye specifically. Greeeeeat. This was Wednesday night.
Thursday morning, I had a 6:15AM audition for OKC’s new cycle studio. I went of course,
‘cause that’s what thugs do *hair flip*. And I felt terrible, I was embarrassed because of my face. The second round of anti-histamines had started to kick in so my energy was low. One of my eyes was 90% swollen shut. I was too short for the bike. UGH! All the things. But I made it to the finals though cause, Black Girl Magic.
After, I went to my office to grab my laptop just as my boss was coming in. Her reaction to my face made me feel like Quasimodo. She sent me home.
Thankfully, my AMAZING doctor got me in a few hours later. Fam, those butt cheek steroid shots are not for the weak. She said that I needed to be monitored so I went to work with my boo. Which was GREAT because at this point both my eyes were nearly swollen shut and he has huge monitors so I could still send in all my reports.
The next 30-ish hours are a blur of trying to work through conference calls and allergy-med comas and a sore butt cheek. Mi esposo was vigilant and tender all-the-while.
Friday evening shortly after dinner, we were sitting in the living room and I noticed that I hadn’t breathed in a while. I inhaled. Exhaled. The next breath didn’t come.
My heart started racing. My lungs felt like they were sucked into the exhale state and wouldn’t open. I made myself inhale – I had to physically think “in for four, out for four.” With my lungs as full as I could get them, I whispered that I needed to go to the ER. Mills didn’t hesitate to put down his video games grab my boots, my coat, my hat, my gloves, scarf, his stuff and slowly we made it out to the car on icy steps and roads.
I remember thinking, I was glad it was so cold. It made me gasp for air as it hit my face. A shock of adrenaline. It wasn’t a far ride but the road was slick and the drive slow and silent. His hand on my knee.
I walked in and there was a sign at the nurses station that said if you are experiencing shortness of breath, let the nurse know. I felt tears and fear well up inside me – making it even harder to breathe and explain to the nurse why I was there. She brought me a wheelchair and took all my info. At this point I was flat out gasping for air and trembling. I could feel my lungs vibrating inside me.
We waited for what felt like forever.
As soon as I was taken back they brought out another, more powerful steroid shot and it was like liquid fire seeping into my veins – but it WORKED. Within three minutes I was breathing normally again. PRAISE. That would have been $950 we did not have plus the cost of oral steroids and another few weeks of anti-histamines.
During that time and over the next two weeks my scalp itched and burned and scabbed like crazy. I did countless ACV rinses. I tried to strip my hair of the color with dish soap and other various shampoos, scalp treatments and deep conditioners. The PPD (paraphenylenediamine) was still reacting in the permed ends of my hair and the only thing that would help at this point was to big chop.
At this point, mid January, the weather was just bad. Shops are closed. Or they don’t use organic products without things I’m now allergic to. I was about to have hubs cut it when a chair at a gentle salon opens. GLORY.
I walk in strong and confident having pinned SO MANY inspo pics. India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” beating in my heart – just READY. Get in the wash bay and I promise the woman that washed my hair was touched by an angel. It was INCREDIBLE. Over to the chair – time to chop. “You so fine. And your head isn’t gonna itch. It’s gonna be awesome. I got this.”
As much as I was ready to be rid of the itch and pain, I for sure had not given up my attachment to the false notion that good hair is long. One of the women in the shop had the THEE most beautiful honey blonde curly fro that was nearly waist length. She passed me and told me how beautiful my coils were. “I have coils?”
Another girl that I had talked with in the waiting area had thick gorgeous natural hair but was getting her 22 inch weave sewn back in because “she could never be as brave as I was being” – allergy or not. The other women in the shop smiled and complimented and all I could think was what have I done? I look like a boy!
Time for the dryer. Not making eye contact with a single mirror. I searched through my screen shots. “What was I thinking? She’s a model. Her eye brows cost more than my hair cut. Her makeup is flawless. What am I going to do?”
Naturally, I’m sweating at this point.
My stylist comes to get me, adds a little gel to my edges turns me around to face the mirror.
COILS!!!! Ya girl got that good h…. ya girl got that HEALTHY hair.
And I thought I looked okay that day and the day after. But I eventually needed to wash it and that hair DID NOT look like the hair I had in the chair. I was devastated.
My TWA was not cute. There were NO coils. And for MONTHS I hated it. Even after finding the right products and conditioners. I LOVED my healthy hair and curls, but not the length and how it made the features of my face that I was most self-conscious about stand out.
Fast forward to May – my hair was FINALLY long enough for braids. It’s memorial day weekend. I’m out at the pool, showing off my melanin with the girls but I can’t get in yet cause my braids are too tight and I can’t put it up in a bun yet. *Sign* I get sunburn ALL over my scalp. It’s heavy. I can’t sleep right. They’re falling out. I can’t do this. I take them out after two and a half weeks (yawl know that’s a LOT of money down the drain). And now I see it.
I’ve been staring at her all along. Me. Curly girl. Sun kissed and edges poppin’.
Superman gives me scalp massages every night and calls my crown his curly garden. I’m Worthy of Blooming.
Be the light.