In the ancient societies, hair was more than just a bunch of protein filaments—it was regarded as a magnificent representation of the human soul.
p>Its length, shape, and condition indicated many things, so the human spiritual and social worlds used to revolve around hair. Anything applied to the hair by force was considered a punishment that insulted human existence.
When I started chemotherapy, I had hair down to my waist. When other cancer patients saw my hair, they immediately advised me to get it cut before it started falling out. I was in my late forties then, and I hadn’t been to a hairdresser in almost thirty years. My reaction was to say, “You think I should have a haircut! Me? No way! Maybe my hair won’t even fall out.”
It was after my second round of chemo. I was at home. My husband Inan was at work, and Kardelen was at school. I took a shower before going to the living room and sitting in the armchair. With a brush in my hand, I started grooming my hair like I always did. All of a sudden, and quite unusually, the hairbrush slid right through my hair down to the hair ends. It was so bizarre that I felt a need to check the hairbrush, and when I did, I was petrified. A little hair coming out is normal, but what was this…? I had being parting my hair from the middle, and now one side was hanging from the hairbrush. The more I brushed, the more hair fell out. The more hair fell out, the more I continued brushing in an emotionless manner. Eventually, I was left with a pile of hair in front of me. My eyes started burning. Clearly, I was about to cry.
As I walked toward the mirror to look at myself, I felt worry and haste rather than curiosity. A woman with patchy, half-bald hair looked at me with a strange gaze. It would have been less dramatic if all of it had fallen out at once. I now looked like a crazy woman, and it was unbearable. I couldn’t bear it, so I decided to cut most of my remaining hair off in the hope it would look more acceptable. I looked into the mirror once last time and cried as I bid goodbye to my hair. Afterwards, I thought, “Okay, this looks much better. My mother’s hairdresser can sort the rest out later.”
I decided I would open the door and welcome Kardelen and Inan when they came home in the evening. I wore a beanie so they wouldn’t be shocked when they saw me. Although they already knew about my hair, seeing it for real is always different. In the evening, the doorbell rang, and I opened the door with the beanie on my head. Although they hadn’t seen my head yet, they hugged me with watery eyes. I then removed the beanie, which looked kind of like a bowl, and showed them my “not too bad” hairstyle. I was already feeling better as they gently patted my head. Toward the end of the night, we completed the mourning process by laughing and joking about the situation.
If I had listened to the advice from other patients, I would have been able to better deal with going bald. What was I thinking when I said, “I won’t go bald”? You have chemo, and you lose your hair. Simple!
During the stage when my hair was falling out, I paid a visit to Sevinc, my mother’s hairdresser, and she gave me a decent haircut from what was left. She had begged me for years to let her do it. Her eyes filled with tears when I finally sat before her after 20 years and said, “Okay, I’m ready now. Do whatever you want.” She repaired both my hair and my soul by saying, “Trust me, dear. You’ll look beautiful.” During the later stages of chemo, though, I even lost that very short hair.
I have to say, I find baldness quite attractive when it’s your own choice. If you could keep your eyebrows and lashes, even the baldness from chemo would be okay, but it’s not easy to endure this state when it targets both your willpower and your appearance.
I’d always had long hair. Although I never thought about why I loved my hair so much, I always knew it represented many different things to me. My hair was my fur, my antenna, my laced veil, my power, my breath, and my dearest. A life without hair wasn’t for me, so I decided to wear a beanie at home to stop my head from feeling cold and a wig outside.
I had never worn a wig before, so I looked around for something suitable. While browsing online, I came across a store that sold real hair wigs. On visiting the store, I found a wig similar to the texture and length of my own hair. However, there was one problem: The wig was blonde, while I had dark skin and hair. What’s more, it was very expensive, about a month’s wages. Nevertheless, I said, “I guess I can dye it and pay by instalments” and proceeded to buy it.
The minute I got home, I put my lovely new wig on. I checked it from one side and then the other. “Yeah,” I thought, “This will do.” After a few days, however, I realized that it wasn’t for me. It actually bothered me. I didn’t like the fact that a woman had sold her real hair to a wig maker. If I was that woman, I would be extremely upset, and I didn’t want to carry the artifact of an unhappy soul on my head. It didn’t feel right, and the more I thought about it, the more certain I was, so I eventually gave up. It had cost me a month’s salary, and I had spent more money having it colored. I felt sorry for the woman who had needed to sell her real hair, and I felt sorry for myself. It was all too much, so my relationship with this wig didn’t last long.
All of a sudden, I felt liberated. Following my decision, I discovered the world of synthetic wigs. They were cheap and didn’t come with a guilt trip. There were many different options, and I had the freedom to cut them any way I liked. In the beginning, I didn’t appreciate how this discovery would color my life and that of my loved ones. Wearing different types of wigs gives you a multitude of appearances. As we tried them on, we laughed at each other and had fun, collecting some very precious and memorable moments in the process. It had a healing effect on all of us. Together, we managed to create joy out of pain thanks to my soulless wigs.
I have to say, though, as time passed, my situation didn’t feel awkward anymore. Instead, I started feeling indifferent and just sort of went along with reality. It was now relatively normal and acceptable to start each new day with my inner voice saying, “At the moment, this is the flow of your life. Don’t worry, just get on with it.” At least what was inevitable had already happened and released me from the anxious waiting process, turning it into a routine instead. I became really used to it, at least until one morning when I woke up and caught the eyes of a stranger.
That morning, I went to the bathroom to wash my face and saw myself in the mirror. Sure, it was me, but my face looked odd. My eyebrows and eyelashes had completely vanished!
Just like one of those Russian matryoshka dolls, a new Funda had emerged from me, and this one looked terrible. At that moment, I wondered how many more versions of me were on their way. I was so glad that I didn’t know then.
Once the astonishment was over, I grabbed an eye pencil. I had lovely eyebrows before, and I’d never even needed to trim them. First, I drew an outline, trying to make it look like a real eyebrow, and then started filling it. I tried everything, but the result was always terrible. I then reluctantly conceded that drawing eyebrows wouldn’t work. I needed to accept this new Funda as she was, just like I had accepted the bald Funda before. As you can imagine, my eyebrow session was soon over.
I used to look like an exotic Indian woman with my dark hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, but that was history. Instead, I now looked pale faced. In the past, I never had anything with the image of being “white,” and even now, I couldn’t form that bond despite my radical transformation. I was quite sure I never would, so for a while, I needed to live with an “Indian” soul in “white” flesh. When the right time came, I knew I would greet my real self again. I was determined to achieve that much.
One day, I laid all my wigs on the bed to give them some care. As I saw them all together, I realized how similar they were. The only significant difference was the length, and this surprised me. All of a sudden, the wigs turned into incarnated reflections of my strict, unchanging, principled side. Why didn’t I have any blond wigs? What about blue or a some other color, maybe with a punk-rock style? What about an afro? This wasn’t just a question of appearance—it indicated some things about me.
The next day, I went out feeling extremely excited. Now that I didn’t have eyebrows or eyelashes and I looked pale, what was stopping me from being a blond? I went to Murat’s wig shop and said to him, “Murat, I’ve decided to make a change today. I want a blond wig.” Getting past his look of surprise, I tried on the different blond wigs in his shop and I thought to myself, “Yes, I want a blond wig today! For once in my life, I will be a blond. Damn chemo, you think you’re changing me. Check this out! I’m sick and tired of this constant suffering—I want to enjoy myself, and I’m damn well going to do it!”
To my surprise, having blond hair changed my life, especially outside the house. It made communication easier and softer, and came with many advantages I didn’t know about before. What was it that became so tangible outside in the community? It was so different to my previous experiences. How could a simple hair-color change make such a difference? Let me give you an example to clarify this. Let’s say I was stopped by a police officer while driving. Here’s how the conversation would go before and after my blond experiment:
1) The police officer walks to my car and sees my dark hair.
Police: License and registration, ma’am.
Me: What is it, officer?
Police: You’re not wearing your seat belt, ma’am. It’s the law.
Me: But I was only driving a very short distance, from here to over there in fact. You expect me to put on my seat belt just for that! You’re kidding, right?
Police: Sorry ma’am, you need to wear your seat belt at all times, or you get fined.
Me: Okay then. How much?
Police: 120 liras. I’ll write you a receipt.
Me: Here is your money. Goodbye!
2) The police officer walks to my car and sees my blond hair.
Police: Good morning, miss.
Me: Good morning, officer. Is there a problem?
Police: Yes, miss. I’m afraid you aren’t wearing your seat belt.
Me: Oh really? I thought I was. I guess it came unfastened and I didn’t realize.
Police: Never mind, it’s a mistake anyone could make. I’ll let you go with a warning.
Me: Thank you so much, officer. Have a good day.
Police: You too, miss.
As the number of similar incidents accumulated daily, they became fun, but they also made me suspicious of the situation. This blond, chin-length hairstyle with a fringe, which always looked freshly blow dried, represented something that didn’t belong in my real life. Whatever it was, it wasn’t me. It never had been. It was my choice to wear this hair color and style, but it made its own choices when it became involved in my relationships and restructured them. I had never experienced anything like it before. I watched every phase of the process with great care and astonishment. I had a blond wig that did things behind my back, and this was hard to believe.
Now, when I look back, I can see how this matter had two aspects. The first was my decision to wear a blond wig, but it had a different drive behind it. I wanted to step back and look at all the identities I had meticulously created and laboriously sustained and protected over the years. If cancer and chemotherapy hadn’t made me lose my stability by changing my appearance, I would never had tried a new look and experienced life from a different perspective.
The blond-haired Funda’s observations and impressions about social life were unique, but more importantly, blond hair had changed me in a particular way. No matter how resistant I was toward change, the wig did its job quietly but effectively, so I had the chance to encounter new faces that I didn’t even know about. I found this second aspect more striking, so started to focus on my “identity.”
There is a very strong bond between our identity and sense of reality and how we design our worlds. We modern people enjoy more choices than the previous generations when it comes to choosing or creating an identity. However, while it diversifies and enriches our reality, it also increases conflict and deepens disagreement. We can therefore say that we shape our own reality with this separatist and conflicting state of consciousness, and this has actually penetrated to the most private sides of our existence.
How can you agree with a consciousness that defines difference and diversity as the source of disagreement and conflict rather than accepting them as richness?
In this world, the pain and suffering inflicted by humans continues mostly because of this unhealthy consciousness. War, disease, crime, famine, and so on can be regarded as repercussions of this consciousness. If this is true, I should be able to understand it by first looking at myself, because a Funda with cancer also represents this unhealthy consciousness.
Now let me think aloud and examine all the different Fundas inside me with a simplistic approach. In addition to the previous Funda, I also now have Funda with cancer, so I will show you the conflicts between these two.
“Can do” Funda is angry with “Sick” Funda, who is crying out for help. “Exotic” Funda is not fond of “Pale-faced, blond” Funda. “Bald” Funda feels desperate and annoyed. “Hard-working” Funda judges “Lazy” Funda for sitting in an armchair and staring at the ceiling. “Motherly” Funda feels indebted to her daughter and husband, and “Feminine” Funda is offended by the situation. “Analytical” Funda can’t find a way out and is puzzled. “Emotional” Funda is on the edge of sanity, while “Chemo” Funda doesn’t know any of these women.
We can, of course, continue this forever, but the most important point here is that they all know each other and have the capacity to function under the unity of a single Funda. Nevertheless, our inner side is never free from disagreement and conflict, and this is an environment where diseases can thrive.
We live in a reality where everything in life becomes more complicated every day, and this cannot be denied. In a complicated world like ours, diversity and variety are in the very nature of our existence, and we can’t run from them. The main thing is learning how to handle this truth. Is it possible to have such a consciousness?
In his book The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra writes about attending a talk given by Krishnamurti. During the talk, Capra asks the speaker what he should do to live a conflict-free life, because he struggles with his physicist side and his other identities. Krishnamurti replies that when identities are allowed to act on their own based on their circumstances, it is nearly impossible to find any harmony between them. These identities act in an independent way, resulting in conflicts and disagreements. Conflict is an unhealthy state that occurs both mentally and physically. If we want to overcome the problem, it’s best to tune all our identities to some notion that stands above them all and integrates them. In simple terms, this notion is called consciousness. Only then can our existing and future identities be able to function normally.
The integrative approach of Krishnamurti is also the definition for a new conscience with awareness within itself.
To follow this suggestion in practice, I used one simple method. First, I identified the distinctive features of the different Fundas within me. I learned how to differentiate sounds that represented panic, fear, and worry from sounds that indicated creativity, enthusiasm, and comprehension. I also learned a way to perceive the nature of these sounds. All these efforts enabled me to make a conscious choice in favor of sounds that contributed to my existence rather than sounds that triggered separation and disagreement. On this journey, my conflicts didn’t vanish completely, but a new path opened for me where I could start building my existence.
Some basic observations after the operation convinced me I could achieve this. According to the people closest to me, it was like I had gone through brain surgery rather than an ovary removal. During the numerous conversations between us, I felt the extra care and tenderness being extended so I could understand things more easily. I often wanted to say, “Can you please tone it down? I’ve only had my ovaries removed, not my brain.”
As time passed, I no longer needed to express myself that way, but I will always remember to say the following words whenever I need to remind myself that I can do anything:
“Funda, never forget: You only had your ovaries removed, not your soul!”