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Grey matters



It's amazing (or should I say hair-raising?) the way men go bald and women go grey due to all life's stressors. Often the culprit is too much damn hard work. It can seem to transform us overnight from bright, young and energetic to old, tired and haggard.

Grey hair (NinaMalyna / Getty)I remember yanking out many grey hairs during my HSC year when the fear of failing was a real stressor. Even though I survived this brutal year I did not come out of it unscathed. Stubborn, angry grey hairs were there to stay.

At university, with even more expected of me, both my skin and hair turned grey. I could no longer turn heads and had to head straight to the hairdresser, sometimes as often as once every two weeks, spending a large chunk of my Austudy on this much-needed maintenance.

Covering up my grey hairs, not to mention deep-set premature wrinkles, was a constant effort. They had taken on a life all of their own. However, I felt determined to battle the greys at the hairdresser rather than give in to them as my friends advised me to do.

I now know I have to do the best I can with what I have got left. This includes my increasingly thinning hair, which is going at a rate of knots. This has led me to cut it severely off at the shoulder, in order to be able to manage it.

Trying to pursue many unattainable things in life can be felt in ones bones — and I'm not just talking about my early onset osteoporosis. Along the way there are many bumps and humps, and much wear and tear. I despair at my prominent varicose veins, which no longer allow me to feel vain. Instead, I have to cover my legs with grey stockings the same shade as my hair.

Nearly 50 now, I'm aware that in many ways I've had my heyday. I have to accept that I am no longer the pretty young thing I used to be, and at best am not too bad for an old bird. I am probably too old for children, and this, on top of missing out on any high flying job, also makes me want to sob.


"I want to scream as I try to hang onto my youth. Meanwhile I discover even more grey hairs and pile on the pounds."


Having missed out on many fundamental things in life makes me want to hiss rather than kiss all these things goodbye. Schizophrenia has limited me to a repetitive life anchored at home and in mental institutions, often sleeping and eating my life away. It has destroyed my two dreams of beauty and success.

I want to scream as I try to hang onto my youth. Meanwhile I discover even more grey hairs and pile on the pounds. I have to accept that mine is no longer the hot body that I have desired all of my life.

I feel like an old car, who can hope only for maintenance rather than special attention at the hairdresser or from the personal trainer at the gym. I nearly need a walking stick, and lick too many lollies and ice-creams to ever be swift and svelte.

However, I am slowly starting to listen to my friends and family and take on board their sound advice. That is to realise that so many trips to the hairdresser in order to keep hiding my age is really ridiculous and might even make me go bald.

Some of them also have complimented me that grey does become me and gives me an air of great wisdom. Finally, in life, it is really the grey matter in our brains that counts rather than the grey hairs on our heads.



Isabella FelsIsabella Fels is a Melbourne poet and writer. She has been published in various publications including Positive Words, The Big Issue and The Record.

Main image by NinaMalyna / Getty

Topic tags: Isabella Fels, ageing



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Existing comments

Can I share about my hairdresser, Isabella? She is the age of my middle daughter, a resident of our town since her birth, with glorious auburn hair and is a talented cook. We have lively conversations about various topics. My contributions to those conversations are usually about Disappointment, Despair, Doubt, Dereliction, Drooping, Debt and Damnable Deficiency (thank you, Hilaire Belloc). However, we muddle along together. And I agree with your final summation (while retaining autonomy).

Pam | 13 June 2019  

An extremely beautiful article, that talks wonders about the grey matter in your brain. And a terrific lesson of literary English. Thank you so much, Isabella.

Aurelio | 15 June 2019  

Isabella, I have been an admirer of you and your work for a long time. My experience has also given me some insight to the heroic life that you live. Thank you for sharing your insights. They are always inspiring and enjoyable.

Sheelah Egan | 26 June 2019  

Isabella you could be any one of my numerous nieces who circulate around the fifty year old mark. I started going grey at twenty six; at thirty six my barber described my thinning hair as 'fine'; by forty six my first bald patch appeared; and by fifty six I had a natural monk's tonsure. My daughters pleaded with me not to attempt a comb-over. I took their advice. Of course I would have preferred that this gradual denudation of my pate had not blighted my mature years but I was lucky. My father-in-law went prematurely bald - possibly as a result of serving in the Australian Army in PNG during WW2 - and his daughter, my wife, doted on him. So my eventual lack of hair was, if anything, the mark of a hero in her eyes. And hers were the only eyes I wanted to impress. I have no words of consolation for you Isabella (but I get the feeling you're not looking for sympathy). I write to thank you for sharing your "getting of wisdom" experience with us.

Uncle Pat | 26 June 2019  

Thank you for this thoughtful article I am 83 years old and am not completely grey! Yet, however, I can sympathy size with your weight problems and mental health issues. I have found great peace in my later years. I think acceptance is the answer! God bless you and keep up the fight, I admire your courage. May the love of Christ be yours in a very tangible way!

Margaret Lamb | 28 June 2019  

Oh Isabella, what a terrific article. I hope you spend your onetime hairdressing money on some other treat - the aging body does love a massage, for example! A witty friend coined an aphorism I often recall for comfort: "at least we're still on the right side of the grass"!

Maxine Barry | 29 June 2019  

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