I’ve written about the 2013/2014 winter being pretty craptastic for my family. Although this wasn’t grief related per-say, it was related to significant life stressors and my capacity to focus on any other nonsense has been pretty limited.
It seems only fair that when life gets really bad you should be able to take a ‘time out’. Close down school, stop collecting bills, and learn to feed yourself because I just can’t. I’m in no state to deal with the car emissions inspection being overdue or a deadline at work.
Any adult who’s experienced hardship knows the absurdity of dealing with life’s little annoyances in the context of greater problems. They say God never gives you more than you can handle? Maybe. But what he will give you is a mixed bag fundraiser right around the time you’re ready to hit rock bottom.
This is how I felt on February 13th when I realized my daughter’s constant head itching was not the result of a dry scalp but in fact the result of many little bugs taking up residence in her beautiful thick head of hair. I know, sick.
Let me back up and tell you a little about head lice.
Fact: Lice are not an indication of poor hygiene; they like clean and dirty hair alike. Although they can’t jump from one head to another, they spread pretty easily and one female requires just one mating to be fertilized and can lay up to 100-150 eggs.
Fact: A huge percentage of head lice have become resistant to treatment. Thanks a lot evolution, you can keep your opposable thumbs.
Fact: You don’t need to sterilize your entire house due to lice infestation. They can only live off the human head for 24-36 hours so vacuum couches and throw pillows and clean clothes and linens. But don’t freak out and stuff your entire house into 6 contractor sized trash bags and send your husband to the Laundromat with the ‘Disney Dream Vacation’ change jar.
Fact: Lice have no qualms kicking you when you’re down. Even though you may be dealing with real problems like unemployment, the death of a loved one, or family troubles; lice will not hesitate to come along and be like – oh hey your life sucks AND your head is itchy. Okay, now I’m just spreading rumors about lice.
Despite having 5 brothers and sisters growing up, somehow I had beaten the odds and until this day had never come head on with the little critters. That’s right, egregious pun intended. I had absolutely no context for what to do next, so obviously my reaction was ridiculously over-the-top.
My anxiety rose with every knit I pulled from my first daughter’s hair and finally boiled over when I discovered they’d migrated to my second daughter’s long curly mess. I’m ashamed to say my resulting freak out undoubtedly made my daughters feel bad about the situation, which was completely not their fault (save it for your memoirs girls). But my threshold for dealing with stress was already so low I didn’t feel like I had the wherewithal to wage war on this microscopic invasion.
One hundred deep breathes later I managed to pull myself together. I called the doctor who led me to believe the problem was relatively simple to treat. I obtained a prescription, insisted my husband leave work to pick it up immediately and as soon as he arrived home we treated the girls with a $250 bottle of pesticide infused shampoo. Afterwards I ran around the house stuffing every last sheet, pillow, stuffed animal and article of clothing into trash-bags to be taken to the Laundromat. Once that was done I could finally relax believing all I had to do was check for knits daily, continue to wash linens, and re-shampoo in 10 days.
Between day 1 and day 10 I obediently combed through the girl’s hair daily. I continued to find bugs, but figured this was just a part of the process and fully expected they would be gone once I finished the second shampoo application.
No such luck.
I filled my days with anxiety about lice and my nights with anxiety about life. Was I not trying hard enough? No…I should try harder. My husband and I subjected the girls to thorough hair combings almost every night. This was a horrible and torturous process for everyone because the kids were bored, the adults were frustrated, and combing through a mess of tangles inevitably resulted in tears for everyone involved. The whole thing finally hit critical mass and in a moment of desperation we cut both of the girls hair half its length using a pair of old kitchen scissors.
We tried Rid and then a week later after hearing Rid doesn’t kill the lice eggs, we tried Nix. Comb, shampoo, comb, shampoo – lather, rinse, repeat. Low and behold it seemed my hard work was finally paying off one day in mid-March when I made it through both the girl’s hair without seeing a single egg or bug. Happy day!
Bad day. A week later the resurgence came. This time my reaction was less freak-out and more temper tantrum. It’s not fair!! I have bigger problems! Why do I have to keep worrying about this?!?!
My feelings towards the lice turned apathetic. I mean, maybe they weren’t that bad. I bet 100 years ago people lived harmoniously with them. Why not just let them co-exist? “I’ll tell you why not”, my will to live chimed in, “because they’re really stinking contagious.” Living with lice meant either disclosing we had them to every person we came into contact with, or keeping it a secret and dealing with the guilt of putting people at risk. Neither option seemed reasonable.
Over the next few weeks, the problem weighed heavily on me. My husband occasionally caught me in the middle of a deep thought and assumed I was thinking about some bigger problem. When asked my response was usually, “I’m just worried we’ll never get rid of the head lice”.
After wearing out all other options I finally decided to call the doctor back. The receptionist at my doctors office listened to my problem and told me she would have the doctor call me back, but before hanging up she remarked that one of the doctors in the office swears by slathering the head with coconut oil, putting a shower cap on and letting it sit over night. Ummm…okay sure…that’s gross and ridiculous.
But my doctor wasn’t much help either and after asking a series of questions that seemed to imply I just didn’t want it bad enough, she told me to throw away all the stuffed animals in the house and reapply the $250 shampoo. If this didn’t work, we could call a very expensive lice service to come out and try to eradicate the problem by doing the same things we’ve been doing, but better.
I can’t even describe the sadness I felt stuffing 7 years worth of stuffed animals into trash bags. I have a problem throwing away anything with a face and images of the Velveteen Rabbit flooded my head. In a moment of weakness I granted them a pardon and hid them in the back of the closet. Surely I could liberate them after some time has passed.
I felt totally beaten down, life and lice were ganging up on me and winning. I couldn’t rationalize spending hundreds of dollars on poisonous shampoo I knew wouldn’t work, and I was skeptical about spending hundreds of dollars on a service. I had been dealing with head lice for almost 2 months and I didn’t know what else to do.
So, I turned to witch craft. Just kidding, I decided to try the coconut oil. I know, this seems like a ridiculous and over simplified solution. My internet research told me it has worked for some but not for others, but an actual doctor had recommended it and all told the treatment would cost $10. I had nothing to lose.
Now that I’m 1500 words into this saga, I will give you the long and short of it: It was a total mess. It was gross. The girls hated it. I combed through their hair very carefully, slathered their heads, let it sit for like 10 hours, and then spent the next four days trying to get it out.
But I have to tell you, and I say this with extremely cautious optimism, I haven’t seen any signs of lice since. I think we may have won, which is good because I needed a win.
It’s funny how insurmountable small irritations can seem when already dealing with others stressors. A small bite to eat is no big deal when your hungry, but when your plate is already full and someone tries to pile more on that same bite can seem almost nauseating.
For those of you dealing with an overload of stress I offer you this, go easy on yourself, control what you can, take things one thing at a time, and ask for help whenever possible. And for those of you dealing with head lice – try the coconut oil.
Sometimes we talk about head lice…and that’s…okay. Subscribe to receive posts straight to your email inbox anyway.