What follows is an extract from my upcoming memoir – “The Soul Bleeds Beautifully: Becoming Lady Alopecia”. Colour therapy is something that’s helped me through the darkest parts of my life and I hope it can help brighten whatever you’re going through, too! Keep reading after the extract for some handy tips.
Even in my adopted home of Vietnam, seasonal affective disorder is a thing.
In this tropical climate, where it’s sunshine and smiles 90% of the time, lethargy can suddenly cloak you in its heavy blanket until you can’t see any light.
In Hoi An, the weather’s cold, grey and oppressive, people are grim and I start losing my grip on newly reclaimed happiness. But early one January morning, I step onto the sand at An Bang beach and feel transformed. The morning air’s still cool but weak sunlight stretches its arms across our street. I pass the chickens in the unofficial rubbish dump which has materialised beside our house, pass the smiley old Cô eating her phở who asks me: “đi bơi?” – going swimming? (She asks the same question every morning without fail, no matter the weather, my attire or my mode of transport. I could sashay by her in a wedding dress and she’d ask the same thing. But it’s our only form of conversation, and I love it.)
Today, it’s a maybe. “Có lẽ”, I respond, and smile back. Already an improvement in my morning.
By the time I’ve walked across the dusty back road and up the sand dunes to gaze over the gold ribbon beneath, I feel renewed. Winter has left overnight. The still-deserted beach is bathed in a soft yellow glow. The waves – tumultuous and unswimmable just days before – rock their soft caps up to the shore; pretty white bonnets begging to be admired. I walk down the hard-packed sand, lighter with every step.
I only pass two people that morning – an older Western woman and a young Vietnamese man, both swinging their arms emphatically in the way people do when walking on the beach in the early hours here, right before burying themselves up to their necks in the sand, which apparently wards off aches and pains. We all grin at each other in unrestrained delight as if to say, “D’ya think anyone else knows yet?!”
The first day of a sunny spring and I remember exactly how it felt.
How could I have forgotten? The sun always brings me back. Nature is what nurtures me. It was something I had told myself to remember after a meditation retreat in Thai Plum Village. I noticed that every morning during our walking meditation, one of the lay people would stop and wave at the rising sun. I asked her about it and she said she didn’t miss a day.
“I say ‘Hello, sun!’ when I see it and ‘Goodbye, sun!’ when it goes away” she told me, eyes bright. I loved the idea and made a mental note to do the same every day when I left. (Which lasted, oh about three days.)
What is it about a yellow ball that’s so powerful?
There’s the Vitamin D, its warm energy and its shining light, literally brightening the world. But I think the colour yellow has a lot to do with it, too.
You see, these past few years, I’ve become a firm believer in colour therapy – especially in the power of wearing yellow. My wardrobe looks like it belongs to Big Bird, like it’s been dipped in butter. Yellow is my jam – and most days I’ll wear it in canary, mustard or buttercup. (But never something as subtle as eggshell.)
My own love of colour really came into being after I shaved my head.
I felt plain then, ugly and unfeminine – what was a bald chick to do?! So I distracted myself with colour. I became the male peacock, fluttering my plumes in a bid to be noticed some other way, or perhaps to make it seem like a choice, a costume I was trying on. But the more colours I wore, the brighter everything else became. And the better that costume fit.
I saw the smiles my colours generated, not just on my own face but on the faces of others, too. When I visited my father in hospital after a surgeon removed a foot of his cancerous colon, a lady in the lift told me I’d brightened her day. She’d been visiting her husband, she disclosed – also cancer – and the sight of me in my yellow turban headscarf, purple tunic and yellow Converse “cheered up the entire hospital”. Dad’s jolly nurse used to say “your father’s lucky, you know: he’s the only person here with a colour therapist visiting him every day!”
I wish I’d discovered colour therapy earlier. Like through the sinking years of depression, when I was colourblind for years. Nothing had colour, smell or taste. It was a sense of being senseless. Discovering yellow and the power of wearing a rainbow was like waking up to that golden morning in An Bang, sun-drenched in possibility and hope.
These days, if I wake up feeling down, or I’m anxious about my hair or anything else… I head straight for my yellow supply and dress myself in sunshine.
It sounds simplistic, I know, but it really does help me. Yellow’s the colour that shows me the way. That brings me closer to myself. I team my yellow clothes with heart-shaped sunglasses, the frames dressed in silver glitter, the sides fire-engine red (I think they’re meant for a five-year-old) and channel my inner Elton. On days when I’ve woken up feeling awful but have tried a little colour therapy, people have stopped me to tell me that I’m “a breath of fresh air”. That I’ve brightened their day…and as a result of these conversations, they’ve brightened mine. It’s a powerful thing and, as someone who has an incurable case of ‘sad resting face (sometimes ‘bitchy resting face’), these moments are particularly valuable!
And it’s really been here, in this yellow ’n’ blue-coated town of Hoi An, that I’ve truly embraced colour therapy: matching my clothes to it, even matching my bike, until driving through it feels like I’m in a film set and have already had my wardrobe fitting. In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much colour; subtlety isn’t in my vocabulary. Maybe it’s because I spent a decade living in darkness, at best a fuzzy grey. Trying to hide, to be invisible. No more.
Now I’m all about colour – my palate craves it, this pantone of pleasure.
Made it through that extract? Nice one! Now let’s look at some quick ways to bring colour therapy into YOUR life…
Channel Alec Baldwin’s smooth-talking powerhouse in 30 Rock and get into some serious ‘power-clashing’. Stripes and polka dots? YES! Three different shades of yellow? Thought you’d never ask! All 115 shades of the rainbow – what d’ya mean, there’s only 7?!
If that all sounds a little too cray-cray for you right now, start small. Jazz things up with funky socks. Or stick on a bright headscarf. Yay!
There are no rules when it comes to colour therapy. Apart from maybe: More is More. So let go of all the little “blue and green should never be seen”s and do what feels good. If you have a favourite colour, why not dress head to toe in it? If you have 3 favourite colours, why not wear ‘em all? You’re the artist here…and the canvas, too. Go wild.
Us adults have a habit of stifling our playful side. We’re too busy, we’re too embarrassed, we’re too self-aware. What would people think if you arrived for a fancy event wearing glittery children’s sunglasses you picked up for $1? Would they be surprised? Probably. Critical? Sometimes. Uplifted by the joy those shades bring you? Usually.
Once I started focusing on what brought me joy as a kid – namely, fancy dress – and introduced them into adulthood…well, all those colours paved the way to contentment. As a bonus, the people I used to be so worried about? They’ve actually been pretty encouraging!
The human brain is like a muscle: one we can flex, strengthen and transform through the right kind of exercise. Well, I feel the same way about colour therapy – it can be a hard one to ‘master’, right away…especially if you’ve practised the opposite for most of your life.
In the West, especially in cities, there’s a tendency to wear muted colours – grey, black, beige – to ‘blend in’ with our colleagues. So perhaps it’s no surprise that levels of stress, anxiety and depression are most prevalent in these parts. (I know, I’m generalising and simplifying here, but bear with me!) This doesn’t help if you live in a rainy or cold climate, as there’s another tendency to match the weather…which high street shops support through ‘seasonal trends’.
My point is this: It can be hard to feel inspired when you’re surrounded by 50 shades of grey (and not the fun kind!) So in moments of uncertainty, look to these sources:
Wearing tons of colour is what makes me smile. But of course, you have to find out what speaks to you…these are just a few suggestions to help you find your way.
Whether your ‘thing’ turns out to be pinstripe black and white, or head-to-toe sequins, or floaty pastels, that’s up to you. Colour therapy works for me; it may not for you. But if you have an inkling that there’s something to this whole theory, that a sunny exterior might just help a sunny disposition…then you know what to do.
Dress loud, dress proud, dress like sunshine bursting through the clouds.
It’s gonna be a great day.
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Alopecian. Yoga Teacher. Copywriter. Here to share information, offer support and show people the adventures that can lie in hair loss. I’m proud to have alopecia and I want to help others embrace their baldness, too!
Thank you, I think you have inspired me. I’ve been really self conscious about wearing colourful turban chemo hats but prefer them to the plain navy etc which do look dull and I feel make me look ugly. I haven’t lost all my hair yet but it’s pretty obvious to all that half of it is gone. I will try to embrace my patches and bring more colour therapy into my life. I am also really jealous. I loved Hoi An when I visited. Living there must be so amazing! Thank you for creating this website <3
Aw thank you so much for your message, Gemma! I do love the bright colour turbans (yellow, of course, is my fave!) but not everyone feels that way…actually the most popular one in my shop is black bamboo! But if I’m wearing the black one myself, I’ll go all out with my outfit instead. 😉 I’m so glad this post has inspired you and enjoy your dose of colour therapy!! xxx (Oh and yes, I do feel very lucky to live in Hoi An, amazing that you visited! It suits a colour fanatic like me…)