The Zen of Head Lice

When I was doing lice removal in people's homes, I always found that my main job was not actually the lice removal - this was really something the families could do themselves.  Where I was most helpful was in calming panic.  Because parents generally didn't call me until they were at the end of their rope after having tried every so-called treatment paired with marathon sessions of cleaning and laundering and wiping everything else from their schedule.  Their panic was causing them not only to freak out about the lice of today but they imagined many more weeks and many more dollars spent on this lice frenzy. They pictured lice living on everything in their home forever. I loved that I could just come in and say,

"You can stop all this now. Breathe."

Not because I was coming in to save the day but because the things they were doing were not actually helping.  I was able help families step away from their panic and future worries and guide them to focus on the simple steps they could take each day to address the problem. I tried to help them to be mindful about head lice.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.  For me, this means to look at head lice objectively for what they are and what they aren't.  They are a bug - a parasite that lives on the heads of humans (other creatures have their own lice.).  They just cause itching (and not death which is what I assume some people think based on their reaction to lice.) They are not the result of uncleanliness.  They are not a virus that is transmitted through the air or even passed through inanimate objects. They are not living in your furniture or stuffed animals.  If you have them, you will find them on the head.

Being mindful when you have head lice also means that you look at yourself and others objectively too.  Take a moment and check your own body's reactions and emotions to the people around you.  How do you feel about the person that you think you got head lice from?  Are you angry?   How do you feel about the parent of the child who first had head lice in the classroom? Are you resentful?  Think of the people you hang around - your friends, co-workers, or the parents of the friends of your children.  Do you feel judged?  Think of yourself.  Do you feel shame?

Regarding the person that you think gave you head lice, they didn't choose to have head lice and there is no guarantee that you didn't get it from someone else. If fact, you may have actually been the first one to get it and they just noticed it on their head before you did. Before you judge others for not dealing with the problem, think of how many "treatments" you have already tried to combat your head lice?   Don't you think others are doing their best, just as you are?

Head lice are not a result of someone doing something wrong any more than mosquitoes or ants are.  They are just a part of life on earth.  So feel free to release any anger, resentment, judgment, or shame that they stir up in you and continue to release those feelings whenever you feel them surfacing.

Another thing to think on regarding mindfulness and head lice is self care.  When we pay close attention to what we are feeling, we can give ourselves what we really need.  Finding out that you have head lice can be a trauma when you don't know how easily it can be taken care of.  If discovering that you have head lice in the home is a shock to you, then you need to treat the shock.  Not by avoiding the problem and pretending it isn't there but by equipping yourself so that you can stay in control - of the head lice and of yourself.  Don't waste time in cleaning and laundering but spend a little time wet combing the head every couple of days until the head lice are gone.  You can read posts on this blog for more tips on how to do that. And tend to your own care through it all.  For each minute that you spend on head lice removal, plan for a minute of self care at another time.  What restores you? A hot bath? A nap?  A nice walk?  A good meal?  If you are dealing with head lice for the first time, then this is something new and with everything new there is a learning curve; with every change comes stress.  Do not allow this stress to be the kind that overwhelms you. With mindfulness, this stress can be the kind that will motivate you.  To be effective and helpful and patient and gracious. 

Now take your partner's hand and start singing "Kum By Yah".  Just kidding.  Mindfulness is not just for the meditators and the yoga instructors. It's for all of us as we muddle through this life and it helps us focus on what we actually have to work with. And I'm positive that you have all you need to deal with the inconvenience of head lice.   Namaste.


Unknown said...

Cathy, it’s so good to see you post. Thank you for your rational and practical advice regarding lice. Your blog was a port in the storm for me these past few days while dealing with an outbreak in our home. Any advice I’ve received from friends is always tinged with slight hysteria and involves a never-ending list of items to clean, dry, sanitize, boil, bag, etc. I was starting to go crazy! Thankfully I found your blog through a google search and feel more equipped to handle this. I went over to my neighbor’s who discovered they have lice and passed along your advice. Thank you!

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Glad you are finding your way. I've had a few things going on so it's been a long time. Happy to hear that this is of help and that you now can be of help to others. Be the lice expert that you want to see in the world. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, what do you make of the Lice Index/ locator map. In the states, you type in a zip code and it tells you how much lice are out there: none, low, medium, medium high, high. How does this work? Do they track em by how many boxes of rid and nix they sell? Or is it by how many people buying the pesticides believing they still work? What do you think?

Unknown said...

I just found this blog as I was researching products on hear lice. I work at a women's shelter and some of our clients arrive with head lice unknowningly, recently we've been plagued with head lice and its the first time I've ever had to consciously deal with them so I decided it would be best to learn about them before taking any rash decisions. To be honest I've been panicking a little since I'm not sure how they spread or etc. Our staff isn't very knowledgeable either. Thank you. You're right, they didn't choose to have them and the information you provide is very helpful. I am a bit peeved that I have to deal with lice but thanks to this ordeal I have also learned a lot so I could provide better services for our clients.