My hair (loss) has taken over my life. I can pretend it hasn’t, ignore it for a while, put on my game face but, when it is me alone with my mirror all I see is a woman I do not recognize as myself. I am a pro at wearing hair—and when I do—I look damn good! But with my hairpiece lying on the bedside table at night, while I am crying myself to sleep, I painfully acknowledge how overwhelming this all is. And it has been years—like I said I’m an old pro—but much like a “recovering” addict – I will always be “In Recovery” from this hair loss thing….
When I was a young girl I watched my mother suffer in silence as she lost her hair, her looks and her zest for life. I was frightened. Would this happen to me? She could hide her misery, even from herself, but not from the mirror in her bathroom, where it’s reflection bared witness to her suffering hour after hour, each morning and each evening. Life went on. She bought a wig. And she still spent 6 hours a day looking in her mirror.
When I was 19 I noticed my very long and luscious hair thinning. My part was widening and I noticed an overall transparency spanning my entire scalp. I ran into my mother’s bathroom, in a panic, to show her my hair. I don’t even remember her response.
Year after year, as my hair got thinner and thinner, I suppressed my fears of losing my hair. The texture changed. It was unmanageable. I will even venture to say it was ugly. I didn’t feel pretty anymore. I ran to my mother. She told me about a friend who recently had a hair transplant (which incidentally, did not produce such good results). I should pay this doctor a visit anyway. As it turned out I wasn’t a candidate for a transplant for I had Diffuse Thinning.
At 25 I was diagnosed as having common (fe)male patterned baldness, also known as Alopecia Androgenetica. Again, I ran to my mother, this time with my new diagnosis- only to discover that finally after 10 years of watching my mother’s silent suffering – she disclosed to me her same diagnosis.
Again, she suggested I see another doctor, one she’d seen for many years. I was shocked to discover she saw a doctor for her hair. So I went to her very expensive doctor, who ran a battery of tests with no conclusive results and who offered to give me painful, weekly cortisone shots in my head, as well as a prescription drug usually prescribed to males to shrink prostate cancer. I decided I’d rather suffer in silence. Life went on.
By 33 and already a divorced single mother, I could not longer engage in normal activities. I was isolating and my hair was so thin I could no longer cover it up. My stays in front of the mirror were becoming far too long. I was turning into my mother.
I tried Aldactone, took supplements of vitamins, minerals, biotin and omegas. I ceased taking birth control pills years earlier. I just chalked my hair loss up to heredity. I stopped “Chasing a Cure.”
As I lost my hair, I lost the little identity I ever had. I relied on my looks just as my mother had always relied on hers. This hair loss thing was deeper than just about losing my hair. This was about my values and my self-worth. Which had been greatly determined by both personal and societal influences. It was about self-image, self esteem, dis-empowerment and about my own relationship with my mother.
I had no choice but to look into my own value system and see how it shaped me. How could I feel so badly about myself? I would have to understand how society influenced me. Did my hair really mean that much?
I would have to find a way not only to survive but to thrive, because simply surviving wasn’t good enough for me (or my little boy).
I began to explore my life, to figure out what I wanted and make changes. I was faced with having to re-shape my identity and really build one from the ground up because the one I had was not chosen by me.
My experience turned out to be more than just about losing my hair. It was about becoming empowered, finding hope and believing in myself. And being so moved by it that I feel a responsibility to help empower others. I am so passionate about sharing my story and informing other women about what I learned and what I gained in the face of trauma, in the hopes of saving them from suffering as long as I did.
I am discovering there are ways to cope, to live a normal life, to feel happy and free and to engage in normal activities, despite my hair loss and so can you. I’ve set out to spread the word.
I became a social worker in New York City so I could address women who suffer from the psychological effects of hair loss. I run support groups which bring women together and through the profound nature of human mutual aid ease the silent suffering we all experience.
I cannot help but think, had I not lost my hair, would I have ever questioned my belief system? losing my hair was the impetus to turn my life around and discover new found happiness. One which I never thought existed. SO as you can see losing my hair meant– gaining something bigger. Something I have to share with others who are in the same struggle.
Would I love my hair to grow back? Not if it meant being the person I used to be. I guess that is what is meant by life being a trade off.
I am more passionate about life and every aspect of it. I respect the unexpected challenges life presents and want to inspire and empower others to join me down this healing path.
I’ve managed to turn lemons into lemonade. I manage to get out of bed everyday, despite the debilitating psychological effects of my hair loss. I manage to be a loving mom to my wonderful son. I have managed to afford my very expensive, high maintenance hair regimen. I have managed to incorporate my all-encompassing, ever so mighty hair loss as a way of life. I believe you can do it too!