Yep, I’m pretty much bald. I started losing my hair and eventually had to shave off what was left back in December because it looked silly having lost 70 to 80 percent of my hair.
Though it’s difficult for my doctors to determine the exact cause for hair lose, the conclusion is my immune system is jacked up. I’ve struggled with an autoimmune illness for years, and 2014 was a banner year for me. And let’s face it, the psychological stress alone dealing with all I’ve been through would cause anyone’s hair to fall out.
I’ve been dealing with my autoimmune illness since I was 24, and at 34 I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I was blessed to not have to go through chemo or radiation. My left kidney was removed, and I’ve been cancer free since 2008. And now that I’m 41, I thought I could deal with pretty much any health crisis, but losing my hair has really thrown this tough cookie for a loop.
I’m a list-making maniac, and when I need to set a goal, make a to-do list, or run the pros and cons, I like to write it all down.
So here are the pros of having no hair:
1) It literally takes me less than 5 minutes in the shower, including shaving my legs! (And for the record body, you really could’ve let go of the leg hairs. Just saying.)
2) I don’t have to stand under a hair dryer sweating, defeating the purpose of drying my hair in the first place.
3) I don’t have to worry, “Did I unplug the straightener?”
4) I’m saving some money on hair products and haircuts for a while.
5) Exploring a whole new world of fashion with head wraps, hats and wigs has been kinda fun. You never know what I’m going to show up with on my head!
6) In my mind, I’m totally Lt. Ellen Ripley from Aliens 3.
The cons of being bald:
1) It’s amazing how quickly my head gets cold. Those head wraps and hats aren’t just fun and fashionable. They help protect my noggin.
2) My head is really lily white, and I think glows in the dark. Also, it’s kinda lumpy in the back.
3) I don’t recognize myself. That took some getting used to. It was kind of a shock every time I caught myself in the mirror. But I’m used to it now, mostly.
4) I feel less feminine. This was also something I had to get used to. It really is amazing how much stock we put into our hair and how much we let it define our femininity.
5) I’ve always been good at hiding my illness, but when you have no hair it screams to everyone that something is wrong, and then I have to explain what’s going on. I get it, people care for the most part, and I don’t have anything to hide. But still, it is exhausting. And yes—YES!—I’m totally glad I’m not battling cancer. I’ve had cancer. Cancer sucks!! However, this isn’t easy either. There are no easy answers.
But here’s the real blessing I’ve found from losing my hair—going through all of this has opened up many conversations with people sharing their experiences with me. I’ve heard from several women about how they lost a lot of hair after pregnancy. Women and men both have told me their issues with autoimmune illnesses that wreak havoc on their lives. People have felt comfortable sharing with me. I’ve bonded with strangers telling their vulnerable stories. Most of these conversations happen out of nowhere. I had a woman ask me where I got my haircut because she liked the style, and I told her, “I like it too, but it’s a wig.” She laughed and said, “Wow. It looks totally natural on you.” We then had a really wonderful conversation where she felt able to tell me her story.
Isn’t that what we all want anyway….to have someone to hear our story and be seen for who we really are?
I’ve also learned through this to show compassion and patience with myself. I can’t hurry up the hair-growth process. Sure, I can buy all those products. I’m taking vitamins and things to help. But it will come back in when it’s ready, and I have to be patient and gentle with myself in the meantime.
I can tell you when you drop the concern and the fear of vanity you’ll find a freedom you didn’t know existed before. I still have the days when I feel sorry for myself, but then I’m reminded that it’s just hair. And I am not my hair.
And not having any hair has given me some perspective on all the other body parts I’ve stressed over – the jiggly bits, the jelly thighs, the stretch marks and scars from past surgeries. I’ve had six major surgeries in the past 12 years, and the scars and stretch marks are physical reminders of a woman who has survived and thrived through some very tough moments in life. Those scars have built a road through peaks and valleys on my body that tells the story of a journey to recovery and healing.
When you can give yourself the gift of love and compassion it extends outward to so many other things in life. You start to see what really matters and what doesn’t. You react differently to people as well. If you love yourself, you can learn to love others a little more. If you practice patience with yourself, you learn to have a little more patience with others as well.
Think of all the things we tell ourselves. There’s a storyline we run in the background of our minds that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, attractive. We criticize ourselves constantly. We’re downright mean to ourselves sometimes. And if we treat ourselves like that, it’s only natural that we send that negative energy out to other people.
I ran to my dermatologist for answers when my hair starting falling out in December. She talked me through it all and gave some pointers and helped manage expectations on the re-growth process. And right before I walked out of her office she laid her hand on my arm and said, “Remember beauty really is on the inside, and you are a beautiful person in there. Don’t forget that.”
I returned for a follow up visit with my Dermatologist today. I knew in December she had been going through an illness herself, and earlier this month her office referred me to another doctor who practices with her because she was in the hospital. When I got to the office there was a beautiful sign that started out, “Our beloved Dr. Ratoosh has passed away after a long 15-year battle with breast cancer.”
Thank you for the kind advice and a dose of perspective, Dr. Ratoosh.
You are good enough and smart enough. You are beautiful, hair or no hair. You are enough.
Blessed be, my dear ones.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown