Friday 15 September 2017

Rapunzal Let Down Your Hair - Hair Loss in Women

I had spent all of my life taking my hair for granted and most of my adult life trying to get rid of it; plucking, waxing, shaving, who wants to be hairy? Not me. I downright abused my hair in my career; working in the theatre it was bleached within an inch of its life, screwed up under wigs, back combed and hair sprayed twice daily. I didn't give my hair a second thought and took it for granted, in the way you do your parents, things that will always be there.
Peter Pan - abuse of the hair and the eyes
quite frankly! I mean, cycling shorts,
3,000 kirby grips and shiny tghts...vile!

But in my mid thirties it suddenly wasn't. It started with hairbrushes full of lost hairs, pillows covered in it and then clumps of it coming out when I showered. My hair has always been fine and rather limp but over a year it became scraggly and akin to those mullets sported by stereotypical characters on the Jerry Springer show. This continued for over a year before I let myself admit it was a problem.

It felt truly scary and I left it too long. I tried to explain it away; finding any might right itself it might be a hair cycle, it might be my contraception, anything Google could spew at me. 

In this time my confidence fell away, there were contributing factors such as a career change and a tumultuous relationship but I didn't realise how much hair could define your self confidence. All the swishy hair adverts made me feel ashamed; I certainly didn't feel “I was worth it.” Despite women being able to do whatever they goddam like with their hair these days - a friend shaved hers off for Cancer awareness, another dyes hers a different colour each week - there seemed to be some primal thing in me that believed long shiny hair = attractive female. In the Victorian era women’s hair marked their status and femininity; long hair was seen as sexually alluring and at a time when most of the body was covered up their hair was a way of attracting a partner with your vitality and health. And sadly, I don’t society has changed that much.

I felt vulnerable, unattractive and wanted to be invisible. But my hair loss wasn't down to my contraception, career change or anything else I tried to pin it on, it was caused by stress. I was and continue to be lucky that it wasn't due to medical treatment or a malignant disease so please don't think I am trying to equate my feelings and experiences to those of people who are living through hell. However, I do want to highlight the fact that the stress we encounter from day to day can take its toll on bodies in different ways. For some it's IBS, migraines or insomnia but for me my hair follicles started to shut down from the prolonged period of tension I was allowing into my life. My condition was similar to Telogen Effluvium, where 3 months after a period of stress or a shock your hair follicles stop working and enter a resting phase, but a more chronic condition called Diffuse Hair Loss where the situation continues until the underlying problem is resolved.   I recently read about a woman who's fiancĂ© broke up with her and the shock caused her to lose all the hair on her body, infact a quick Google shows countless stories like mine, I had no idea.

Stress is a dangerous thing because you don't notice it creep up until it's unbearable and the stroke or heart attack has already happened. The feelings of anxiety and heart palpitations become part of your routine and so this becomes your new normal.

I went to a specialist and was told ‘yes I was balding and to sort the stress out in my life.’ Something my mum had been telling me for years but I guess I needed a man who was paid £100s an hour to say it. Poor parents, we never listen and yes they seem to always be right in the end.

So I had to sit down and be honest with myself - what was the root of this stress. I waded through the excuses, battling the whole way and ignoring the glaringly obvious until I had to admit to myself that I was with the wrong person and our deteriorating relationship was wrecking us both. The adage that ‘you work through stuff and stick with things’ only works when you are with the right person. With the wrong one you become twisted, battered and broken and apparently it takes clumps of hair and an objective over paid outsider to make you see that.

It wasn't an easy transition, it took a lot of courage, therapy and yoga to take those tentative steps and throughout it all the hair kept coming away. It didn't suddenly get better, I thought I had made the decision so therefore I'd have a swishy mane of hair by morning but 2 years on I am still slightly limp haired but at least it isn't coming out anymore. I now only use organic and natural products, I have had to embrace my natural mousey hue and I haven't seen a hair dryer or straightening iron for an age. In fact I look rather feral and windswept most days but at least the wispy baby hairs signify new growth and they are staying put.
Luckily my sister bought me a Jason Donovan
wig so I have back up!

I've learnt how fragile we are. Our bodies are capable of incredible things; marathons, childbirth and old age, but we can only control them to a point and then nature takes over. A process I am truly trying to get to grips with and I've recently been given yet another painful reminder that the body will do what it wants, I am not in control of it or nature.

But back to the hair - take care of yourselves; learn to notice changes, become mindful of what feels wrong, your gut will tell you and if you ignore it your body certainly won’t. We only get one life (as far as we know) so you owe it to yourself to live well and enjoy the time you have. We all know that it can be taken away in an instant so why fill our time with stress, commuting and misery? Don't take things for granted; your parents, your body or your hair!

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