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My hair loss story

April 14, 2013 - Carrie Olson
The hot water stung my skin, as I lathered soap on my body. The good feelings didn’t last as I saw the dark strands of hair traveling down to the drain. In an instant, I caressed my head, pulling out a handful of hair. The tears came quickly and my chest heaved sobs, as I sat down in the porcelain bath. This was my life now. I was going bald.

It started in early 2006. I hadn’t really noticed, as I always had a head of very thick hair. Usually I fastened it in a ponytail or let it air dry in the summer heat. Looking back, I should have savored those carefree hair days. But I was just a teenager, not knowing what was in store.

The hair loss started at a very tumultuous time of my life: My first big break-up, applying for MFA programs, and just not being sure what I wanted to do with my life. Not only that, but I was experiencing some weight problems – and was assured by many that gaining a few pounds would be good for my well being.

My hairstylist noticed some breakage and thought it might be time to lay off the coloring and highlighting I had become recently fond of. It wasn’t until a few months later that I noticed my hairbrush was full every day. That my college dorm sink was littered with long dark hair. I went to the doctor: stress and low weight were considered high on the list. I was even treated for a scalp infection, but nothing helped significantly. That summer, I had a high-hour internship and I was nursing a broken heart. By the time the fall came around, I had considerably less hair on my head. I consulted other doctors and a dermatologist. My iron count was pretty low and my hormones were taken into consideration. I started taking vitamins and birth control pills to counter-act anything that might be happening.

Throughout the following years, the hair loss would fluctuate. It would get significantly better, with no hair loss for a week at a time. Then it would just fall out in gobs – even my eyebrows, eyelashes, and body hair started to become non-existent. I consulted so many doctors – family practitioners, gynecologists, endocrinologists, and so many dermatologists. Each time, the cause was inconclusive. Some would say that it was temporary; others would say that it was androgenic (genetic).

I became a bit of a recluse, something that lasted for many years. I’d rather watch television in bed than go out with friends, I was so afraid of people looking at my shiny scalp. My hair loss was definitely noticeable and now family members could see it. But I hid it well with hair clips, pulling it up in a bun to hide my thin parts. I became used to teasing the little hair I had, feeling like I was getting ready for the ball than the start of my workday. I started researching hair loss and its causes on the computer, becoming obsessed. I now know the terminology almost as well as any professional in the field. I even kept a hair diary to keep track of all of the ups and downs I was experiencing.

Showers only happened a few times a week. I didn’t want to see the mess that was happening to my body. Everything else in my life changed. I went to hairstylists only a handful of times over the years. I hated having to explain to them why my hair was so thin. I’d have near-anxiety attacks before these appointments, and canceled many because I was so nervous about the experience. I hadn’t been swimming for years. A night out at the bar took at least an hour to prep for. Even then, I’d just tell people that I didn’t try too hard on my hair because it still looked terrible. Trips out of town were taken in extreme caution. Do I have my Rogaine, medications, and various hair products? Hats? Headbands? I went to visit one of my best friends in Europe one summer, and I can’t help but remember how much time was spent thinking about my hair (or lack of it). I dropped some serious cash on hairdryers for the various outlets in the different counties we would visit. And when I found out I couldn’t use one, I ran out to buy new hats. Wherever I have gone, I’ve worried that my head covering would fall off, it would rain and my hair would be ruined, or that it would frizz in humid weather. There are conversations I don’t remember because I was so self conscious about how I looked.

I started thinking that my life would be confined to wigs, hair transplants, or learning to love growing bald. In fact, I actually moved home in 2009 for this very reason. I wanted to make one last-ditch effort to figure out what was happening with my body. And as I slung coffee as a barista, I rocked out beret after beret. After biopsies, new medications – I almost gave up. Until I found one doctor who was really willing to listen. It felt like I was making up my symptoms at every other doctor’s visit. After an ultrasound and some other tests, it was found that my thyroid was out of whack. (Yes, I had tons of those tests in the years past, trust me.) Even then, it was almost nine months after the diagnosis that my skepticism started to subside. My hair part began getting smaller, and I can now shower without fear of hair everywhere. I get the biggest thrill from plucking and shaping my eyebrows, and I can genuinely smile when I look in the mirror. No more tears. It’s been almost five months since any extreme hair loss, and it is still incredibly hard to adjust. I have to make a big effort not to clip my hair back, and still keep a mirror with me when my hair is down – just so I know it doesn’t look horrible.

I went swimming for the first time recently; I had to buy a new suit just for the occasion because I hadn’t been in the water for years. I got caught in the rain before work the other day, and while my hair didn’t look great, it wasn’t a disaster either. I see improvements every day, but I will never be the same carefree person I was before this experience. Much of my days in the past have been spent thinking of one topic and one alone: My hair. Everything else, even if it was of big importance, was on the back burner. My writing, my relationships, future plans – everything has suffered because of it.

I have developed a sincere compassion to anyone experiencing hair loss – male or female. I get so disgusted when I see someone staring at a bald spot on someone’s head or see them eyeing the woman with very thin hair on the subway.

People may say that “it’s just hair loss”, nothing big, so why worry about it? In our society, in our culture, beauty is big. Having that “crowning head of glory” is important, especially for a woman, and after experiencing hair loss, I know it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have spent thousands of dollars trying to get to the root of the problem, and maybe I should have realized that there were bigger things to worry about it. Yeah, looking back, I wish I would have worried less and done things differently. But that’s the thing about being able to look back. That was then. And honestly, being persistent finally got me to the right doctor with the right diagnosis.

I would have never written about this – the most secretive subject of my life – if I weren’t getting better. And I still have to knock on wood and hope that in the future it won’t happen again. Why did I feel like sharing such personal information? Because I hope if anything, people will take back one thing from my story: Be kind to each other. If you see someone who is different – be it their weight, hair, skin, or something else – be kind. Know that you are not immune to mental or physical problems and that someday you could be in a similar situation. You don’t know what is happening to someone in their private lives, so please, please – just be kind to one another.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. — Plato


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