Today’s MOMfession is mine.
It’s the story of how I was diagnosed with Androgenetic Alopecia and how it’s changed the way I see myself… for the better.
If a woman’s hair is her crowning glory (well, the famous ‘They’ say it, so it must be true) then I am clearly not royalty. I, in fact, don’t even qualify as Court Jester. About 3 years ago, I went to see a dermatologist because my hair was falling out in chunks. Handfuls were coming out in the shower. To say I was distressed by this would be an understatement, but I calmed myself by reasoning that I had recently had a baby and it was clearly my hormones acting up.
After examining me, the dermatologist, with the bedside manner of all the mean girls from high school rolled into one, dropped this bombshell: “You have Androgenetic Alopecia and you’re going to go bald, but you’ll keep a ring around the back like a balding man and there’s really not much you can do about it. There is no cure for Alopecia.”
My mouth opened and closed. Then opened and closed again. Then I got up and walked out.
It wasn’t that much of a surprise diagnosis, really, because I have had thinning hair since I was about 17 years old which has been getting progressively worse. For me the shock was firstly the doctor’s complete lack of empathy and understanding and secondly, the realisation that I’d been counting on a magic pill that would make the hair all grow back. The story in my head had a “happily ever after” and he had served me a dose of cold reality that had a distinctly different ending.
I was mortified. I was ashamed. I felt my femininity slipping out from under me. I felt so sad for my husband who was going to have to have a balding wife. I knew he would love me regardless of what happened to my hair, but still…
I felt angry that I would have to find ways to cover up my embarrassing hairline. I felt ashamed that I was so shallow as to be upset by this ailment that – as ailments go – wasn’t that bad. After all, it wouldn’t make me sick or sore or tired. I felt terribly superficial because I was devastated by something so cosmetic. I cried and cried. I looked in the mirror at my scalp shining through my sparse hair and tears streamed down my cheeks. It was one helluva Pity Party.
The thing about Pity Parties is that they get boring. Nobody accepts the invitation, the beer is warm and the chips are stale.
Pretty soon after the diagnosis – maybe a couple of weeks – I found that I was surprisingly okay with this. Maybe it was denial? But I don’t think so. I spent hours on my computer, meeting up and talking to women who have varying degrees and types of hair loss. The support out there is inspiring and there are absolutely no words for the brave warrior women who live proudly with Alopecia and guide other women to love themselves, hair or no hair. I have seen AMAZING women who are bald and proud and surprisingly beautiful. And then there are the other women who wear the most magnificent wigs and look phenomenal.
I very quickly came to realise that we are not our hair.
I AM NOT MY HAIR.
Wow – how liberating is that.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching and come to the understanding that the people who love us don’t love us for our hair or our eyes or our boobs or our teeth. They don’t love us for our fingernails or our bums or our noses. They love us for us. We are more than our hair.
Of course, it’s not all angels singing.
There are dark moments.
When I go to the beach and I want to swim, I swim with my peak-cap on and only go underwater when I think nobody will see me in all my bedraggled glory. I know this is stupid and that nobody cares. I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed. But I do. When I do my Thai Boxing or Zen Do Kai classes and someone accidentally knocks my bandanna off, I scramble. red-faced, to get it back on and pray nobody is staring. Do they care – probably not. They probably don’t even notice. But I am embarrassed nonetheless and that makes me sad. Whenever I go out somewhere smart and I put on a wig, I have to silence the little girl inside me who desperately wanted to grow up to be a princess one day, because she cries dejectedly. When I am out, there’s a constant awareness that the beautiful hair that everyone is admiring is not mine at all.
Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. Mostly, I look in the mirror and see a strong, brave woman. I see a kind woman. I see a talented woman. I see a mother who adores her babies. I see a wife who adores the man who loves her follically-challenged self. I see a woman who loves deeply and lives fully. Yes, of course I see my never-ending bad hair day, but I acknowledge that it’s just a tiny part of me.
The more I face this Alopecia Monster, the more I am starting to think it’s not such a monster after all. Sure it’s taking my hair. But it’s giving me a really beautiful view of myself, my life, my blessings. It’s giving me the opportunity to reinvent myself and a perfect excuse to be blonde/brunette/shaggy/curly/long/short as and if I please. It’s giving me a chance to teach my children by doing, not telling, that who we are is important. Our weight, our hair, our teeth – hell, they’re just incidental.
Yep – Alopecia has changed me. The less beautiful my hair is, the more I am forced to look at the woman under my skin. With every phase I go through, all the ups (“OH EM GEE, the accupuncture/steroids/voodoo is working!”) and downs (“Oh, crap…handfuls of hair in the shower again.”) I am forced to confront the person I am inside. It’s making me really look at myself long and hard. And I think I kinda like what I see.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? I challenge you to go stand in front of a mirror right now, acknowledge the things you don’t like and then – this is the important part – acknowledge the beauty that is there too.
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