Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Losing my head

Long time no post-y. This is due to a lack of inspiration all round, coupled with moving house and obtaining a new job has left me with little time or energy for the more temporal of my pastimes.

And, I have had a rather big distraction lately.

My hair has been falling out.

Well, I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and all that, as I now have some material to write about, so I suppose that’s something…

My hair started falling out almost three months ago, almost imperceptibly. I played dumb for a bit and pretended it wasn’t happening but now its still happening and its certainly obvious to me. The hair loss has been even, from right across my head, so I don’t have a visible bald patch or anything, but the general volume of my hair has decreased.

The reason, most likely, is due to a series of deeply stressful events over the last year, including; ending a long term relationship, financial struggles and moving house, amongst other things. Apparently this is known as ‘Telogen Effluvium’ – where a big shock causes lots of your hair to die at once and all fall out. Sexy. I have been told that there is little chance of me going bald, which is nice, but that how long it will last for and how bad it will be is harder to pin down.

On the plus side, there have been times when my friends have informed me that ‘you always looked a bit bald around the sides anyway’, so I suppose that I should take comfort from the fact that I have always appeared as if I was suffering from hair loss, even when I wasn’t.

As someone who has fine hair, which I dye black, it has been an interesting journey for me over the last few months. What does hair loss mean to me, to women generally and what impact does it have on your life?

The thing that has surprised me most of all about the hair loss is the way I have adopted various coping mechanisms, which I didn’t even notice at first. For example, I rarely have showers with my contact lenses in now, because my short sightedness means I can’t see how much hair is coming out in the shower. I use my darkest coloured bed linen so you can’t see the amount of hair in the bed. I no longer blow dry my hair, or brush it every day, and my default style is to clip it all back with Kirby grips. It’s not so much the elephant in the room, as the elephant on my head. Completely ignoring my hair has been my main course of action.
Up until about 18 months ago, I had short hair and was never interested in having it long. Then, I decided to grow it and had got it to just above shoulder length before it started coming out. Talk about unfair.

Another surprising consequence of hair loss has been the effect on my emotions. I have felt really bloody angry that this is happening just when my hair was long enough to be styled and worn down. I have also felt incredibly jealous of women with good hair and find myself staring at people on the tube. Don’t even get me started on how it feels to watch shampoo adverts! Herbal Essences makes me feel apoplectic.

The knock on affect of hating my hair is that I have apportioned blame to it. Quite how a bunch of skin cells could knowingly sabotage my life is hard to determine but it has felt like that many times.

What I hadn’t expected, and this might be na├»ve, is the general impact on how I feel about my appearance. I find it hard to feel like getting glammed up for a night out and deciding what to wear has taken on a new significance. What’s the point in wearing make up? Or wearing an interesting outfit? I often feel like I would rather stay in be more homely. I certainly don’t like having photos taken of me at the moment.

Because everyone says you can’t tell, it’s hard to say all of this without sounding like you’re being over sensitive or a bit melodramatic. And they’re probably right. I think there are many, many people suffering a lot worse than me. But it’s the fact that it has impacted on so many parts of my life that I wanted to write a bit about how it feels.

Women’s hair is a big deal; we dye it, cut it, flick it and spray it. Having shiny and big hair a la Cheryl Cole on X Factor is the style many women aspire to, so to see it going down the plughole makes you feel like you’ve failed on some level. I have also felt like I’ve failed because of how much it has bothered me, it’s not like I’m unwell or living with a disease. There has only been one time when I have broken down about it, on my own, because I feel guilty for caring about it.

A rather bitterly ironic twist to my experience has been the work I’ve done with Racoon International (a hair extensions company) and their ‘Hair in recovery’ programme, which offers women suffering from medical hair loss a way to get feminine-looking hair back as soon as possible. It’s amazing as it costs less than NHS wigs and is ethically sourced real hair, a real life line for women coming out of a cancer experience, for example. I hope I don’t sound like an advert!

My point is, during meetings with these guys I was confronted with how people perceive hair loss in a very direct way, at the time when I was just coming to terms with mine. Some of the key things I picked up were:

1. You’re a victim and you will feel isolated and sad.
2. Hair loss should be concealed as quickly as possible, with extensions, wigs or scarves.
3. Your hair is the epitome of femininity and sexuality. The way people talked about it, you
would have thought there was some sort of Samson-like power in female hair to draw in sexual partners.
4. It is the ‘last taboo’ for women to talk about this with their friends and family.

I think it was a low point to be sitting around a table of people who had no idea about my hair loss, talking about this stuff. I don’t think they’re wrong, or that it was unfair, but I hadn’t been prepared for the impact this would have. It was the first time I felt genuinely worried about how other people would see me and what might happen if I lost all my hair. On the plus side, I’ve got contacts with the right people should the worst happen so I suppose I shouldn’t whinge too much… it would be quite cool to get massive page three model hair extensions and see the look on people’s faces.

So what am I doing about it? I have been for blood tests, results not back yet, and seen a doctor. The doctor was…. Adequate. He seemed to think the whole thing wasn’t a big deal and I found it hard not to be upset or angry in the surgery. There was certainly no talk of how we might deal with the emotional impact of it and his first suggestion was that it was a scalp infection. So I walked out of the surgery no clearer on my plan of action and with a prescription for some anti-fungal shampoo. The whole experience was a little odd to say the least.

I have told most of my friends and family, who are supportive and reassuring. I have overcome much of the stress in my life and have started taking more time to relax.

Now all I need is for my follicles to catch up with my lifestyle and I’m on to a winner.