I joined a support group in 2014. Had someone told me even as early as two months prior to that that I would join a support group at some point in my life, I would have thought it was simply a case of mistaken perception and identity. Some three years ago I started losing hair on my scalp. It began as something I would joke about as I poked at the circular beginnings of a smooth Mr. Clean patch, a space that was small enough that I could easily think about the prospect of being completely bald without actually worrying about the possibility that I might be forced to make that decision. Weeks passed and eventually, that small space grew to be slightly larger than a quarter at the crown of my head. I had found myself gently running my fingers through my mane and shaking when it came back with clumps of hair. Like al dente angel hair pasta, it slipped through my fingers too easily. It conjured up an image from a short story I had written many years before in which a woman runs her hands through her auburn hair only to retrieve it in clumps before submitting to her fate and letting the wind carry it away.
Something stays with me. An episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Robin finds out that she can never get pregnant. Of course, the most eloquent thing about this particular episode is knowing that Robin has no interest in being a mother at this time. She is focusing on her career and motherhood is as distant a concept as leaving New York City. What's potent is Robin's realization that she herself is no longer a part of the decision-making equation. She doesn't get to choose to not have children, it is instead a decision made for her.
Being told you cannot have something is different than making the decision that you do not want it.
This is how I felt, though granted, the two situations vary in degrees of severity. Trying to grow out your hair but then realizing you can't is in no way comparable to Robin's dilemma. It's about the transition from being you to feeling somehow, like less of yourself.
In an age of too much information, I am one of millions always thinking there is something wrong with them. Your average modern-day hypochondriac who spends too much time on WebMD looking for affirmations that she has something rather than seeking evidence that she does not.
Control. That is, I would argue, what self-diagnosing is about. Being the person who realizes there is a problem, then acknowledges that problem and subsequently learns to cope with the problem far ahead of an actual, factual diagnosis, is a matter of control.
By the time I was able to get in to see a dermatologist for my hair loss, I had rightfully diagnosed myself with alopecia areata. I already knew that it was difficult to pinpoint what caused the condition but stress could be the primary culprit. I already knew that there was no cure, although there were steroid injections or topical medication you could take. I already knew that it was just as likely my hair would not grow back as it was that it would. I also knew that it could be so much worse. Aside from my bruising on a superficial level, I wasn't in any pain. I had one concentrated spot of hair loss when others had complete hair loss or in multiple spots. I could conceal the section by parting my hair a different way until it began to look undeniably silly.
And it did.
My first pixie was experimentation.
My second was out of necessity.
Embracing my body's physical manifestation of anxiety by choosing to cut off all of my hair was taking control of myself again.
Earlier this week my alopecia came back. Seeing the decline in my self-esteem once again made me want to write about this. Our bodies break down sometimes and give up on us and I don't think we take nearly as much care as we should to truly acknowledge the strain we put it through. We don't take nearly as much care in making ourselves know that we are more than our hair, than our careers, than the money we make, the things that keep us up at night...
Yes, it sucks to absentmindedly comb your fingers through your hair and get a fist full. But it also brings me back to reality a little. Maybe I should slow down. Maybe I should stop telling myself that it's not so bad because others have it worse. Because it may not be something more serious but I am still allowed to feel upset. To not feel so hot. To indulge in my wish to curl up in my bed for a day or two.
Going back to the end of that How I Met Your Mother episode, it's humbling to remember that although Robin may never be able to bear a child, that doesn't mean she will never become a mother.
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