Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hair

     Hair has been a somewhat sensitive topic for me ever since I first started methotrexate, which, if I recall correctly, was in the sixth grade. Methotrexate, for those of you who are not familiar with the medications commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, is a DMARD (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug) that attempts to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissues. In RA patients, it is a low-dose form of chemotherapy. I am no longer taking methotrexate, but it is one of those medications that kind of creeps on you for your entire life, which is hard to explain but is not the focus of this post.

      I have never lost my hair entirely, which I am immensely grateful for, but I have lost enough of it to upset me. I freaked out when it first started shedding. It seemed like it was everywhere. Piles of hair dusted my bathroom floor, my shower drain was constantly clogged, I was always pulling stray hairs off of my clothing, and my friends all noticed how quickly I was losing it. I recognized the thinning immediately and tried to brush my hair very delicately, counting the number of days before I had to clean out my hairbrush in hopes of extending that interval as much as possible. Occasionally, I would become frustrated and brush my hair aggressively, feeling like there was no point in trying to keep it all in.

     Due to my hair loss, I saw a dermatologist, who confirmed that it was likely the result of both my medications and my anemia. We hoped that a combination of folic acid, birth control, and iron would strengthen my hair and conserve as much of my iron as possible, but I still lose it pretty frequently. One day during my sophomore year, my hair was falling out as fast as tofu burns (particularly quickly for those of you who avoid tofu). I ran my fingers through it repeatedly and very tenderly pulled out twenty strands at a time. I was incredibly stressed, not knowing if the pace was a temporary or permanent thing. It was falling out so much that I left class several times and went to the bathroom, where I dropped clumps of hair into the trashcan and looked at myself in the mirror for an embarrassingly long amount of time, wondering if the hair loss was visible to other people yet. I could not focus at all that day, and explaining my dilemma to the teachers and friends I was surrounded by felt impossible.

My hair at its longest,
a few months ago
     My hair was way too long a few months ago. The ends were split, it was dying, and every time I promised myself I would cut it I backed out right before scheduling the appointment. The thought of cutting my hair, or even just trimming it, was very off-putting to me. It seemed like I spent all of my time trying to keep it in - why would I voluntarily chop some of it off? Cutting off my hair felt ungrateful to me. But I ended up allowing the hair stylist to shorten it by about three inches, and I am a better person because of it, or so they say.

    Over the past few weeks, I have started losing a lot of hair again. It falls out in handfuls at night before I go to bed. Sometimes when it happens, I just laugh or think it is gross and then throw it in the trashcan. But sometimes I sit for a minute and stare at the strands woven around my fingers, saddened by my body's inability to retain my hair.

     I think everyone should do whatever they want to with their hair, and I am all for allowing people to make their own decisions about their bodies, but I will admit that it frustrates me when I see people dyeing healthy, naturally colored hair. I just want my hair to stay in - I could not care less about the color of it. When I see people dyeing their hair, I feel disappointed. I don't damage my hair; I almost never use heat on it and I have never colored it. How could someone take healthy hair and put it through such a dehydrating and destructive process? How does it feel to have hair that is so healthy that you can voluntarily damage it without considering that it might fall out? How could you possibly value the color of it more than its health? How does it feel to take your hair for granted, in a sense? Every strand of my hair is so precious to me. I guess I just wish I could say, "Your hair is healthy. Be grateful. Don't damage it." But I fully recognize and accept that this wish is just me trying to cope with my own insecurity about my constantly falling hair, and I certainly do not hold anything against people who choose to change up their hair color.

    I used to try to tell myself that it was just hair, and that it did not matter. Of course, there are much more important qualities about a person than their hair. In the grand scheme of things, hair is not the end of the world. But it is important, and it does matter. Telling someone who is losing their hair that it is not a big deal is dismissive of the grief that naturally comes with waking up to a pile of hair on your pillow. The reality is that hair is important, both culturally and personally. It is a common way people choose to express themselves, and as a woman the expectations are particularly high. As I find loose hairs all over everything, I feel those pangs of grief, and sometimes I am okay with laughing about how pervasive the issue is and sometimes I just feel like sinking into the ground. When I lean toward the sadder side of that equation, I try to stop myself as quickly as possible. So many individuals experiencing chronic illnesses lose all of their hair, and it seems horribly selfish to be upset about the amount that I'm losing, which is not very much in comparison. But losing hair is hard, and I wish it would stop happening. Until it does, I am sorry for my shedding. Any tips on keeping my hair in my head would be greatly appreciated!

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