falling apart, literally

by me

She leaned forward over the restaurant table, “This will make you stronger.” I whined back, “I don’t need to be stronger, I’m already too strong!” “Then this will make you humble,” she said quietly. I was 26 years old.

I am losing my hair. It’s called alopecia areata, and it’s called an auto-immune disease because they don’t know what caused it and they don’t know how to cure it. It doesn’t hurt, and it’s not going to kill me, but it’s destroying my sense of self. Little by little, strand by strand, my reflection is transforming into a stranger. An ugly stranger.

This is not the first time it has gotten this bad. Spontaneous regrowth over the last 10 years has allowed me to have hope of looking normal, before my hope has shattered and I grind through the grief cycle again,… as I shed, and shed, and shed.

I have beautiful wigs. I hate them. When I wear them I feel like a liar. I am ashamed and hiding under the hair, stressed and anxious that someone will notice, find me out. And wearing a wig is not something you can ignore. Its pressure and weight on top of my head is a constant reminder that I am hiding. It doesn’t hold perfectly still. A gust of wind, a minor shift, and my heart stops. And I am removed from whatever situation I am in, I can’t focus on anything but how much I hate wearing the wig.

My therapist says I am whole, exactly the way I am. I want to embrace this. So I have been experimenting. I’m not wearing my wig. I have been leaving the house well aware of how frightening (what’s left of) my hair looks. And no one has said anything. What would they say anyway. And so far, it appears that I’m treated normally. Every day that happens, every interaction that feels normal, helps me feel a little more confident about my choice not to wear a wig. But at some point I won’t be able to wear a ponytail anymore. I try not to think about that. I function through denial, pretending it doesn’t exist, actively and intentionally forgetting about it. I don’t really know what else to do. I worry about losing my mind with the rest of my hair. But I’m not there yet, and I can’t linger there without damaging my now. So I’ll just take it a day at a time.

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