This week we have another corker from our Becky, discussing quite a different (yet seemingly interlinked) subject to her bowels…
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started, drafted, redrafted and thrown out this post. Because we’ve covered some very serious and life-altering topics on TOTM – depression, miscarriage, cancer, anxiety; I myself have written about my chronic bowel disease, and blood pressure so high it got me admitted to hospital. So I can’t help but feel a bit stupid when I try to write a blog post about my hair.
Yep, that’s right. Hair.
And what I’d like to set out at the beginning of this post, in an effort to communicate the way I feel about this and possibly at the expense of my credibility, is how weirdly bothered I am about hair. I reckon most people – but especially women – have one aspect of their appearance that matters to them more than the others. Maybe how good your makeup looks, or how slim this top makes you look, how stylish your outfit is or even just whether or not you’ve bothered to put contact lenses in. And for me, it’s my thoroughly unexceptional hair.
That might come as a shock to anyone who knows me, as rarely does a product more advanced than conditioner make contact with my scalp, I didn’t even own a blow-dryer until I was 22 and I’m basically a patron of dry shampoo. But, surprising as it is, how my hair looks is pretty much a direct illustration of how I’m feeling about my own appearance. Recently cut, freshly washed and lightly curled = confident, cheerful Becky. I’ve always taken relatively good care of it, and always been too scared to do anything dramatic with it, because a mistaken cut or dye job would result in my being unable to leave the house until it was fixed. And I have always felt this way – the first time I watched Star Wars with my dad and brother, THE most pressing issue to my seven year old brain was whether or not I would at any point find out how long Princess Leia’s hair was (to my dad’s confusion and relief, this world-changing question was answered in Return of the Jedi).
So please bear all of that in mind, when I tell you that for the last three and a half years, my hair has been falling out.
I can tell you exactly when it started – summer 2013, whilst interrailing with my friends, in the shower of an Austrian hostel. Whilst rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, I ran my hand through it, and my hand came out coated in a layer of hair. I promptly freaked out, possibly burst into tears, and forced my two friends to listen to a day’s worth of whingeing, whilst sulkily considering their many efforts to comfort me. It was probably just the heat, they said – or I’d had my hair tied up too tightly. When this experience repeated itself every time I showered for the rest of the trip, it was probably because I hadn’t had a haircut for a few months and it needed a trim. When the problem still persisted several weeks later, my mum assured me that hair growth runs in cycles, and occasionally your body can skip a cycle – it had happened to her, but totally resolved itself after a few months. Every one of these suggestions was perfectly reasonable and perfectly possible – except it never stopped happening.
Fast forward to October 2015, when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, and discovered that hair loss can be a side-effect of the disease. There’s some vague explanations online about vitamin/mineral deficiency, but I’ve never been able to find any concrete reasons or – and this is key – solutions for the problem.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not alopecia – my hair isn’t coming out in chunks, I’m unlikely to go completely bald and it does grow back. But it doesn’t grow back at anything like the rate it falls out, meaning the thickness of my hair has more than halved over the last few years. And you still wouldn’t look at me and think my hair was super-thin, but I know that it is. I know because these-days I have to pull at the strands of a braid to make them look thicker. I know because every single time I’m in the shower I pull out handfuls. I know because my carpet, pillow and all of my clothes are coated with a second long, brown layer. I know because hairdressers stare at the comb they’ve just pulled through my hair and ask me if this is normal. I know because the hairs that grow back – at my ripe old age of 23 – are grey.
I’m sorry if this sounds defensive, but trust me, if you mention that your hair is falling out to someone you will inevitably get some sort of anecdote about how their hair used to fall out loads but then they started using Product X / stopped tying it up / stopped washing it / stopped dying it / stopped straightening it / just ignored it etc. and I’m afraid I am tired of hearing them. It’s been three and a half years – believe me, whatever suggestion has occurred to you in the last eighteen seconds, I have tried it. And more than one person – including, on one notably shite occasion, a GP – has listened to my ‘no trust me, it’s worse than that’ speech, looked at my head and said, “Still looks like you have plenty of hair to me.”
There have even been phases where I have almost been convinced, and have started looking at the clump of hair in my hand after a shower and wondered if this is normal – maybe it was always like this and I just didn’t pay attention? The link to my colitis diagnosis did, at least, put paid to that particular paranoia.
And I do, sadly, feel the need to apologise for writing arguably my most solemn, serious post on TOTM about my bloody hair. But with my colitis and my blood pressure, other people understand that they’re serious – that they’ve been medically proven and have made significant changes to my life. People, in my not insignificant experience, don’t tend to think that when you whinge about your hair falling out. And I do realise that – as I mentioned at the start of this post – this is not, really, a problem. This is not as serious as more or less everything else we have covered so far on TOTM – it’s not as serious as other things that are happening to me.
But for better or worse, rationally or irrationally, it upsets me more than any of my other medical issues because I am constantly being reminded of it. I only worry about my blood pressure when it’s checked – I worry about my colitis when I feel much more tired than I should, or wake up with stomach ache. But I worry about my hair falling out every time I have to pluck yet another strand from my t-shirt, or coat, or blanket, or pillow, or duvet, or boyfriend – which is probably around every 30 seconds.
So to wrap things up, I’m sorry about the whingey post today – I do generally try to find the funny side of health issues on TOTM, to try and remind myself – as much as anyone – that there is a funny side, even to serious things. But I’m afraid I’ve been failing to find a funny side to this for nearly four years. I have brought it up with my IBD nurse, and it is something (bless her heart) that she’s taken very seriously and is trying to help me find a solution for. Maybe then, I’ll be able to laugh about it. Or at least not have to resist the overpowering urge to drop-kick the next person who tells me to stop tying my hair up.