love it and let it go
in january 2013 my hair fell out. a huge patch of hair, the size of the motherland that blessed me with my divine kinks as far as i was concerned, was gone. it was not especially gradual. one day i recall hair, somewhat thinning, but hair none the less. the next day, bald. smooth as a new years baby's bottom.
for months i strategically wore my hair in what i like to call the contained fro. the style too many of us with naturals sport when our fros are too much for twa status and no where near the goal length of the natural hair goddesses we aspire to become. the beautiful ones who are posted on our bathroom mirrors as daily inspiration or torture. i would fold what hair i had left over itself at the nape of my neck to cover my bald spot; slip a thin headband around my head; pull till the right amount of fro was contained and the right amount exposed and carry on with my day. the hair had started to grow back slowly. this little bit of new growth allowed me a bit of false hope and a great deal of true denial.
i convinced myself it was stress. i self diagnosed to avoid the possibility that something more serious was to blame. when my best friend saw my bald spot, she stayed composed and said "you need to see a doctor." she never says that. she is ghanaian, super smart and has a PhD from google so generally offers up all kinds of accurate and alternative solutions for my ailments. i didn't go. not right away. i had work. i had children to raise. i was too busy with life. i was scared. when i had amassed a decent amount of new growth, i made two appointments -- one to get my hair cut and one to see a dermatologist.
i wanted to find a black, female dermatologist because i needed to see someone who would understand. understand that like most women, i have over-identified with what was on top of my head as opposed to what was inside of it more than i care to admit. understand that my hair defies gravity and grows towards the sun and the gods in tight brilliant coils. i needed someone i could see a little bit of myself in and feel comforted because deep down i knew it was more than stress that was to blame for my recent hair loss.
in april 2013 i sat in dr. elena jones’ chair for the first time. she examined at my scalp and immediately said, “we need to do a biopsy.” six words no one ever wants to hear. the moment i heard biopsy i thought cancer. i said to myself, i didn't even know there was such a thing as scalp cancer. i will have to google that when i leave the office. dr. jones was not testing for cancer. she was testing to see what form of alopecia i had. she used her scalpel to cut out a small piece of my scalp to be sent to the lab. she gave me two stitches and told me to come back in a week for the results. like so many, the only form of alopecia i was familiar with was alopecia areata totalis.i was already deciding what earrings i would need to wear to detract from my bald … everything.
i have come to learn that alopecia is the medical term for balding. like so many things, using the term alopecia alone is not descriptive enough. it does not encompass or adequately define the various types of alopecia that exist. when i returned for the results, dr. jones told me that i had two forms: androgenetic alopecia and scarring alopecia. i am not a doctor, however, experience is making me more expert at understanding my alopecia.
androgenetic alopecia is in essence pattern baldness. yes, my eyes got wide too. it generally affects men and women differently. for me it started with the shedding/thinning hair i was experiencing. i would literally have large amounts of hair in my hands after running my fingers through it. over time this form of baldness will likely lead to thinning hair mostly at the crown of my head and eventually could lead to baldness in that area. scarring alopecia, as i understand it, is a relatively rare diagnosis and it can only be diagnosed with a biopsy. there are several forms of scarring alopecia and symptoms usually include burning, itching and pain in addition to hair loss. the hair follicle is destroyed under the scalp in scarring alopecia and in its end stage results in smooth, clean, bald surfaces on the scalp (scars) that can be raised. to prevent permanent hair loss it has to be treated pretty aggressively.
since my diagnosis in 2013, i have received several injections in my scalp. i am being treated with kenalog, a steroid solution. this is injected directly into my scalp and it hurts. i started with injections every six weeks. then every three months and now every four to six months depending on how i am responding. eventually i will only need the injections once a year. according to dr.jones and no second occurrence of balding to date, i am responding well. in fact, hair has actually grown in places on my scalp it was not present before.
alopecia, while ego threatening, is not life threatening. i chose an aggressive treatment because i still cannot and currently don’t have to imagine life as a bald or balding woman. shortly after i was diagnosed i decided to dye my hair blonde. my new motto on hair is "if i may lose it anyway, then no regrets" i have long adored dark skinned women with blonde tresses. my entire life i felt i could never pull that off. i was wrong. alopecia taught me that. currently my hair is exactly representative of who i am becoming on the inside. a more bold, more honest, more open and more confident version of myself.
alopecia is teaching me to let go of some of the external things i use to define myself. i am being forced to slowly let go of hair as such a strong definer because it is deciding to slowly let go of me. alopecia is a reminder that i am meant to grow. that with each passing day, every cell in my body is growing older, just as it should. i, just like you, am miraculous in this way. i am not ready to lose my hair, yet i know that i will one day. in accepting this inevitability i get to use my hair to weave whatever identity i choose to or not. i get to love it and let it go.
December 15, 2014