I never realized what my hair meant to me until it started falling out.
As much as I told myself, “It’s just hair” or “hair doesn’t define me as a person” I still could not shake this deep sense of loss. As my hair became thinner and the bald patches broadened, I felt like I was losing sense of myself as a woman. Losing my hair was like losing a part of my identity.
Magazines, television, and social media all glorify women with lustrous, flowing locks of hair. A popular hair growth supplement company slogan boasts, “regain the hair that makes you, fully you.” Day to day life is permeated with messages just like that about how we should look or how we should be, and I was subconsciously not immune. It is tough to admit, but I felt ugly and a sense of shame that is difficult to explain. I felt like I had failed as a woman and as a health practitioner.
My hair loss story began on Christmas morning 2015 when Santa did not bring quite what I was expecting. I washed my hair and felt a slick spot on my scalp. I knew it was a bald spot, but I didn’t accept it at first. A bald spot did not make any sense. I had to recruit my family to investigate, and I received confirmation of “the spot.” Upon this first discovery, the bald spot was about the size of a poker chip.
What was so haunting about the spot was the mysterious disappearance of my hair! I never found a clump of hair on my pillow, in my hands, or in the shower drain. My hair just vanished without a trace. It was as if the Tooth Fairy’s evil cousin, the “Hairy Fairy,” came into my room during the night and snatched a chunk of hair out of my scalp and ran off cackling into the darkness. Alright, that may be a bit dramatic, but that was the image in my mind, and I could not help but wonder when she would be back. I was 33 years old with the equivalent of a monster under my bed.
I was confused and upset, but I held it together.
This strange incident was just a little setback. I knew I was a seasoned Holistic Pharmacist. Hair loss? HA! I laughed in the face of hair loss. I would just take all the right supplements, eat all the right foods and my hair would grow back in no time. Right?
I maintained that high level of optimism for many, many months. I tried so many ingenious diets, supplements, and natural treatments, but the hair kept falling out at an alarming pace. I also began experiencing significant scalp pain. As positive and proactive as I was, I had absolutely no concept of the amount of time and effort it would take to heal from this “little setback.” The quick fix I anticipated turned into YEARS of stressing and battling, not only for my hair, but for my health.
I started to lose hope and would become stressed to the point of tears when getting ready to go out. I was frequently finding new bald patches. I tied my hair tightly to the side to try to hide the hair loss. I was often asked about my new “Robert Palmer Girl” hairstyle. As “simply irresistible” as it may have looked, I felt embarrassed. I sometimes wore hair pieces which was a completely foreign and intimidating practice to me. I began shopping for wigs but was anxious about wearing one. I thought a wig would look conspicuous when all I wanted was to hide. I was concerned about my patients knowing about my hair loss. What would they think of me? Would they be disgusted? Would they doubt my ability to help them if I could not save my own hair?
At the peak of my hair loss in 2017, I had lost at least 40% of my hair. Most of the right side of my head was “Mr. Clean” bald and I had begun thinning all over. With that level of hair loss, I realized it was likely that I would go completely bald. I began preparing for my life as a bald woman.
Underneath my worries about my appearance and judgement passed by others was the fear of what the hair loss meant about my health. Obviously, something was very wrong. The migraines I had previously eliminated with my nutrition program had returned and were once again debilitating. I was having joint pain flare ups and muscle weakness, weight gain that I could not seem to control, and I was constantly exhausted. There were many mornings that I would cry in bed because I doubted that I would be able to drag my body through the day. I consulted with a medical doctor, an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, and a dermatologist. They provided very few answers. I heard the echo of, “It’s Alopecia Areata. We don’t know why it happens.”
In conventional medicine, Alopecia Areata (AA) is considered an autoimmune condition. As the case is with many conditions labeled “autoimmune,” there is very little known. The theory behind Alopecia Areata is that the body’s immune system attacks its own hair follicles. AA hair loss is usually in patches and is often potentiated by “stress.” No single cause for AA has been isolated, but it has been medically recognized as more common in individuals with a family history of autoimmune conditions.
The only treatment option I was offered was steroid injections into my scalp, which I declined. From my research I knew that steroid injections often create a temporary improvement by reducing inflammation. Often, the scalp gets inflamed again and the hair loss starts over. I did not want to open myself up to the effects of these injections on my overall health with such a limited expected outcome. What good was hair regrowth if it would likely fall out again? I knew from my medical and holistic experience that if I didn’t isolate the cause of the problem, the inflammation would return and so would the Alopecia. The only logical solution was to heal my body so that the hair loss stopped.
With so few answers medically, I had to dig deep with research, self-experimentation and some faith.
I am happy to say that through my efforts and with the help of my own NHCAA practitioner, my Alopecia has been reversed.
Within the last year, all my bald patches have filled in and all my hair has grown back. Many of the old symptoms that were making me feel so unhealthy have dramatically improved.
You probably want to know exactly what I did to overcome hair loss and regrow my hair. Well…that’s an extremely lengthy discussion for another time. But what I will share with you right now are key ingredients to my recovery that are true for ANY health condition.
The first ingredient to my recovery was accepting my hair loss. I reached a point where I decided I would be fine if all my hair fell out. I am not going to pretend that being bald was my preference, but I stopped agonizing about it and fighting my body. I had a plan for shaving my head once I lost more hair. It took me years to get to that point, but it was such a relief once I got there.
I have realized that by being at peace with my hair loss, I performed an action that is necessary for anyone to heal. I stopped chasing the SYMPTOM. When I stopped basing all my evaluations of success or failure on the status of my hair, I started making progress. In fact, one of the critical steps I took in dealing with Alopecia Areata caused my hair to fall out much worse in the beginning.
Once I let go of the fear of losing my hair and was willing to experience what was happening with my body, I examined what it was that I really wanted.
No one truly wants to NOT have something. My real goal wasn’t to NOT lose my hair or even to have great hair. When I changed my perspective and confronted why I was attaching so much significance to my hair, I finally understood what my true goals were. What I wanted was to feel comfortable and confident in myself and in my health. Once I understood this truth, my priorities changed, and I made better decisions that got results.
The second necessary ingredient to my healing was PATIENCE. I have a tremendous amount of patience with others, but I have not always extended the same courtesy to myself or my body. It has been over five years since the hair loss began and it has only been within the last year that my hair has fully grown back. In many ways, it would have been easier to give up after the first year, but if I had, I would be in a much different condition than I am today. I am still healing but I am stronger, healthier and more confident than I was prior to this experience.
My advice to those who have Alopecia, or any chronic health condition, is threefold:
- Be willing to experience your condition. Being willing to experience your condition is much different than giving up on getting better, but it is in fact an important measure for wellness. Accepting what you are going through with your health is by no means easy, but it is very important to not fight your body or to over analyze it. The stress of the battle with your body and constantly being in “fight or flight” mode can completely undermine your healing process. Worry and stress launch an assault on your mind and body. Many ill people lose trust in their body’s ability to heal because it has betrayed them. However, even bodies with autoimmune and/or chronic disease can heal. You are where you are with your health – so start there and don’t compare yourself with others. Continue taking healthy, proactive steps rather than falling into despair that you are not healing the way you think you should.
- STOP CHASING SYMPTOMS! Your symptoms are what are driving you to act, but they should not be your immediate focus. You should examine why you want to be rid of the symptom. How would your life be different without that symptom and why is that so important to you? Your motivations may be quite revealing. The focus of the pathway you choose to heal should be uncovering the root causes. The root causes must be addressed in order to get lasting results.
- Be patient. Healing takes time. We are trained by a lifetime of being in the medical model to expect instant results from getting treatment. Many drugs will bypass the body’s normal processes and force an effect, but true healing usually does not yield quick results. Regardless of what kind of condition you are dealing with, healing is a process. There will be ups, and there will be downs. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. When you are working on being healthy, it is not as if one day you do the one right thing and suddenly you have health that lasts a lifetime. Health is a state that you inch toward continually and that you must constantly create. Success in healing is not just doing the right things; it is doing the things at the right time and for the right amount of time.
I am sharing my experience as a real-life example that even in complex conditions like Alopecia Areata, or other chronic diseases, healing IS possible. The body has a miraculous ability to repair and restore once given the correct environment, both internally and externally. By sharing my mindset that led to my hair regrowth, I hope you recognize how to jumpstart your own healing process.
Your Holistic Pharmacist,
Dr. Amanda Childress, PharmD