“How do you handle hair loss?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a hundred times by readers, customers, and fellow lupus patients over the years. I find that while I always have an answer (because if you’ve ever experienced hair loss, you always have something to share), my response continues to evolve, primarily because I continue to evolve in the way I deal with it. There’s no right way to do it. We all lose different amounts at different times for different reasons. But what I find doesn’t differ, is the way that hair loss can make us feel. Sad. Dejected. Fragile. Vulnerable. It can be a very unsettling feeling that lasts as long as the hair loss lasts. And beyond.
But I’ve found that once you get the first hair cut after experiencing a bout of hair loss, the anxiety and distress over your loss begins to subside. Sometimes it’s gradual, but most often, once I spin around in the salon chair and see my new ‘do for the first time, I experience an immediate renewal. I feel so much better…about myself, about the loss, and about the future. I feel empowered, and all at once, I feel lovely, inside and out. Anything over about 6 months of loss can leave you feeling pretty crummy about your appearance. But with a new ‘do, you just feel like you can begin again. The slate is clean…let the hair growth begin.
As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve just turned a corner, having just had my first hair cut after this bout of hair loss. Today, I’ll tell you about the “Before” – the preparation and anticipation of that anxiety ridden, yet cathartic trip to the salon.
Before I made the hair appointment, I was waiting for a few things to happen:
One: I wanted my hair fallout to stop.
Sometimes, I don’t wait. In fact, over the summer, I considered making an appointment several times, even when strands of hair were still falling from my head en masse. I was just so anxious to get a fresh start, and thought that getting a transitional cut might just hold me over until the loss subsided. But every time I pictured myself going into the salon, all I could think about was how much hair would be in the sink after my shampoo/condition. I also imagined my stylist being stymied by the enormous amount of hair that would undoubtedly fall out as she tried to cut. So the fact that I was so self-conscious about going in made me realize I wasn’t ready. And so I waited. And waited some more. And once the loss DID stop, I had very little apprehension about making an appointment. I knew the stylists would still need to handle my hair gingerly, but I wasn’t so preoccupied about the fallout that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the transformation that would undoubtedly occur!
Two: I wanted to accumulate some new hair growth.
I was very lucky in this round of loss, because my hair started to grow back months before the loss ended. So while there were about six weeks where I definitely had bald spots to cover up, when the hair loss got really significant, I had accumulated a nice layer of what I call ground coverage all over my head. It appeared that I still had a full head of dark hair, even though I’d lost probably 20% of my hair. Of course, looking closely, it was obvious that something was amiss. And when I let my hair down, or when it was wet, forget about it! If you lifted a few strands off the top, you were in for a big surprise. But I’m very thankful for that ground coverage, and I knew I wanted it to be slightly longer than my previous moss stage, so that my hair dresser had something to work with. From hair loss bouts past, I knew there was always a possibility that I would need to go super short, just to make a clean break of it. And I would need some length. So I watched. And waited.
Three: I wanted to find options for a new 'do on Pinterest or in a short hair magazine.
As mentioned, I’ve been through this hair loss thing a few times, so I wanted to go into the salon with some ideas. And Pinterest makes it so easy, I figured why not choose some new do’s that I could get excited about. If you’re going to cut, you might as well rally around the idea and get some momentum going! In fact, this is such an important step in the whole process, that even Johnny has picked up on it. About six weeks ago, when he knew I was ready to make a move, he took a secret trip to the drugstore, and came home with a stack of the latest issues of short hair magazines. He confessed that he had to go to two different stores to find “the right ones”. The guy at the checkout even gave him a second look as he set the magazines on the counter, asking them if they were his. (Maybe Johnny should make a pinterest board of his own!) How lucky am I to have a guy who knows, cares, and understands?!
Here were the top three contenders:
With my pictures pinned, and the other two things in place, I booked a consultation with my stylist, to coincide with hair appointments I’d booked for the girls. She was happy to see all of us, as always, but when I unpinned my up do and lifted up the strands for her to see what we had to work with, she said, “Oh my, Sara. What happened?” We’d been there for 20-30 minutes, and she hadn’t suspected a thing! (I suppose that’s the power of the up do!) Of course, I explained that I’d been sick, and she understood completely, and started strategizing. She concluded that she didn't want to do anything too drastic, as she said I really didn’t have enough growth to go short at this point. But she confidently said that I had plenty to work with, and we came up with a plan. I booked an appointment for the following week.
I left knowing where I was headed, and I had a week to come to terms with it. Just the way I like it!
And you know, that initial reaction of hers? It was exactly what I needed to hear. It made me feel justified in the way I've felt over the past 8 months. My hair loss is significant. It is disarming. And it isn’t something that I need to just brush off. It is a big deal, that takes a lot of courage to deal with, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of struggling to come to terms with it. And nor should you!