There are a lot of things about PCOS that absolutely suck chunks. A LOT. I don’t think I’m overstating things by saying this. I could write a long and impassioned post about each one of the trials and tribulations that plague me and the rest of my soul-sisters who also struggle with this condition. And, maybe, I will do that — one of these days. But, today, I want to talk about hair.
I feel really shallow and vain for admitting this out loud, but hair loss is probably in my top two or three things that have hit me the hardest in my struggle with PCOS. I was never blessed with the most fantastic hair, to begin with; it was fine and straight, and it never cooperated with curling irons or hairspray or humidity. But there was a pretty good bit of it. And it was not a bad color. Most importantly, it was mine. My very own hair.
I spent quite a lot of time in my youth hating on my hair. I think a lot of this was fueled by my mother. I’m sure she meant well, but she never liked my hair, either. She always wanted it to be thicker or fuller or more curly or … Well, she just wanted it to be something other than what it was. Now, in my second twenties and struggling with this stupid disease, I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to appreciate what she has. I guess the saying about not appreciating something until it’s gone is true. There is painful wisdom in those words.
For a long time, I tried to tell myself everything was okay. I would look in the mirror and suspect there was more and more of my scalp showing, but I would whisper to myself that it wasn’t real. I was just imagining it, and everything was fine. I couldn’t quite look myself in the eyes when I would say this, because, then, I would see the fear written there in big, capital letters that I wouldn’t be able to ignore.
One day — this is years before my diagnosis — I went to get my hair done, and the stylist commented that my hair was getting too thin on top. She went on to tell me I should focus harder on losing weight. That, obviously, my hair wasn’t really falling out; it was just that my head was too fat. I managed to hold everything together long enough to pay, but, after, I sat in my car and cried for thirty minutes. I went home and told my husband: “My hair is falling out.” He held me and tried to comfort me. And he told me it didn’t matter. He said all the right things: that he would love me, no matter what — even if I was bald; that I was so much more than just some hair; that I was still beautiful; and that, if the worst happened, we would get the best wig possible. I look back on this conversation now and feel amazed that my husband was so intuitive. He really and truly “gets” me. At the time, though, it just made me cry more.
I stopped getting my hair done. Because I was too embarrassed. I started looking for pictures of women who were bald. Because, if that was where I was heading, I wanted to know what I might look like. Let me tell you this: There are some amazingly gorgeous bald women out there in the world. Amazingly gorgeous! At the time, I was positive I would not be an amazingly gorgeous bald woman. I still think this. My head is all lumps and weird shapes. It looks like someone dropped me on it — repeatedly. (No one really ever dropped me on my head. I was just born with a lumpy sort of skull. But I have to admit, for a while, I thought about telling people my parents had dropped me on my head. You know, just for sympathy.) I started obsessively counting the hairs left in the drain after my shower. Were there more down there today than yesterday? How many had been in the drain the day before? Could I even remember? I stopped looking in the mirror. Because doing so just made me feel hopeless and helpless. At the time, I didn’t know why I was losing my hair. And I felt completely powerless to stop it.
My eyebrows fell out, too. Not all the way, but they thinned out to wisps on the ends. The last time I was in Texas visiting my parents, I went with my mom to the salon where she gets her hair done. The lady who does her hair has been a family friend for many years, and she told me I needed to stop plucking my eyebrows. When I asked her what she meant, she replied that I was plucking them too much on the ends and they looked too thin and silly. I took a deep breath to remind myself she meant well, frowned at her, and replied, “I don’t pluck them at all. I have PCOS, and they are falling out.”
But you know what? I didn’t cry. At all. I felt strong and confident. More at peace, in a way. Was this a strange way to feel in that moment? I don’t know. Maybe. I guess, somewhere along the way, I had come to terms with the idea that my hair was falling out. That I might be bald. That I might be left with only a few wisps of hair on my head. I can’t say I feel “ok” with it. But I realized I couldn’t torture myself about it any longer. And I realized I couldn’t hate myself for it, either. I think that moment was the first time I truly felt strong and confident since my diagnosis. Heck, it was the first time I had felt those things in quite a long time — way, way before my doctor diagnosed me with PCOS.
Yesterday, my friend told me my hair was looking better. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “There’s more of it. I think it’s growing back. Haven’t you noticed?”
And it surprised me to realize I hadn’t noticed. I don’t ignore my hair any longer. I decided to cut it short, and I maintain that cut and length. And I started coloring it again — reluctantly. I’m still a bit worried this might cause it to fall out more. But it became necessary because I was noticing a lot more gray, which completely washes me out. Putting the increased grays together with my friend’s comment, I realize that whatever new growth I’m getting must be coming in as silver-gray. So I suppose vanity won out.
I went home and looked in the mirror. Really, really looked — hard — for the first time in many months. Sure enough, there was less of my scalp peeking through on the top of my head. My hair is still fine. It’s still straight. But there is a little more of it there. And it’s all mine. My very own hair.