My life with telogen effluvium*

Every morning when I get up, after I brush my teeth, I brush my hair. For months from last summer through this winter, every morning I would find more hair in my brush. Because I was losing hair. Which filled me with grief and embarrassment and, for some reason, shame. I have a very nearly bald spot on the crown of my head, not visible to anyone who does not tower over me. But I know it is there and I cringe inwardly about it every day when I see or remember it.

.I have always loved my hair. Never wished it were some other color. My hair and my eyes let me feel almost pretty, to make up somehow for being fat. My beautiful abundant hair used to be very dark brown with hints of red. My first boyfriend once called my hair “raven red” — I loved that. It was thick and shiny and had just enough curl. 

My hair started to go gray when I had my children in my early 30’s. I covered the gray with hair color until the gray was the dominant color. When I was 55, I stopped covering the gray and gradually my hair became a silvery white which I have loved as much as I did when it was that raven red. The texture changed — the hair became quite fine — and it became curlier. I loved having masses of curls. 

I wasn’t surprised that over time as I grew old my hair thinned a bit. I still had lots of hair. Then I got sick. Very sick. Almost died sick. And my hair began to fall out.  Around the back of my neck my clothes carried shed hairs. I joked that I couldn’t get away with committing a crime because of all the  DNA I leave behind with my hair, but inside I couldn't find any of the humor in that. Inside I  felt like something precious was being taken from me hair by hair. Taking away from me my crowning glory, my femininity, my little bit of beauty.

And then I felt like I shouldn’t make such a big deal about this, that it is just hair. That I could wear  hats. Or get a wig. Or get it all cut very short and embrace it. I didn’t tell anyone about this or how I felt. I thought my concern, my feelings were misplaced,  foolish and trite. With every hair shed, I lost a piece of myself. I was falling apart leaving behind me a trail of hairs.

The good news is that ever so slowly, glacially slowly, my hair is growing back. My wonderful hair stylist knew immediately what the problem was and cut my hair so the areas of sparse hair show less. Eve better every time I see her, she reassures me that though it s a slow process, the hair is coming back. What was a bald spot is now not so bald with lots of short and very fine hairs growing in. Still makes me cringe when I notice it. I still wonder if it will all grow back. I still grieve the loss of my thick curly hair. But there is hope.

So much of who we are is tied to hair and what it means to us.


*telogen effluvium is a term for hair loss. Mine was triggered by my illness.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.