Health

On Balding and Balance


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This blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog in 2015

Fifteen parts of my body are dysfunctional or diseased. Chief among them are Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (formerly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)—which frequently leaves me so wasted by the end of the day, it’s hard for me to summon the energy to brush my teeth—as well as an atypical form of low blood pressure and hypoglycemia, resulting in intermittent lightheartedness.

Some of these issues require daily medication. Others demand ongoing management and the rest, at a minimum, necessitate mindfulness. I’ve lived with many of these conditions for decades, and I’m fairly adept at managing them. But in my fantasy life, I’d pined for cosmic balance, hoping to be spared the more mundane consequences of middle age. That didn’t happen: At fifty-five, I’m facing normal ageing issues, including hair loss.

My hair is so pretty and soft, I can barely believe it lives on my head. Since the onset of puberty, I had curly, frizzy hair. About once a decade, I’d grow it out and then cut it off when I could no longer stand the frizz. But as a result of advanced hair products and a near-genius stylist, for the last few years I’ve finally had the hair I want—soft and curly, down to my shoulders, and still growing.

A couple years ago, a blind date told me my hair was “inviting.” Another blind date asked me before our meeting if the hair in my online photo “really looks like that?” I reassured him it did. More than once, colleagues have approached me out of the blue with comments like “Your curls are looking good today.”

But all is not well above my eyebrows. My father’s widow’s peak has caught up with me, and I fear I’m going bald or at least balding. Dad is a handsome guy even at eighty. In all other ways, I’m happy to resemble him, but I had counted on keeping my forelocks for a few more decades. Fortunately my bangs cover one side of the peak, and there are hints of fuzz on the other side, so no one is going to point and laugh just yet. But I wish the hair I waited four decades for wasn’t receding.

To combat my balding, I tried using a hair-growth product endorsed by my beauty salon, promising me Donald Trump-like tufts of hair. After several months and no visible growth, I returned it for a refund. I considered asking my doctor for a prescription for Rogaine, but given the complexity of my medical issues, I decided against adding another chemical into my sensitive ecosystem. Instead, I choose to live with my hair loss and hope that no one notices.

As I contemplate my twin bald patches, I have to remind myself that this is life, neither all good nor all bad. Most things are a little of each. Life with chronic illness is like that: tandem success and failure all swirled together. So from now on, whenever I get frustrated with my health, I’m going to look upward—not toward the divine, but to my hairline—and try to remember to keep a balanced view and a cool head.

Joanna Charnas has been a social worker for almost thirty years. She is a licensed psychotherapist with a specialty in group therapy, and has spent over 20 years working with people with physical and mental illness. MSI Press published her book, Living Well With Chronic Illness, in 2015. She has blogged for an international health website, and you can read her weekly blog at joanna charnas.

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