[Image description: The photograph shows a woman with tattoos and black short hair, with the back of her head visible. There are bald areas where her hair is falling out. In the background is a kitchen cabinet.]
You spend years complaining to your doctor about everything under the sun, yet he finds an answer for every single one of your ailments. Your menstrual cycle has a mind of its own, the doc says. You must be in the beginning stages of menopause. And what do you do? You believe it. You go through more emotions in a day than a rollercoaster has twist, turns, and loops.
So what do you do then? You tell the doc about your emotions. It’s the most logical thing to do. Of course, he has an answer for that, too. What’s going on in your life? You must be going through some stress. Of course, you begin to analyze everything in your life, work, and home, and yeah, you start believing you are stressed.
Years pass, and you begin to notice that no matter how much you exercise or how little you eat, you don’t lose any weight. The first thing that pops into your head is, There must be something wrong with me. You go to your doctor, trusting he is the one who can provide some answers, but of course, he simply says, You just aren’t eating when you should and you need to exercise more. So what do you do? You eat less, cut out your favorite foods, work out more, and yeah, that’s the answer. If the doc says so, it must be true.
Then, one day, after years of saying the same thing and doing everything that the doctor recommends, you wake up one morning and you realize that your hair, your crowning glory, is falling out. Not just one or two strands. You could make a wig out of all the hair you are losing. And then the most horrifying thing that can happen to a woman is happening to you: YOU HAVE A HUGE BALD SPOT.
So what do you do? You go to that same doctor you have been seeing for years, and you walk in determined that, this time, there has to be more than You are just going through menopause, because who loses their hair in blotches during menopause, right?
Okay, doc, I might believe everything else is menopause, but not losing my hair! The look you will never forget happens; the doc realizes something more is happening. You end up getting a blood test for thyroid dysfunction, and the news comes in: You have Hashimoto’s Disease.
And you are like, I have Hashi what!?
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system creates antibodies that damage your thyroid gland. In other words, your own immune system is attacking itself. The disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage. Who would have thought that one simple blood test years ago would have caught this at the beginning stages? The list of symptoms is endless: fatigue, hot and cold spells, brain fog, depression, menstrual irregularities, unexplained weight gain, and joint pains – to name just a few.
For the last nine months, I have been battling with Hashi. At first glance, you look at me and you would never guess that I struggle every single day in some form or another. Thank goodness for my new doctor! My symptoms are beginning to regulate except for one: my hair still continues to fall out, especially if I’m stressed or I am going through a Hashi flareup, which can happen at any time and for various reasons.
When you have been taught that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory and you begin to lose it, you can go into a state of panic, depression, and fear. Fear that you won’t see yourself as beautiful. Fear that others will not see you as beautiful. And, if you have a partner, fear that your love will not find you beautiful. Society has placed such an emphasis on women’s hair that it’s terrifying for those of us who are losing it to an invisible chronic disease.
It wasn’t until recently that I have come to terms with losing my hair. I realized that stressing about it was just making it fall out more. More importantly, I realized that my hair is not what makes me beautiful. There are so many other things about a woman that make her beautiful, and I had to find those things within myself to finally begin healing from this disease that wants to strip me of my joy on a daily basis. In my journey, I had to begin loving myself radically.
How do you do that? How do you radically love yourself into a healthy you?
Patience: You have to learn to be patient with yourself. Be in the moment of how you feel and run with that. Don’t push yourself into doing something that your body just can’t do at the moment. And remember: It’s temporary. Tomorrow will be better.
Laughter: Laugh all the time, and find laughter even in your struggles, because in laughter you heal your soul.
Joy in the simple things: Stop and smell the roses, literally! You have to find joy in the simplest of moments, because every single good moment is a step forward.
Love: This is the most important of all. Love! Love yourself through the trials; be good to yourself and your body regardless of what is going on. You only have one body to love.
Do the things you love: Surround yourself with the things and the people you love the most. When you are going through trials, they are going to get you through the day.
Know yourself: If you are going through an invisible chronic disease, know yourself. Knowing yourself and recognizing what is happening at that moment will help you focus on getting better.
Knowledge: Educate yourself, ask questions, read books, look for someone who is going through the same thing for support. Don’t just take the doctors at face value. Question what they say and empower yourself. They aren’t all-knowing gods.
Even though I have come to terms with the possibility that my hair will never be what it once was, I realize that coming to that realization has made me a stronger person, ready for whatever comes next in my journey with Hashi. Loving me through it is the best medicine I can ever give myself.
[Headline image: The photograph shows an Hispanic woman with long black hair and dark eyes. She is wearing a white tank top with a color pattern. Her right hand is holding a hairbrush with the bristles up. With her left hand, she is pulling a strand of hair from the hairbrush. She has an alarmed expression on her face. Behind her is a white background.]