When I first noticed the little bald spot in the middle of my hairline, I didn’t think much of it. I assumed one of the clumsy encounters with my curling iron had scorched the follicles and it would eventually rejuvenate itself. But when the spot was still hairless seven years later, I knew I had a problem.
Because it wasn’t just that one small spot. My parts got wider and wider, and my once-lush ponytail grew thin and limp. Hair would fall loose just from running my hand through it and soon it seemed like there were more strands on my bedroom floor then there were on my head. My roommate even started running behind me with a lint brush, just like she did with our cat during that summer we couldn’t afford air conditioning.
After confirming with my stylist that this was likely a medical problem, I decided to consult WebMD despite the fact we have a sordid past. The last two times I sought the guidance of the symptom checker, I thought I had cervical cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Turned out those two aliments were actually a bladder infection and a bad reaction to the antibiotics I took to treat the bladder infection.
Despite that, I was pretty confident in my newest cyber diagnosis. Hypothyroidism. Of course! This would explain my hair loss and the 10 pounds I just gained. Two birds, one enabling little stone.
I visited an endocrinologist who conducted a few tests, which included a throat ultrasound and me swallowing a radioactive pill. A week later, after being sorely disappointed in my inability to glow in the dark, I went back to get the results. Turns out I have a slight case of hyperthyroidism, which should be yielding the exact opposite symptoms that I’m experiencing. Nevertheless, the doctor thought medication was in order.
“But wouldn’t this make my weight gain and hair loss worse?” I ask.
“That’s a good question,” the doctor said without answering my question. Instead she handed me my prescription and I made an appointment with a dermatologist the moment I was out of her sight.
I went to the dermatologist and effectively shamed the endocrinologist. She decided to take a scalp biopsy, which involved cutting off a piece of my scalp and shipping it off to a lab. A week later, the tests were in and I finally had a diagnosis to explain why my hair was falling out.
“You have Chronic Telogen Effluvium,” the doc explained. It’s a disorder, according to WebMD, where the number of hair follicles producing hair drops significantly, resulting in hair shedding. So it’s basically an insultingly verbose way of saying, “Your hair is falling out.” This is a condition I was painfully aware of before I paid $200 to have a piece of my head removed.
According to WebMD, Chronic Telogen Effluvium can only be stopped when the cause is appropriately addressed. Of course the potential causes include a bevy of issues (anemia, stress, crash dieting) all of which I’m guilty of, and none of which I see being discontinued anytime soon.
I fought back tears to ask, “What can I do?”
“Not much. Try using Rogaine.” And the woman had the audacity to chuckle.
Apparently, I had wandered into some alternate universe where it was funny to have to recommend hair loss treatment to a 27-year-old woman. I told Dr. Asshole that I appreciated her sensitivity and thanked her for the prescription. Except Rogaine isn’t a prescription, it’s a sentence. You have to apply it to your scalp every day, twice a day, for the rest of your natural life.
The website does its best to talk you down from your panic after you find out this information. The headline reads, "It's just like brushing your teeth," which might be reassuring if I could do that with any type of regularity. And even if you do manage to use the drug as directed, you only have a one in four chance of growing hair. But fortunately for me, after using Rogaine for a solid month, it miraculously managed to induce hair growth -- on my forehead.
So I’ve decided to forgo the drugs and the doctors and get back to basics. I’ve decided to go “natural,” which in the black hair community means no longer straightening my hair with heat or chemicals. No more relaxers, no more hot combs, no more flat irons and 14-inch hair weaves. Just the hair that grows out of my head the way it grows out of my head: kinky, coily and curly.
This meant cutting a good 10 inches of straight hair off, leaving nothing but virgin, untouched curls. It’s a move in the natural hair community known as the “big chop.” Having shorter, natural hair means less manipulation. The theory is that the less I trouble my hair, the less that it will trouble me.
I’ve also been more vigilant of how I eat and how I take care of my body in hopes that whatever biological issue I’m experiencing will eventually plateau or maybe even improve. So far, so good. My hair hasn’t shed in months and I’m enjoying the new cut. It’s also very liberating to wear my hair with its natural texture. So what started off as a remedy for hair loss has turned into a journey of embracing the real, and slightly less high-maintenance, me.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the wig store.