The one where my worst fear came true and I tried to fix it with a kitten

My daughter got her hair cut last week. The appointment was supposed to be for my hair but I gave the time slot to her. Mindy, our kind and beautiful stylist, cut off about 5 inches. My daughter's hair is thick and curly and amazing. When she asks me to pull her hair into a ponytail, it's all I can do to get the elastic around those combative curls. When I twirled her hair into an updo for her recent prom adventure, I actually broke a sweat from the sheer force it took to get all of those bobby pins in place.

Later that day, after her haircut, my daughter said, "I like my hair a little shorter like this. I feel like it makes me look a little older and more mature."

I must have hesitated for the briefest of seconds. The corners of her mouth turn slightly downward. "You don't like it," she said.

"Oh!" I quickly responded. "No, I love it! Your hair looks beautiful."

I had hesitated because the first thought that popped into my mind was that if I had her hair, I'd grow as much of it as I possibly could. I would let it cascade down my back. I would weave flowers into it. I would live in a tower and let suitors climb my hair. Oh wait, wrong story. But still, what I wouldn't give . . .

I gave her my appointment with Mindy because I do not have enough hair to bother cutting. You see, I am in the process of losing all of my hair. I would love to tell you that I'm taking this blow with my chin held high, but that would be disingenuous. I haven't taken it well at all and in fact I cannot recall the last time I made it through the day without crying. It's all I can do to roll out of bed and function "normally" during the workday. I have stepped back from committees at church because right now, any little thing feels like too big a thing. I feel brittle and fragile. I do not want this.

As those closest to me know, I have battled hair loss all my life. I have several super-fun auto-immune conditions. My body's capricious immune system has long occupied itself with rejecting things (whatever it deems to be a "foreign object"): pigment cells, hair, and even embryos. At times in my life, my hair has settled into a remission of sorts. Never thick or beautiful, but a "socially acceptable" amount. After a lifetime of practice, I know all sorts of voodoo and black magic to make it look like I have more hair than I actually do. At other times, my hair has entered an extended telogenic phase. Sadly, I have known the term "telogenic phase" since early childhood. This basically means that the hair moves into a resting (non-growth) phase and sheds. For most people, that's around 100 hairs a day. For the past few months, mine has been coming out by the handful.

In the past, medical interventions (via my dermatologist) have successfully curbed the downward spiral.  A lot of those treatments have involved injections, which are just as fun as they sound. Currently, I have three prescriptions and three over-the-counter treatments. Nothing is working. My voodoo is no match for this type of aggressive loss. Most days I just throw on a bandanna and try not to think about it. My hair fills the shower drain and wraps itself around the vacuum cleaner brush. The other day I found one of my hairs frozen into the ice in my freezer. It's a wonder I have anything still attached to my skull.

The tricky thing about my condition is that if a higher-than-normal percentage of my hair falls out and then grows back (which it has done a thousand times), it's hard to track because the cycles of the hair follicles are fairly long. I can never be sure if a particular treatment was effective or if it would've grown back anyway. When my daughter was a baby, I had back-to-back surgeries - a broken thumb repair and gallbladder removal. My hair entered a bad phase after that; my doctor theorized that going under anesthesia twice in a row was just too much for my body. My stupid body.

Many times, stress and anxiety worsen conditions like mine. I think I can thank COVID-19 for putting me over the top this time around. I don't have the virus and haven't had it - I just mean the stress of living in such a scary time. It just can't be a coincidence. The only treatment I haven't explored at this point is anti-anxiety medications. I'm still pondering that one. Despite the current prescriptions, I actually hate taking medication of any kind. I prefer not to if I can help it.

So here I am, facing the thing I've feared most for decades.

I would love to tell you that I have the confidence to rock a hairless look but alas, I do not. Vanity, thy name is Claudia. Last week, I put a down payment on a wig. A good wig, as you might imagine, is very pricey. Trying it on was a surreal experience. I patted the back of my head and couldn't believe how many layers of hair were there. Is that what it feels like to have normal hair? Holy cow.

On my better days, I tell myself that maybe this will help me feel more confident. All my life, I have lived in fear of windy days and rainy days. Public swimming pools are particularly anxiety-inducing. A wig will limit me in certain ways (can't swim with it, for example), but it feels like something I simply have to do. I remind myself that the people who love me will continue to do so no matter what. Some people say, "It's just hair" but for women in particular, the toll on one's mental health is a hefty toll indeed.

One recent bright spot in my life: I adopted a kitten. I know, I know. After Ella Fitzkitty died eight years ago, I said there would be no more kitties. There are plenty of reasons for me NOT to get a cat. I'm mildly allergic, for starters. I'm the only one who cleans the litterbox. I'm the only one to do all the things. Plus, it can be a challenge to have foster dogs coming and going, never knowing if they are cat-friendly or not.

I volunteer for the humane society and belong to a Facebook group for foster volunteers. Every spring, "kitten season" rolls in and suddenly the humane society's five campuses are flooded with litter upon litter of kittens. The foster volunteers who take these often-motherless litters are nothing short of miracle workers. Round-the-clock feedings and lots of sleepless nights, all just to give these tiny souls a shot. Many times, despite the very best of care, kittens crash and die - they are particularly susceptible if they didn't come in with a mama kitty. Over the past two years, I've seen the photos and videos of the kittens that make it, and over time I started softening to the idea of getting a kitty. You see, I was raised with cats and had them as an adult, too. I love dogs, but I also adore having a cat in my lap.

Last Saturday, I decided that my days of fostering dogs have mostly drawn to a close. 21 years of fostering is a good run, I think. I may take the occasional dog for respite care (or a dog that's known to be cat-friendly) but I also feel like I can support shelters and rescues in other ways, too. I checked the humane society's website and sure enough, my local campus had a litter of kittens named June, July, August, and September. I made an appointment to meet them. My eye was on June (the sole grey kitty in a litter of orange tabbies), but I wasn't too picky. Later that afternoon, my daughter and I brought home a little ball of fluff. We wanted a G name to go with Grover and Glinda (our dogs). My daughter chose Gaston. Beauty & the Beast was in heavy rotation at our house when she was little. "Marie! The baguettes!" We know every word.

It is impossible to keep a straight face in the presence of one or more kittens. - Cynthia E. Varnado

Since then, I find myself constantly smiling and laughing at Gaston's antics. It's the most joy I've felt in quite some time. Like most kittens, he has that wild-eyed look like someone rang his bell. Last night he saw his own shadow, puffed up, and sprang vertically into the air. He made himself dizzy watching a ceiling fan. I definitely surprised myself by bringing this little guy home so quickly (normally, I'm not what you'd call "spontaneous"), but something about it feels right with my soul.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a young gentleman sitting on my shoulder, chewing my earring. This situation seems to require my immediate attention.

Postscript: if you are reading this, thank you for understanding that I am not seeking medical and/or homeopathic advice at this time. 


Jen said…
Good luck with your kitty, I am so happy for you! I have total baby kitty and puppy FOMO right now. I have 2 adult cats and I love them. My coworker just got a ball of gray fluff too. I think you are brave and amazing and I cried a little reading your post. I have a buddy with alopecia, my husband has vitiligo, so I completely empathize. Anyway our cats are real emotional support animals to my hubby and they bring us all such joy. I will stop before I keep rambling. Take care.
Unknown said…
Hi Claudia,
There are so many things I want to say to you to let you know how much I admire and respect you! Your post hit home with me - because of different medications and stress I have had times of hair loss. Never to the extent you describe. You are very brave to share your experience.
Thank you for trusting us with this very personal part of your life journey.
I so enjoy reading your posts as they come right from your heart. Many times I find myself writing a response only to erase because what I write seems so trite.
I just want you to know I care.
Sending hugs,
Unknown said…
Hi Claudia,
My cousin lost all her hair and sometimes posted photos to Facebook without her wig. I thought, "oh no, is that from chemo? Is she sick?" Nope, just something that happened to her and no one knows why. She took it in stride. But you are a much younger person than she is so I can imagine the heartbreak. And you always look beautiful to me. Maybe it's because you have shared some of the parts of your life at our UU services. There's a definite beautiful glow that comes from you. Somehow, someday this strange, crazy world of ours is going to get back to normal.
Take care,

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