2015 began. I was four months into a new relationship and ringing in a brand new year. Things seemed bright and shiny because I was buying into the illusion.
Accumulation of Health Problems
By the second or third week of January, my mouth was in so much pain. It hurt to eat, talk, smile, laugh, drink, and even doing nothing it throbbed. I had sores on the inside of my lips and on my gums. My gums were inflamed and felt like big, hot balloons of acidic pain. After a day or so, I visited a dentist and was told I had mouth ulcers aka canker sores.
Previous to this, I had suffered two months of sinus infection/cold/allergy, which led to bronchitis. It started around Halloween with a cough provoked by a tickle in the back of my throat. One cough begat a string of coughs which made sleeping difficult. I wasn’t sure where one exhalation ended and an inhalation began. I walked around in a fog of head pressure and pain, mucus in a rainbow of colors oozed out of me daily. After three visits to a medical facility and several medicines later, the ones that “cured me” were a combination of perls, Mucinex syrup, Albuterol, and an NSAID.
I had a month’s reprieve before being smacked in the face with some oral malady. As I recovered from this, my emotional and mental stress and anxiety mounted at work. It seemed as though every possible problem and stressor was a slowly building snowball that I was buried inside of and rolling with force and speed.
By spring, I had landed a new job. Physically, I shed the snowball cocoon of mental and emotional work problems and was beginning to think I was in the clear.
I had been growing my hair out from a pixie cut in July 2014. In May 2015, it was somewhere around my chin/jawline and was long enough I could pull sections back for styling. It was during one of these moments that I was pulling hair back to put in a barrette that I noticed a flash of white. Was that skin? My hair had fallen. I pulled back strands to reveal a 1/2 inch to 1 inch circle of missing hair. An almost perfectly shaped circle. It was startling. My mind raced wondering what this was. Did I have worms? A bacteria? Was I consuming too much fish that contained Mercury? What in the hell was this?!
I had an appointment with my stylist shortly after my discovery. I was feeling vulnerable and shameful, but knew I needed help and answers. She discreetly called over the owner of the shop. They thought it could be Alopecia.
In the time after the appointment, I did some research. It did look and sound like Alopecia, but the thing that didn’t add up was it’s genetic. No one in my family had ever reported or showed signs of hair loss.
Months later, the circular spot grew in size and more circles started to appear. It was August and I was meeting with my OB-GYN. She diagnosed it as Alopecia brought on most likely because of stress. She told me there were pills and gels that I could use to bring back my hair. Internally, this didn’t feel like the right resolve. If it were stress induced, then I needed to assert the problem of stress in my life and the handling of it.
From there, I reached out to a friend who owned a Yoga and Pilates business. I opened up to them about the hair loss and my thoughts that it was due to stress. They were kind and considerate. They advised me to find the book, audiobook, and other resources by Jon Cabat Zinn. Because I was working in a library, it was easily accessible via interlibrary loan request. Once I had the materials, I started using them. Zinn’s approach was helpful to me. In their book they discuss aspects of life in categories. It felt like I was taking small steps towards a bigger improvement category by category.
I’d been fighting a year of viral incidents. The viruses didn’t abruptly stop from the magical words of meditation. It eventually took more than Zinn and learning the art of meditation to help me. I started to see that I was becoming a magnet for negativity, stress, and anxiety, and that meditation was only helping me manage some stress and anxiety. I needed help with my mind. This realization came to me after I broke down during a personal training session. I didn’t sweat for that hour. I sat on some foot odored turf in the middle of a quiet gym with a personal trainer who was expressing to me that I needed a therapist — someone to vent to, but also someone who could give me tools to tackle the building negativity, stress, and anxiety I couldn’t seem to shake.
With this first therapist, I learned about The Secret, a book and video by Rhonda Byrne. I also got this through interlibrary loan, though it’s also available via YouTube. I started to see how my negative self-directed thoughts affected more than just me. I also realized that I was getting in my own way of achieving goals and dreams and I was contributing to the building of negativity, stress, and anxiety within me.
My hair eventually grew back, but not before most of the layers underneath that wrapped from one ear to the other fell out and disappeared. When hair started growing it came in first, as soft, white, downy looking fur like that on a pig, and then, in full force as brown hair so dark it was almost black and it was curly. For context, I have always had a dark blonde hair color and this hair underneath was in stark contrast. My hair has a natural wave, but these new hairs were more tightly coiled.
I have fallen ill since then, but nothing like that year. I did realize that the person I was dating was not a good fit and was a contributor to my magnetism for viruses. It wasn’t long after our break-up that my pap smear came back abnormal. Six months following that initial exam, I had a Total Hysterectomy (cervix and uterus removed) because of Cancer cells in my cervix.
I have no illusions about my health and wellness, but I have these experiences to remind me of the tools I can use and people I can reach out to that will help me get better. Focusing on the good, framing things in the affirmative ex: if vs. when, and remembering the things (and people) I have survived keeps me on a forward moving path.