I was born with a full head of hair. I’m talking about the kind of tufts that would look right at home in an advertisement for baby hair gel... if babies used hair gel. Looking back, it’s entirely possible my penchant for hair product first began when – as a toddler – I styled my locks with oatmeal.
By the time I could ride a bike, the only way to contain my mop was a tidy, at-home-mullet, courtesy of mom.
Fortunately, as a kid, I had no real concept of what it meant to look good. In fact, rummaging through old family photographs, one might assume I grew up in a house without mirrors. Or reflective surfaces of any kind.
But then I became a self-aware teen. I grew my tresses longer while desperately trying to coax them into doing things. Unnatural things. However, whenever I tried to flip my hair – like the other girls - nothing happened. It stayed as still as a frightened rabbit and for much of my 9th grade year, I looked like I was doing neck exercises (or trying to get water out of my ear).
The takeaway here is: heavy, naturally wavy hair does not (and will not) budge.
Sure, I compensated with mousse, gels, irons, dryers, and peroxide. But nothing worked, and after trying out more than one hairstylist (breaking several sets of thinning shears in the process), I settled into a trend of ultra big, mega-frizzy hairstyles, followed by short and spiky pixie cuts for the rest of my young adult life.
Then, in my early thirties, I met my current stylist who, through the power of prayer, point cuts and razors, was able to tame my wild mane into submission.
Cute, messy shag? He could do it. Straight-as-a-pin bob? He could make it happen (as long as the humidity was 0%). For the first time in my life, I was happy with my thick hair because I could wear it straight, curly, short, long or in a messy bun on the top of my head.
Until recently, when shit got real.
To this day, my hair continues to hold a grudge – never fully forgiving me for the assaults of the past. I know this to be true because it, along with gravity, continues to surprise me at every turn.
First it was one or two strands falling gently down my arm. Then, I started to notice bunches of hair, commingling with the dust bunnies on the floor. Eventually, running my fingers through my tresses became treacherous, as clumps appeared in my hands. And don’t even get me started on what was happening in the shower drain. I began asking my husband, "Am I losing my hair?" and could tell he was fibbing when he repeatedly replied, "Of course not" without looking up from his iPad.
Still, since I had a measurable amount of hair to lose, I didn’t immediately freak out. Especially after I read that hair has a normal growth cycle and it’s not unusual for people to lose up to 10 % of it each day, which for me would work out about a hundred billion strands.
No big deal, right? Less for my stylist to cut. My hair was longer than it had ever been, so the die off was probably just more noticeable.
I relaxed, until one day - while glancing in the mirror - I saw my scalp. Up until then, I didn’t even know I had a scalp. And so it was at that moment I did what any worried, middle-aged balding woman with matronly arms would do.
I panicked. I also stopped colouring my hair, ditched heat styling, embraced my natural waves and stopped washing my hair every day. Still, it disappeared.
Next, I Googled female hair loss and found lots of super-cute hairstyles designed for women with thinning hair, and I also discovered that there are many deficiencies that can cause hair to suddenly pack up a suitcase and leave home. So I booked an appointment with my GP to find out how many I had.
“Sometimes, hair just does that.”
My doctor tried to appear sympathetic after I told him my once full locks were abandoning ship in record numbers. Then, he walked me through the most common causes of excess shedding. Stress is a biggie. Yep. I’ve got that. Next? Hormonal changes are often to blame. Uh huh. Right there with you.
But there was more...
He sent me to the blood lab with a requisition form, heavy with ink. Many vials later, I was checked for everything including but not limited to thyroid function, b12 levels and iron stats and two weeks later, the results were in.
The diagnosis explained so many symptoms I had been experiencing and had become used to living with, including headaches, dizzy spells, an elevated heart rate, crushing exhaustion and excessive cravings for dark chocolate.
But mostly, it explained the shedding.
It all made sense. I’ve never been much of a carnivore and while I do my best to ensure I ingest enough beans and green leafy vegetables, I sometimes fall short.
Between that and my week to ten-day stays at the Red Roof Inn every month, my levels had plummeted. And, had likely been on the slow decline since I delivered my daughter – almost eight years ago.
The thing is, my hemoglobin levels were within normal range, so without the extra tests, I would never have known I was anemic.
So if you’re suffering from sudden hair loss, get to your doctor and ask for a blood test to check your levels.
Meanwhile, if you need me, I’ll be asking my stylist for a flattering haircut while eating all the lentils and taking a regular iron supplement so that in three to six months, my family will be able to walk around barefoot in the house again without the risk of a hair tourniquet.