When It Comes To Hair Loss, What’s The Emotional Toll It Takes?

What happens when your strands are falling at an alarming rate?

Hands up if you’ve ever felt that a head of shiny, long locks are everything and more? Yep, blame society and marketing. Every day, we’re inundated with TV ads for healthy, voluminous hair, targeted on social media with the latest must-have hair tools and trawl through various hairstyles of all kinds on Pinterest. Even as children, we’d watch Rapunzel with hearts coming out of our eyes and we were told the secret to gorgeous hair is to brush your locks 100 times. When our hair is growing, we’re tempted to chop it up, when our hair is short, we’re dreaming of what it would be like to have waves and waves to play with. It’s how a lot of us express ourselves, the first thing we turn to when we need a bit of a pick me up, or go through a break-up. The new age ‘rolling up your sleeves’ has turned into throwing your hair up into a bun and getting those bits done.

Then, there’s the hair that we wish wouldn’t grow as quickly as what’s on our head. We spend so much time trying to get rid of unwanted hair, whether it’s on our legs, our face, even our stomachs. We weigh up the pros and cons of waxing, shaving, and laser hair removal. It’s safe to say there’s a lot of time and thought that goes into our hair, more than we may realise. But one thing that we don’t really think about is what we would do and feel if we experienced hair loss.

While it’s normal to lose hair daily (we all lose 50-100 hairs every day without noticing) for some, it can be a lot more severe.

Hair loss isn’t exactly life-threatening, but it is certainly life-altering. The kind of life-altering that can feel like your world has been turned upside, while you’ve simultaneously been chewed up and spat back out. It’s not “just hair” to some people, or the majority of us, really.

There are many different reasons for hair loss, from stress or hormonal changes, to pregnancy or due to family history. According to Carol Johnson, Consultant Trichologist at Universal Hair & Scalp Clinic, stress and hair loss usually go hand in hand. She explained that “stress is a toxin which the body deals with quite expeditiously by allowing receptor cells in the hair follicle to receive hormones of stress which are negators of growth”, which shows that stress may actively stop hair growing.

“When I see clients who are experiencing hair loss they tell me they are feeling very low, don’t want to go to social events like a family members wedding and at times the bride to be can be the person sitting in front of me with stress related hair loss because even, what I term ‘ happy stress’ can cause hair loss”, Carol says. If you do notice hair loss that is not normal to you, Carol recommends seeking a blood test with your GP, examining changes in your lifestyle or where you live or work, as well as your diet, sleep, hormones, and new or recently ended medication.

There’s so many causes, that it could nearly be hard to narrow it down to one reason – and the feelings that hair loss inspires in both women and men are just as complicated. Sandra told STELLAR about her experience with alopecia, and how the hardest hurdle was accepting the ‘new’ her.

“I still remember the first couple of times I noticed my hair falling out. It wasn’t your average, run of the mill few strands that would find their way entangled in your hairbrush. They were big clumps, the kind that you just could not miss. I was diagnosed with alopecia a week before my 21st birthday, and I was bald before I turned 22.
“I had never exactly taken much pride in my hair. It wasn’t gorgeous and glossy, but it was mine. As cliched as it sounds, I didn’t realise just how much I loved it until it was gone.”

I went through a lot of emotions when I was losing my hair. Probably a lot more than I could manage, if I’m being totally honest. Anger, sadness, embarrassment, frustration, undesirable, ugly, the list could go on and on.”

According to Paddy Pender, of Alopecia Ireland, these feelings can be quite common, “People often question “why me?” and talk of feeling different, isolated and some think they are ugly. Many are ashamed and nervous about going out – always conscious of stares.” Paddy also explains that wearing wigs or hair pieces can sometimes add to these feelings, “in case the hair piece moves or is blown away so we often adopt a cautious/nervous looking gait. Personally, I rarely wear a wig when I am out and about because I felt a lot more vulnerable when I was constantly grabbing a scarf or hood to make sure the hair was still in position. I probably looked as vulnerable as I felt and that is not helpful in a busy city.”

Claire* had undertaken a hairdressing course before changing to a different career option, but it was always something that she had a passion for. “When I was young, I was obsessed with hair. I would give my dolls haircuts, then I graduated to styling my sister’s hair before they went on nights out. After school, I enrolled in a hairdressing course. I didn’t make a career out of it in the end, but I did keep it up as a hobby. I did my own hair, my families’ hair, my friends’ hair, anyone and everyone. Then, I underwent treatment for cancer in 2015, and lost my hair. It was only then, I realised how much of my personality shone through my hair. I thought of how I braided it, backcombed it, blow dried it. Even the times when I pulled at it, sighed because of it, threatened not to go out to the local of a Friday night because my baby hairs wouldn’t behave themselves.”

Claire continues, “I felt a rush of feelings every moment of the day when I had finished my treatment. Granted, I had a lot of other things on my mind too, but I realised quickly that all these feelings I was having all boiled down to one thing, that was embarrassment. In one way, I was embarrassed that I no longer had the hair that I loved, and in another, I was embarrassed because I felt so strongly about my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, when I was my body was going through an ordeal.”

Emotional support is certainly needed at a time like this. If you’re going through hair loss for whatever reason, know that you’re not alone. According to Paddy, “support is found through conversations with GPs, counselling and lots of help from families. If you’re suffering from alopecia, I would strongly suggest contacting the Alopecia Support Group through the website or Facebook and we take it from there.”

For more info, contact the Universal Hair & Scalp Clinic (info@universalhairclinic.ie).

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