Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Where is Normal

I realize that nobody wants to read posts written by (or heaven forbid listen to) people who are complaining all the time. And I feel like in recent years, well, that's about all I ever do.

In the words of the infinitely wise Joel Hodgson, "What IS right with you??" That's the problem. NOTHING seems right with me. It's just one stupid thing on top of another, compounding my frustration, depression, anxiety, and stress. I am allowing uncontrollable forces affect me in ways that I never thought possible. I've always been the stoic stalwart of stability, patience, and calm. Yeah, not so much lately. And by lately, I mean like 7 years. I just want to be normal again. Where are you, normal? Why have you abandoned me?

Ok so, what's my pain-in-the-ass problem today?

Hair. Or rather, lack thereof.

You know, I never had beautiful hair. Not even nice hair. Ever. I accepted it. Sure, it's curly, which to some people is gorgeous. But honestly, my curls have never been those shiny, luscious ringlets that bounce and cascade down like gleaming satin ribbons. Ppfft. My hair has always been a tangled mess of split ends, knots, and frizz. Since I was able to sit in a chair, my mom had my hair chopped off into a style-less, short, nappy helmet. Shirley Temple, I was not. A sheep maybe.... It was manageable for her and that's all that mattered.

Not until I got into high school did I attempt to consider long(er) hair. I'd always wanted it. But I think years of butchery (by Frank Ruggieri) pretty much ruined my hair, leaving it limp, thin, and lifeless. Growing it long and somewhat healthy was an enormous challenge and I never quite achieved it. As punishment for my 2-year attempt (Sophomore & Junior years), sometime in the early part of Senior year (fall 1989) I got head lice. If you've never had head lice, get on your knees right now and thank whatever deity you believe in that you were spared from this horror. If you have had head lice, but were a child, then you can only minimally understand what effect these little buggers have. If you were like me --- a 17-year-old young woman --- when you got head lice, then you know the mental and emotional strain that existed for the next 15 years of your life. You were panicked beyond all human reason every time you showered, or saw a speck of anything on your shirt, or got an itch on your scalp, or felt a stray hair on your neck or forehead. It was AWESOME.

Aside from a barium enema (also done in high school), having head lice was probably the worst physical experience of my entire life, because the mental and emotional stress that lasted for years post-beasties is truly remarkable. I seriously think I had post-traumatic stress disorder.

I'd noticed as I got into my twenties that my hair, despite looking like a wild, thick, poofy nest, was actually quite thin. The curliness obscured the fact that my hair was neither thick nor healthy. And every year, I notice that it's getting thinner and thinner. Frustrating, sure. But never in all my wildest nightmares did I ever expect what is happening to me right now.

I've been diagnosed with alopecia areata, which is spot baldness. I have a rather large bald spot right at the top of my head toward the front. And by rather large I mean a 2.5-inch diameter circle. Nobody really knows what causes alopecia areata, nor what will cure it (swell). They DO know that's is an auto-immune disorder. Apparently most auto-immune problems are extraordinarily difficult to fix. So my immune system got stupid and started attacking my hair follicles as if they were foreign invaders. Thanks for that, A-I system, really.

I went to the dermatologist in early November and she gave me a steroid cream to put on it. It barely worked. There was a wee bit of regrowth, but not enough to actually fill in the spot. So I went back for a follow-up on December 15. Aaaand now there are TWO spots. Albeit, the second one is much smaller, maybe 1/2 an inch in diameter. But it's in a spot where I can't see it (top and back of my head). Since the cream was only marginally effective, she gave me several injections of steroids right into my scalp in both bald spots. I have to see her again on January 12. I've been trying to be optimistic, I really have. But it's just been so depressing to look in the mirror for many reasons, and this diagnosis was the straw that broke the camel's back.

It is likely that I got this because other people in my family have/had auto-immune issues. Well that's certainly true. Both my grandmothers had rheumatoid arthritis, my sister had chronic fatigue and adrenal failure, my mom has eczema, and my aunt has a thyroid problem. I'm batting 1000 here. Another factor is STRESS. Many people who are predisposed to auto-immune disorders (raises hand) will experience some kind of auto-immune response to prolonged stress. (There's that pesky word again.) So my sister got chronic fatigue, I got bald. AWESOMESAUCE.

I've been tested several times for a thyroid problem and every time I come back "in range" for acceptable thyroid function. I'm not convinced because I have about 13 of the 15 possible symptoms for Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Can it really be a coincidence? But I digress.

Ok so, if stress is a catalyst for auto-immune problems, and indeed I AM stressed about a great many things, then when will I ever get better? The answer is NEVER. This hair problem is stressing me out to the ends of my sanity. How can I NOT be stressed? It's impossible. With everything going on in my life, especially in recent years, my stress levels must be off the charts. There is no way for me to control this. Short of hitting a multi-million-dollar lottery, which would solve a multitude of problems, there is little that I can do to lower my stress levels or avoid stressful situations. (Believe me, money CAN buy happiness.) My whole existence is one stressful situation into another.

So, wait, there's MORE awesome to this tale!

Yeah, remember when I mentioned that I noticed that my hair has been getting thinner and thinner over the years? I didn't imagine that. The dermatologist noticed it too. So in addition to the alopecia areata, I have androgenic alopecia as well. I am losing my hair ALTOGETHER! Can I tell you how fabulous this makes me feel? You know, karma, if you're going to give me a condition that predominately affects men, then why not give me the other perks that are associated with increased testosterone: better muscle tone, and a sex drive. No, of course not. Welcome to the rest of your life, Gina --- a life of Rogaine and fatigue, anxiety and bitterness.

And I'm supposed to NOT be stressed?