Taking a good look

Being diagnosed with Alopecia Areata (an autoimmune disorder which makes you lose your hair) could legitimately be described as a first world problem. It’s mainly a cosmetic condition, and compared to some of the awful things going on right now, it might seen rather trivial to worry about your appearance.

But, I think we’re all on a journey. Whether that’s crossing dangerous waters to find a better safer life for your family; or something more personal and psychological. By acknowledging your own challenges it’s by no means disrespecting the bigger issues going on. I think it’s fair and justified to spend time thinking about yourself and how you got to this point and yes, to look in the mirror and feel rather sad about the bald patches appearing rapidly all over your head. So, I’m going to indulge myself, and look inwards…

Why does it happen?

Autoimmune disorders are complex and confusing beasts. For some it seems to be genetic; it might be something in your diet that your body doesn’t like; it might be another health condition like thyroids; or yes — it can be stress-related. The first thing almost everyone says to you when you say you have alopecia is ‘Have you had a stressful time?’. My initial answer to the GP when she asked this was ‘Not really. I am very busy though’.

My definition of stress was sleepless nights, constant worry and a justifiably large dramatic event like a car accident or a death. When my mother was suffering from Motor Neurone Disease five years ago and dying a rather slow, painful death — yes I’d admit that was stressful. But right now? Nothing tangible. I am very busy though…

But what I’ve had to come to terms with is that there are different types of stress that we endure in modern life. There is the more insidious kind of stress of putting yourself under constant pressure to achieve everything you want to, all at the same time and never messing up. It might not be alopecia that it triggers, it might be another health condition or issue but I think it affects a lot of people in different ways.

The rise of the #multi-taskingachiever mentality

Here’s what I mean. Here’s a description of the person that I am (was?) trying to be:

A marathon running yogi; an intelligent and insightful, highly productive digital marketer; slim, attractive, well-groomed, fashionable woman who looks younger than her age; a successful and genre-challenging playwright; an inspirational and spiritually guiding step-mother; a dairy-free, egg-free almost vegan healthy food guru; an integral part of a new writing theatre collective internationally recognised and the envy of all other theatre companies creating ground-breaking work; a well-read and well-informed politically aware civilian; a sexy, fun, supportive girlfriend/wife-to-be on the way to planing the best wedding any of their guests has ever attended; a wonderful, open warm and loving sister/daughter; a home-owner of a stylish but economically viable city-centre location; a great friend, fun and always available for girlie dates; a psychologically well-adjusted and emotionally strong survivor of losing both my mother and brother under tragic circumstances.

Hurray! What a high achiever! What a survivor! What an #inspiration #amazing.

Except my setting my sights to high and so extensively I have managed to achieve none of these things particularly well. Anyone who claims to manage all of these things is lying. To achieve one thing, you have to sacrifice another. It’s a simple credit/debit system which I have failed to recognise. That sacrifice might be in your overall satisfaction levels or happiness or (quite often) your health.

The list is resonant of some people’s instagram bios and makes you realise how ridiculous those personas are that people create for themselves. At least most of those bios are are somewhat focused on one of the above areas. I can claim to be mad enough to have been attempting all of those things at the same time. This list isn’t even exhaustive.

Work in progress

So yes, writing this down in black and white is just the first step. I can step back and take a good look. I can have a bit of a laugh actually. I can say that I had been pushing myself to do everything and by doing that achieved very little. I may have even triggered a stress-related health condition which has caused me a lot of heartache. But it has forced me to look really hard in the mirror. Not just to interrogate my scalp for regrowth, but to ask myself some questions about priorities and what’s comfortably achievable in my life right now.

This is a work-in-progress; we all are. I’d be interested if anyone relates to what I’m saying here about taking a step back and being honest about how high the bar is that we set ourselves.