When You Have to Choose Between Your Hair and Your Health

I’ve always been blessed with strong, thick and healthy hair, which I’ve kept long for most of my life. My hair has always been the most striking and beautiful part about me. I used to get compliments daily and I used my hair as a form of safety blanket, which I could hide behind when my anxiety reared its ugly head.

I used to be overweight and very self conscious about my physical appearance. But no matter how I felt, I always loved my hair. After losing weight I kept my hair long and became even more protective of it. I actually feared going to the hairdresser in case they took off more than an inch, when I asked for just a trim. I also had frequent nightmares about my hair falling out.

Fast forward a few years and my physical health deteriorated to the point where I was unable to care for myself. I developed severe myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia. The exhaustion and weakness caused by the ME/CFS meant I couldn’t wash and dry my own hair. The fibromyalgia meant anything touching my skin, including my hair, was extremely painful. And I had developed constant tension headaches from the weight of my hair when it was tied up. I wasn’t well enough to sit in a hairdresser’s chair, so my hair got dry, damaged and very, very long.

Some of you reading this are probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s only hair and it will grow back.” With all the challenges I face on a daily basis living with severe ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, cutting my hair would seem insignificant. But girls, from an early age, are fed the notion that you need long hair to be beautiful and feminine. I was terrified my husband wouldn’t find me attractive anymore, but it actually went a lot deeper than that. My long hair was such an ingrained part of my persona, I was afraid I would lose part of me if I cut my hair short.

So, four years ago, I had to make a very tough decision: To cut my hair off or risk my health deteriorating even further. I chose my health and it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. The one thing I feared the most, losing my hair, had happened, yet the world didn’t end. It was actually quite liberating. I felt physically and mentally lighter. I could hold my head up without the weight of my hair dragging it down. My tension headaches stopped and the pain in my neck and shoulders reduced.

photo of woman with long hair and bangs, and two photos of her with a buzz cut

I was able to wash my hair in one minute and let it air dry — no more spending 30 minutes under the hairdryer. I only had to wash it once a week which meant I could use my limited energy on other, more important tasks like eating. Because I’m unable to sit up long enough to have my hair styled, I have a buzz cut once a month. Yes, it’s quite a drastic solution, especially when you are used to having long hair, but it will grow back.

I don’t know what the future holds. For now I am housebound, virtually bedbound. In the future, when I am able to leave the house, I may be more self-conscious of my lack of hair, but there are other solutions. When that time comes, I look forward to shopping for hats, beautifully colored scarfs and possibly wigs.

Have you had to make any tough decisions for the sake of your health?

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