Guest Post by Casey Coppess
I was out to dinner with my boyfriend (now ex) at El Rodeo, the signature Mexican restaurant in Urbandale, Iowa. We were fighting about something, what exactly I don’t recall, but it seems that’s what we did most of the time we were together. We weren’t a good match. There was a ten year age difference between us and there was constant discord. I was always wanting to have sex with him and he was always wanting to watch HGTV.
Our bickering ceased when the waiter brought us our margaritas, strawberry for me and mango for him. After a few sips of our drinks, my boyfriend broke the silence, “Did you know that you’re balding?”
“Shut up!” I snapped back. “Why do you have to be such an asshole?”
“I’m not being an asshole. I’m just telling you the truth.”
He pulled out his phone and sifted through his pictures until he found the one he wanted to show me. It was a picture of me taken from behind without my knowledge. I was lying on my side on the couch, my boyfriend lying behind me, while Property Brothers played in the background. The camera had been angled so you could see the crown of my head and a microscopic patch of thinning hair.
“I can’t believe you took a picture of my bald spot while we were spooning,” I replied after taking in the picture for a moment. I know for a fact that he had been saving this picture for just the right moment. He had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get back at me for making a comment about how his new haircut made him look like he should be on a “Hitler Youth: Where are They Now?” TV special. Was my comment tasteless? Perhaps, but he used my toothbrush.
I have to hand it to him though, it shut me up for a bit. He was right, there was a small area of my hair that was thinning. Initially, I wanted to deny it. It was absurd to think that I, the protagonist of my own life story, would be losing my hair. I was 22. Hair loss was something that only happened to secondary characters.
It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I was forced to face the truth and succumb to the tyranny of male pattern baldness. I googled treatments, took multivitamins, bought expensive shampoos. All I’ve really managed to do is delay the inevitable.
It’s my good fortune that I’m tall. The patch is directly on top of my head, so as long as I keep my upper body a good distance above sea level, and remember to never bend over, I can maintain the illusion that everything is growing just fine up top.
When I was in middle school I was diagnosed with a hormone disorder that caused my body to grow out instead of up. My skin was so thin that you could see all the veins running throughout my body. I was gaining weight and my body wasn’t changing like the rest of my classmates’ were.
My body fell way behind in development during middle and high school as I endured the six years of hormone therapy it took to get it running on its own again. Everything that should have been happening when I was 13 was happening my freshman year of college. Imagine the confusion and discomfort of my roommate when he walked into our dorm room to find me naked and celebrating because I finally started to grow my own pubic hair.
As my body continued to change, I shed the excess weight and my skin became thicker. I’d go for a light jog around the block and come back 15 pounds leaner. I’d look in the mirror and think about how if I had known that at the age of 21 I would have my own cheekbones, I never would have gone through all the trouble of developing a personality. I would have given my attention to becoming someone’s trophy spouse. Instead, I spent those oh so crucial years of development watching Gilligan’s Island reruns and reading Animorphs.
I never got tired of people telling me I was beautiful or the attention I got from other boys when I would go out. My physical appearance became the only thing I believed I had to offer the world until one day I pulled a clump of hair out of my shower drain and was forced to face the truth: I was changing.
After doing some research and after a few doctor visits (because there had to be something wrong if this was happening to ME), I learned that it’s quite common for people who have undergone hormone therapy to experience after effects like hair loss.
Oh, woe is me, right? So, I’m not a majestic wonderswan anymore. I mean, how superficial can one person get?
Over time, I have learned to be a bit more compassionate with myself. When you think that your only value comes from being physically attractive and a huge part of what makes it so is beginning to fade away, it takes a toll on your psyche. After all, hair loss is a sign of aging.
At what point did I turn in my green tights and pixie dust and actually start to grow up? And what is growing up but taking steps towards death?
This is probably why the fear of hair loss is so common. I’m not the first person to lose their cool over losing their hair. It means change. Big changes, bad changes, things outside of our control changes, regardless of the lengths we go to stop it. I mean, I’m falling apart! I had to have knee surgery from playing Blanche in Golden Girls the Musical, and my body revolts against me regularly. I eat one potato chip and my body retains water for days. I truly have no control. My body is changing and my psyche is just along for the ride.
This last year I achieved a personal goal of becoming a certified yoga teacher. My journey with yoga began in 2013 when I would attend a weekly yoga class at my gym because the instructor had dreamy eyes and a man-bun. After some time, I began to feel a real connection with the physical practice.
I dove deeper into the teachings of yoga and as I studied, I came upon the yoga sutras of Patanjali. The yoga sutras are 196 aphorisms written prior to 400 B.C.E. by a teacher named Patanjali outlining the basic goals and principles of yoga. This may seem excessive, but no one mantra speaks to every person, so Patanjali found 196 different ways to say, “Calm the fuck down!”
There’s one sutra I came across while in a rut of self-loathing that in Sanskrit reads Vrtti sarupyam itaratra. This loosely translates to: “At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications.”
The mental modifications Patanjali is referring to are the traits and characteristics we associate ourselves with: I am male, I am a barista, I am bald, etc… Too often we let these things determine our perceptions of who we are.
Okay, okay, OKAY, Patanjali… I’ll take the hint. Although I may sometimes feel that all I have ever been is just a pretty face, what I really am is a piece of the universe all wrapped up in a package of meat and water. Not the most pleasant image but I have found a lot of peace in it.
A spiritual teacher of mine once told me that our mind is like a jungle and our thoughts, a sword. There’s one trail that you’ve created through a lifetime of practice and habit. If you want to develop a new habit or thought, it requires some effort to attack the weeds, branches, and general fears that block the new path.
Of course, there’s that Immediate Gratification Demon that wants to sit back with an extra dirty gin martini while his servants carry him on their backs down the convenient, well-worn path. But luckily, I have my inner Amazon Warrior Princess bearing a longsword and wearing leather bikini armor because her core is so strong that it’s just as impenetrable as any full body armor that would only weigh her down. She wants to conquer that jungle and lately, she’s been working overtime to battle the Demon. She knows that every obstacle is an opportunity to move closer to that final destination.
(Click images to enlarge)
There are no convenient or cheap remedies for hair loss. As far as I see it, I only have two choices: Hide from the world until I can afford a hair transplant or bare it all. Hiding out doesn’t suit me so I guess I have no choice but to put on my big kid pants and get over it. But I’ll give myself a window of time to figure this all out.
I’ll still spend hundreds of dollars a month on Rogaine and multivitamins, I’ll still carry hats and bandanas around with me everywhere I go, and I’ll still avoid bending at the waist so no one can see the top of my head. That jungle is big ground to cover, and while my Warrior Princess is fierce, she’s got to take a moment to sharpen her broadsword every now and again.
Like any yoga pose it’s not a matter of getting it right on the first try, it’s a matter of recognizing and accepting the limitations of your body in that moment. That’s why it’s called a “practice,” because it’s a transition, one step forward at a time.
Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of Casey Coppess.
Copyright © 2018 Casey Coppess, All rights reserved.