You have to go down to go up. A basic law of physics we forget as we watch people walk around collapsed in on themselves. I know this. I know this from years of doing just that. I went from a deep inner awareness I honed as a child, to a push, push, push, mentality that left me shoulders back, lower back tight, chest out, chin high, back line tight. Then we moved, not just once, but a bunch of times, and had lovely boys I nursed and held and cradled, and I began to overlay a collapsed posture upon the strive posture I had honed through college and grad school completions. I began to close in on myself. My shoulders drooped in-ward, my heart center spaciousness that had been exaggerated previously, was now smaller and hidden. And my mind went from “what's next” to “what now,” and “what if.” Thought patterns that took hold and were caught in a loop inside my body.
The spine meant to naturally curve in four distinct places, to create a flow of energy from the earth to the sky and back down again, a yielding with gravity instead of a prop or collapse state, in my body was batted down, and with this harsh hash-crossing in my body a harsh hash-crossing of thoughts emerged, looping on a repetitive play. "Is this the best choice?" "Am I right?" "What if..." It took me too many days, years, to realize I had left my body and hovered above it, around it, beneath it, even dragged myself behind it...my mind leaping ahead while my body lagged behind. Grief and shock mixed together to create this state. And my usual joyful self got buried.
"Can I bring you dinner?" she asked me. We were standing outside, on an early warm June morning as my oldest boy started kinder camp, a week of adjusting to what the fall would bring. Preparing now for his leap ahead. I waited on the concrete, white paved plaza of the school I attended as a child. We were in the midst of discerning our return home, or to my childhood home of Saint Paul, from Santa Fe which had become our home. I wore skinny jeans and flip-flops with my favorite three quarter Kelly-green J. Crew sweater. A flowered bucket hat covered my head and long strands of shoulder length hair peeped out, except where there wasn't any. I had grown used to wearing hats in Santa Fe, after moving there with some major hair loss from baby 3. But no one there asked. People there were used to people wearing hats, used to cancer patients dotted about the city, were used to people with funky hairstyles. It was not a tip off. At least I did not think it was; strong was my denial.
Puzzled I looked at her, this woman with four kids of her own, her oldest, a fifth grader, helping at the kinder camp, and apologized saying, "No, I am good. Why do you ask?" She offered, stammered really, "Well because, I um...just thought maybe I could help you," she glanced upward at my hat with questioning eyes as to what was underneath it. A slow dawning of realization came across my face, I know that is cliche to say, but it really was like a slow light spreading from inside my mind to my outside facial expression, Oh I thought, this woman thinks I have cancer." This had never occurred to me. I know that sounds naive but it had not. Silly, really, when I think of it. But when this woman asked, it took me back. She thinks I have cancer. She called me Beth, my childhood nickname. I am no longer in Santa Fe. I am no longer anonymous. I can no longer hide my hair loss. I felt unsteady on my feet. I waited for the kids to come out the double doors to release me from this conversation, as a warm flush of embarrassment came over me, my cheeks reddening and my eyes holding back tears. I tried to casually explain to her that no, it was not cancer, only alopecia thank goodness--and brush off that I was shaken.
Only alopecia. A term western medicine gives to unexplained hair loss. My bald spots reemerged and this time at a ferocious pace. One after the next after the next. Strands of hair falling out whenever I touched my hair. Hair, falling into the shower drain in Santa Fe. That shower with the tiled walled mural of fish that covered it. The sink that was decorated in desert tiled flowers of the southwest. Daily I would watch in horror as they slipped down the drain coiling just above it, blocking the drainage, while I stood naked. Head cast downward, eyes filling with salty tears mixing with the shower's hard water pellets, I stood-- a spine compromised, energy stuck, its drainage blocked.
After showering, I took a piece of toilet paper and wiped the evidence up, that once again I had lost more hair that day than I had grown. Placing the balled toilet paper into the toilet bowl flushing away my fear of "What if I lose all my hair this go around?" Toweling off I would look up, barely making eye contact with myself in the mirror above the sink. A glance at the mirror, a glance at my image, bought disgust, all I could see, could focus on really---my emerging bald spots. I couldn’t see my beautiful deep brown set eyes, nor my long limbed bones, or my clear complexion, only the growing baldness and my eyes like lasers boring into those areas—as if with sight and thought I could make each area grow bigger.
My interior voice loomed like a loud speaker in my head, How could anyone think I was attractive, much less my husband, and I shrunk to hide beneath the hats I wore. While underneath them, I grew more and more bald. Inside my worry and fret stirred, simmered, cooked, bordering into self loathing Who losses their hair? Who looses their hair while pregnant? Writing this pains me. I had grown to practice the deep voice of self-hatred. This voice grew loud and disorientating leading me to discern decisions that were no longer best for me. Pulling me away from my centered self, tossing me into the large realm of space without orientation, without a naturally curved spine, without anything but worry to orbit around. And while I orbited I grew bald on my outside. I collapsed in on myself, wearing a posture of protecting my heart, the startle reaction seen in babies in full effect in me, an adult. The inquisitions of does she have cancer grew. Always followed by the wave of relief from the questioner, that no I do not have cancer only alopecia. These interactions followed me around like my lost strands of hair, lying on the floor, leaving a trail of despair.