Alopecia as an Outlier
After working with the Hashimoto’s community for many years, I turned much of my attention to working with the alopecia community.
Although both communities have been greatly underserved, there are way more resources for those with hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s than for alopecia.
Hair restoration gimmicks and quick fixes aren’t “resources.”
“Sorry, you’ll have to live with this.”
“There’s nothing more we can do for you.”
“You’re just stressed.”
“Your loss has progressed so much that we can’t give you any more cortisone shots.”
“Here, take this JAK inhibitor/immuno-suppressant.” (Don’t even get me started on the side effects of these drugs.)
“This is genetic and you’ll have to accept it.”
…aren’t resources either.
As they say, “Your mess is your message.” And I was a balding mess a few years ago.
After having intermittent and relatively mild alopecia areata for over 30 years, things got bad and I developed alopecia ophiasis and became half bald with no growth in sight for about two years.
While any manifestation of autoimmunity can certainly cause mental and emotional distress, I know firsthand how devastating baldness is.
And it doesn’t make my work easy.
I’m not seeking sympathy because I love what I do, but the emotions entangled with hair loss—especially for women—can be crippling. It’s a hard and fast blow to our sense of identity and femininity.
I also work with men whose sense of self has been shattered and parents who are crippled and heartbroken for their children.
Balding, even diffuse loss that others may not notice, is a visible manifestation of the imbalance that’s mirrored back to us daily and takes a huge emotional toll, resulting for some in anxiety, withdrawal, and depression.
This is where coaching comes in. Having been there, I can commiserate—and then help people rise above these emotions and keep going.
I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but I have two health coaching certifications—and tons of personal experience, including a “highly scientific mind,” in the opinion of the esteemed Greg Plotnikoff, MD.
I can share the science, the studies, and the follicle-stimulating procedures ‘til the cows come home, but if someone is caught up in a swirl of identity issues surrounding alopecia (which is perfectly natural!) and they’ve “tried everything” to get their hair back, it can make it difficult to believe that anything could actually work, even though scientific studies have shown that below the skin’s surface, follicles remain alive.
Sure, there are other visible manifestations of autoimmunity, like psoriasis or scleroderma, but the visibility and identity issues are, in part, what makes alopecia an outlier.
In my Experience Life article, How to Reverse Female Hair Loss, I stated, “According to ancient literature, women’s hair symbolizes strength, physical attraction, health, femininity, and even social status. Then as now, hair is a symbol of self, and our hairstyles are a powerful form of self-expression.”
In a world obsessed with beauty (it’s a $500+ billion dollar industry), it’s no wonder that women (and men) can lose their sense of self when they’re losing (or have lost) their hair.
The traditional definition of a healing crisis is a “detox reaction” or Herxheimer effect, which is a temporary worsening of symptoms that occurs when toxins are eliminated from the body, such as when starting a candida/yeast, parasite, or bacterial cleanse.
Keep in mind, not everyone experiences a healing crisis on their journey.
It doesn’t mean they’re not healing, it’s just that they don’t experience some of the symptomatology or temporary discomfort associated with changes in physiology that take place when embarking on a therapeutic program.
Alopecia is multi-factorial. And it’s an inside job.
I’ve stated repeatedly, in my blog, my newsletters, with my clients, and with my Reversing Alopecia mastercourse participants, that it can take three months in the best of circumstances to slow inordinate loss and to see new growth. (I’m offering my next Reversing Alopecia mastercourse in early 2021.)
When you consider that many in the functional medicine community say that it can take 6-18 months to tackle autoimmunity (knowing that androgenic alopecia may not have an autoimmune component), seeing improvement at three months is optimistic—and still possible.
Depending on the level of imbalance and the number of factors that need addressing, what’s also possible is that for those who still have some hair, there’s a mild increase in shedding (a “healing crisis”) at the onset of a their program.
According to Cheryl Deroin, NMD, “One of the most important aspects of a healing crisis is the return of old symptoms.”
Again, not everyone experiences this. But it can be difficult to accept. Cue the distress.
Playing the Long Game
As I’ve also said many times, I don’t have a quick fix or magic bullet for slowing loss and regrowing hair. If I did, with 147 million people worldwide who have or will develop alopecia, I’d be on the cover of Time magazine.
I don’t claim that I can help every single person with alopecia reverse the condition, but what I do know is that follicles need time to signal. For some, it will be three months and for most, it will be longer. And this is when all possible contributing factors have been examined.
Even if someone who still has hair doesn’t see an uptick in loss during their program, what can remain—for a few weeks—is the continued inordinate loss. This is normal.
Again, this makes my job challenging.
It’s common, early in a client’s program, for them to say:
“I haven’t seen any improvement.”
Yes, I know.
“I’m still losing.”
Yes, I know.
“I don’t have any new growth.”
Yes, I know.
There’s NO judgment here because I’m as impatient and stubborn as they come (just ask Dr. Plotnikoff) and when things were bad for me, I wanted results yesterday.
Again, follicles need time to signal.
And here’s the other thing that makes alopecia an outlier…
The healing needed to signal follicles takes place under the surface of the skin. Obvious, I know, but all kinds of wonderful things can be happening that we can’t yet see.
With psoriasis, for example, which is another visible manifestation of autoimmunity, the patches and irritation and scales can start to fade once healing starts. Alopecia? Not so much—we don’t see the healing until the follicles are signaled and the hair shafts are protruding through the skin. It takes time.
It can start as a “sandpaper” feel to the scalp (or beard or brows or legs) and oh yes, it’s a glorious day.
For those with diffuse loss, phase one of healing is less loss. I had a final session with a client this week who, for much of our program, said, “Well, all of these other improvements in my health are wonderful, but I’m still losing. I can’t run my fingers through my hair without pulling out tons of strands.” In our last video session yesterday, she ran her fingers through her hair multiple times and said, “See? Nothing. No hair.” We were both grinning from ear to ear.
Even though it’s a waiting game, we have to trust. One of my favorite sayings is, “Your body’s ability to heal is greater than anyone has permitted you to believe.”
Many of my clients and Reversing Alopecia participants have been so happy and optimistic and trusting with the process because again, reversing alopecia is an inside job and here’s what can happen on the journey:
- More vital energy
- Brighter mood
- Digestive distress alleviated
- Better hormonal profile
- Clearer skin
- Alleviation of joint pain
- Weight loss
- Restful sleep
- Reduction in anxiety
When we start to see these improvements, we know we’re on the right path.
As one of my clients, Ema Hirzel, recently wrote:
“Struggling with baldness/alopecia has been nothing less than devastating, yet with the support and skill of Jill as my coach, I found my footing and made giant steps forward on the path of healing. I went from a place of desperation and confusion to clarity and commitment in the discovery of the roots of my imbalances. This has required more fortitude and stamina than I knew was possible, and with Jill by my side, I have found my way through the wilderness. The evidence is clear by the hair regrowth that is finally underway, and even further demonstrated by how I feel in my daily life. The impact of her coaching program gave me results that were not only unexpected, but far exceeded what I knew to be possible. For this I am forever grateful.”
Again, we’re playing the long game here. And as Seth Godin says, “In the long run, trust wins.”
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