Who the F*$! am I?!

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“You are so confident!”  “I love how you’re not afraid to put it all out there!”

Yes I am and no, I am absolutely am not! Let me also say, conceit is not a behavior allowed in my home. I believe in being authentic, in being who I really am, in not hiding behind anything…..or at least I do now.

I have lived somewhat of a double life, not purposely, but by the grace of God. When I was a young girl, I was self aware and self-conscious to the nth degree. I was so hard on myself, always criticizing everything about myself. I was probably my worst enemy and fully developing at the age of ten and not being able to relate to anybody around me really made those awkward tween and teen years suuuuuuuuuuper duper fun….NOT! The summer before my Senior year of high school, I began putting extra pressure on myself. My all seemed to be slim and slender and I rememeber sitting on benches next to them thinking my thigh could fit both of their thighs  inside. I dabbled in diet pills, in extremely unhealthy food journaling, even created a diet where I ate nothing but ice cream and ate nothing else so as to not waste my ice cream calories on anything potentially beneficial to my body.

I wish that was the worst of it. As I graduated high school and went off to college, my anxiety and drive to be perfect were at an all time high. I had a need to succeed, to exceed every imagined expectation those around me put on me (they didn’t). After trying and failing to balance 19 semester hours and a part time job the first sememster of my freshman year of college, I had a major mental break and dropped out. I needed to regroup. I didn’t. I went back to taking diet pills, working at a restaurant where I was happy to be walking around all day so I could keep my activity up. I entered in to a majorly toxic relationship after finding out my first boyfriend was cheating on me right in front of my face. My mom saw me spiralling. She  gave me a list of therapists to call and gave me a list of opportunities for those who are needing or wanting a break from or before college.

I chose AmeriCorps. Four months later, I felt unburneded thanks to my psychologist and was on a plane to Albany, Georgia with just a suitcase full of my necessities for a year to be spent building houses. I was still taking diet pills. I may have felt relieved that I wasn’t a total failure, but I still wasn’t who I wanted to be. Looking back, I had no clue who I was. I was aimless and lost and I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.

After a few months spent in Georgia, the diet pills began having disasterous effects because I was needing more and more to reach the desired appetite suppression and metabolism boot. One night, I took so many, I ended up throwing up all over my house on the way to the bathroom. Shortly after that, I began itching…a deep itch I couldn’t make stop. Cold water and temperatures began to cause a singing pain in my fingers, and just about anywhere else. I had fried my system with uppers and my nerves were sending me a major message. “Hey lady! Quit this nonsense! It’s only going to get worse!” How right my body was. It was now my turn to destroy my body and give the diet pills a break from that role.

In an anxiety ridden few weeks as I quit taking the pills, I began to fade away. I became nothing. My every thought was about how many calories the green bean I just ate was and how long it would take to burn it off. I quickly lost entirely too much weight, eating only when people were with me at meal time, frequently making excuses for why I was eating differently. I lost my period for months, people regularly offered to buy me food (I had food…I just couldn’t bear to eat it). This was deep and dark and I had lost all of myself. I tried to find my way back via sex and trail mix. I gained some weight…actually I gained all of the weight back and then some. Then my time with AmeriCorps was done and I was as lost as I’d ever been. I was placing meaning in life on things that were only important to me and not anybody else.

I moved back out to California with my friend Kelly, got a job at Macy’s and bought my very first car. I registered at the local community college and was going through the motions. I was going out 5 nights a week, enjoying a social life, but working in retail after a year of volunteer service set my soul on fire. It was seriously depressing and a change was necessary. So naturally, I went down to my local recruiter’s office and joined the Marine Corps. No looking back….except when I had to testify against my recruiters because they were holding orgies and giving drugs and alcohol to poolies….you know…the normal stuff. (Biggest eye roll EVER!!!). That whole ordeal did result in a call from Anderson Cooper’s people because he wanted to do a story on the crazy recruiters….that never panned out and it may or may not have been because I went all crazy fangirl when I called them back, professing my love for the not yet outted Cooper. I still love him.

About a year in to my time with the Marines, I was taking pictures of kiddos with Santa at base Christmas party. I went to change out of my uniform in to something more appropriate for a holiday party and while rearranging my hair, I noticed a small bald spot right above my ear. I blew it off as the result of constantly wearing my hair in a tight bun and laughed it off the rest of the night while imbibing in what was likely a tad too much wine. It was funny. It was nothing. Except it wasn’t.

The next morning, December 9th, I headed out to the beach to watch one of my best friends in the world get married. She was beautiful, the ceremony was beautiful, and she and I laughed about the spot above my ear. After her ceremony, I headed back to my barracks room to change in to some more casual clothes and enjoy my weekend. I was putting my hair up in a pony tail when I noticed another spot. Shit. Shit. Shit. What was going on?!?! My roommate was in our room and so I casually asked her to take a look through my hair to see if there were any in sports I couldn’t get in view. I will never forget the sound of her next words.

“Ohhhh. Myyyyy. Goooood.”

There were more.

Many Many more.

Bigger spots.

I knew exactly what was happening. Flash back to my freshman year of high school and what was likely a hormone induced shedding one summer. I knew some day I wouldn’t have my hair. I sat in front of the mirror in my room, a fourteen-year-old girl, crosslegged with two fingers covering up my eyebrows, wondering what I would look like when they were gone.

I called a male friend, one who was beginning to be something so much more. I told him what was going on. He tried to take me to the ER. I stopped him and promised him I would go to the doctor first thing Monday morning, which I did.

“Oh my gosh! Wait till you see the bald spot on her head! It is so huge!”

That is what the nurse didn’t whisper quietly enough outside of the seam room door before the doctor came in. The spot had grown. My hair was leaving. It didn’t want to be on my head anymore. It had a new mission of clogging drains and filling up my hairbrush. I was eerily calm…or in shock. I still don’t know which. Ask the Stouffers and Ben and Jerry’s. Maybe they know.

The doctor asked me if I wanted a note so I could shave my head. You see, it is considered eccentric for female Marines to not have hair on their head. I now needed a doctors note to be myself. Hilarity. I didn’t take it then, because who knew how this would go. She referred me to a dermatologist who ensured me that my hair wouldn’t fall out any more than it had and gave me way too many steroid injections in my head. That was as pleasant as you are imagining it was. I knew he was wrong. I hadn’t needed to pluck my eyebrows in two weeks and I had previously been the owner of a needy unibrow. I went back to the first doctor and asked for the note. I knew exactly what was coming.

Over Christmas, after losing 60% of my hair in less than a month, I enrolled the help of my mom, sister, cousin, and best friend to help me shave my head. I was terrified and I needed their support because what if I looked int he mirror when we were all done and I hated the person I saw even more than I already did? I was so thankful for their willingness to help me and their support. First, they took turns with the clippers, getting the majority of the hair off. We collectively shaved my head in to a mullet and I took care of the party in the back myself. It was then time for the finishing touch. My sister liberally applied pretty pink and perfumed shaving cream to my head. She gently (perhaps the most gentle she’s ever been with me) glided the razor over my exposed scalp until there was nothing left. We  wiped my head clean and I looked in the mirror.

Thinking about that moment now, even over a decade later, it brings tears to my eyes. That was the moment I emerged from my cocoon, spread my wings, and felt truly beautiful for the first time in my entire life. I can’t explain it. It makes no sense, but there it was.

The feeling at the time was fleeting and there was a significant, ice cream and mac n cheese filled, adjustment period/identify crisis. The day I walked past my mirror after the last of my eyebrows fell out, I fell to the ground and cried because I didn’t recognize myself. I realized I didn’t know who I was. While that might not seem like a good thing, it ended up being the best thing I could have ever hoped for.

Everything up to that point in my life was the past and it was going to stay there. I was fresh, new, and happy. The interesting thing about being a bald woman is that suddenly, it is very easy to know who is there to fight for you and who is just there to be there. People were setting up funds to buy me wigs without asking me. People were going behind my back to ask my roommate if I was doing okay without ever having asked me. They didn’t know how to treat me and they forgot I was a person. I was just an out of place bald head they needed to deal with. It was then I realized I wasn’t all that upset about being bald.

I felt beautiful, I no longer needed to shave…yeah…no shaving….no hair anywhere. Wrap your mind around that for a minute. It is GLORIOUS! Why were other people so sad for me when I was not actually sad myself. Really…for the first time in my life I felt free to feel however I felt, to speak my mind and people actually listened.

This was turning point. This was the time that helped me become who I am, the person who lets it all hang out and isn’t ashamed. What is there in life to be ashamed of? Really, though…What?! At this time, since I was struggling to learn to apply makeup to my face without eyebrows or eyelashes, I decided to mostly just not wear it. I decided I was just going to be me.

With this rare hair loss, I had people begin to reach out to me, saying they wish their significant other could be as confident as I was  with their own hair loss struggles, and I had others reach out to me and confess they were wearing wigs. At the time, it blew my mind because my own choice seemed so obvious to me. Why would I cover up who I really was?

My decision was also partially based on the realities of the dating world when you are 22 years old. I never EVER wanted to experience going out with friends while all dolled up and have a wig on, meet a guy, have a blast, and then have to potentially deal with his disappointment when I tell him that most of what he sees isn’t real. I was certain I needed to not go through any of that. So I didn’t. I just  was who I was….a big-boobed bald female Marine learning about who had been hiding inside of her for all of these years. I left behind the timid, embarrassed little girl who had been hiding under all of that frizzy, fluffy hair and I blossomed in to a strong, empowered young woman ready to take the world on.

That remains who I am today. I am confident in my choices and in myself. I am honest with myself, with my children, and with the world around me. I love the me I get to be today because of everything else I’ve been through. I love the perspective I have been granted the privilege of having because of the things I have seen before. I love my life and the ironies that have come with it (My husband was a hair guy before he met and married me).

The most important thing to come out of all those years of struggling…happiness. There was a light at the end of the tunnel and it was such a bright light, it continues to shine on my life.

If you made it all the way to the bottom of this, you’re awesome! This was long! Know that you are amazing, that life is beautiful even in the dark valleys, and that as long as you are being the really authentic you, there is literally nothing you cannot conquer!

-Kelly

 

About arosephoto

I am a budding portrait photographer who spent the last 7 years as a photographer and journalist in the Marine Corps. I have always wanted to be a successful photographer outside of the Marine Corps, so I am giving it a go!

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