I've had a love-hate relationship with my hair my whole life. I am a redhead. Or a ginger. Or an auburn. Or even a strawberry blonde to some colour-blind people.
It wasn't until this past year, when faced with a significant hair loss that I tried to understand why my hair suddenly meant so much to me, yet at the same time, so little. I always thought I hated my hair because it was different, and growing up I just wanted to fit in. Everyone else in my family has blonde or black hair. They all look like they belong. I don't. My particular blend of red hair with blue eyes is the rarest combination in the world, only 3% of the population, so I kind of stick out.
My hair was thick, wild, curly and RED. My mother LOVED my hair. I spent many a Saturday night in bobby pin curlers in an attempt to tame the curls and make them conform into the perfect symmetrical ponytail ringlets on either side of my head for church the next morning. Back then, I really would have rather been bald...
Whether I like it or not, being a redhead has hugely contributed to my identity.
First, I was teased a lot over the colour. This teasing helped develop my exceptional self-deprecating sense of humour. If I could beat the other kids to the punchline and make fun of my self first, I stole their thunder and their power.
Second, growing up as the only redhead in the family was a chore. So many little old ladies would give my ponytail a little tug and ask, "Where did you get that lovely red hair from?" I despised these inquiries! I never knew what to answer but as I got a little older and a little cockier, I would reply, "I dyed it, it's from a box." That quickly shut the conversation down.
Third, I was never allowed to change my hair. My mother LOVED my hair so I wasn't allowed to dye it, get a perm or straighten it. I was so envious of my sister who could do anything to her hair, she had full decision-making over her style. I never felt like I owned my own hair, it was a show piece and I just happened to be the person underneath it.
Then the day came when men would walk up to me and self-identify as "redhead lovers." Suddenly that red hair was working in my favour! Did you know there is a technical term for those with a redhead fetish? Rutiluphilia. Who knew?
About a year ago, I noticed more and more hair in the vacuum cleaner and in the bathtub drain. I saw my doctor, who gently tugged a few strands. When none came out, she told me it was all in my head and dismissed my concerns about my thyroid or other causes. But I knew it was happening. I estimate about 1/3 of my hair has fallen out over the past 6 months.
It turns out that my gut issues (see previous 2 blogs) were causing my hair to fall out. Luckily for me, it stopped falling out around the 6-week mark after giving up all the food that was killing me. I was surprised by the relief that I felt.
This experience made me think about my love-hate relationship with my hair and how it has played a part in my identity creation. Being a redhead comes with a pre-set stereotype. No, we are not witches or vampires and we aren't all left-handed. We are redheads, and for no other reason, we are noticed, watched and judged. Our hair colour implies our personality - hot temper, passionate, strong-willed. We're either bat-shit crazy or sexy as hell. Men are either wildly attracted to our rarity or don't give us another glance. No one sits on the fence about redheads.
It's interesting how much of our identity we wear on the top of our heads. Hair, no matter what colour, is one way for people to demonstrate their identity, their desire to either fit in or differentiate themselves. As an adult, I've permed, straightened and cut my hair. I've even dyed it the same colour red occasionally to hide the gray, and once, upon losing a bet to my daughter, dyed it black (which did NOT come out in 30 days as the box promised!)
Which brings me back to the opening question, does your hair define you? Does it contribute to your identity? Are all blondes dumb and all redheads hot-tempered? Do you take straight-haired people more seriously than curly-haired people? Finally, if you change your hair, does it change you?
Somehow as a child, I always thought the colour of my hair was so important. From my mother's love to the attention from redhead-loving men, I sometimes felt that their love depended on the colour of my hair. Changing the colour would mean changing the love.
All these years, I thought I was defined by my wild red curly hair. Turns out, it did play a part in who I became, but it is not my identity. I've changed my hair many times over and nothing happened. Nothing at all. I am still who I am. Old assumptions die hard.
Part Two - The Healing Begins
It's been about 10 weeks now since I've had to come to terms with what was making me sick. Let me be honest and tell you, it hasn't been easy!
Prior to changing my diet, in addition to all the symptoms I mentioned in the previous blog, I had chronic diarrhea, upset stomach, acid reflux, cramps, bloating, gas and everything I ate made me feel sick and nauseated. By the time I received the results, I had already resigned to the fact that my suspicions about celiac disease would be confirmed by the food sensitivity blood test.
What the results indicate is that my gut and small intestines have been badly damaged by the wheat and dairy I've been eating. Add to that a bad diet high in sugar and carbs, pile on the stress and you have the perfect breeding ground for the bad gut bacteria, candida albicans.
Candida albicans can wreak havoc if not kept in check and can cause or mimic all sorts of autoimmune diseases. They are fascinating little creatures and really deserve their own blog post (coming soon).
To start the healing process (which I was warned would likely take 6-18 months) I immediately started a multi-faceted holistic approach to restore my digestive system.
For the past 10 weeks, I have had a very restricted diet. No wheat, no dairy, no sugar, no processed food, no fruit, no juice, no red meat, no nuts, no citrus, no shellfish, no alcohol. I have been living off chicken, tuna, pork, eggs and about 10 different vegetables. Everything cooked, nothing raw and nothing boiled. And since most of the cooking oils; olive, coconut, almond, avocado and butter are on the list, I've been cooking everything with peanut oil and ghee.
One exception. I did manage to salvage my one sacred life-sustaining cup of coffee in the morning with a wee 1/2 tsp of sugar. I broke the rules, but I held my ground. I need that precious single cup of coffee every day. It has literally become the only comfort food I'm allowed.
I didn't see my best friend for about 10 days after I started the new diet and probiotics/enzyme regime. When she saw me, she couldn't believe her eyes! I had lost most of the inflammation in my upper body, my eyes were clear and she told me I didn't look like I was dying anymore. (We're best friends, she's allowed to say stuff like that...)
I felt amazing! Within ten days my brain had cleared and I could think again.
Within a month, about 10-15 of the 61 symptoms on my list were either starting to subside or were already gone. I started to have more energy, my digestive system settled down, the runs had stopped running, and I wasn't nauseated every day.
At the 8 week mark, I went through the list item by item and I was shocked to count that out of 61 symptoms I had been suffering from for months or even years, 30 of them were significantly improved or gone away completely. Things such as the severe pain in my joints, chronic headaches, and a persistent smoker's cough (although I'm a non-smoker) all went away. Open sores and wounds suddenly healed.
My emotions stabilized. I stopped crying every day. The depression lifted. Like, completely lifted, gone. I don't need anti-depressants and I've lowered my dosage of ADHD medication.
My perimenopause symptoms all disappeared including the mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats. Right before the diet change, I had 3 periods in 5 weeks, and now they have returned to their normal schedule like clockwork every 28 days.
I've also lost 26 lbs, which is ironic because this was never about weight. As soon as you say "diet" people immediately ask about weight. They ask me how much I am trying to lose or have already lost. I think it's definitely an added bonus, but this has never been about the weight.
This has been and continues to be a very interesting experience for me. I do a lot of work around identity, both in corporate training and in my writing. This experience has shed new light on how I view my own identity. Huge changes in lifestyle, health, relationships and work shake us to the core of our own identities. When all the excess conditions, titles, and habits are shaken off, you find out who you really are and what really matters.
That's what this blog is really all about. Identity. Who we are, who I am, and how we figure it all out.
Part One - The Symptoms
First, for those of you that know me, you may have been wondering why I suddenly fell off the side of the planet. No more networking lunches or events, no more workshops, no more speaking engagements. Why? It's because I've been sick. Really sick. I want to explain this so you know where I'm coming from in some upcoming blog posts.
I've been sick for a lot of years. Like 18 years to be exact. But over the past six months, it quickly escalated in both the severity and sheer number of symptoms. The pain had became unbearable.
To make a long story short, my first symptom started 18 years ago and I was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Doctors blamed it on stress. I'm quite certain I did not have constant debilitating stress for 18 years straight, but I was reassured by my various doctors that nothing could be done. I was even told that I could safely take up to 6 Immodiums a day to control it - SIX!!! That was crazy!
More and more symptoms appeared over the years, and they all progressively got worse.
All together I made a list of 61 separate symptoms that I saw my doctor for in the 9 months prior to seeking alternative health care.
The ones that I was sent for a standard blood test were: perimenopause (irregular periods, severe PMS, irritable, mood swings, wicked hot flashes, night sweats), thyroid disease (chronic fatigue, hair loss, lethargy, weight gain, and depression), as well as kidney and liver disease. All blood tests were negative.
The most frustrating part was that my doctor just wanted to write me a prescription to alleviate the individual symptoms, creams, nasal sprays, anti-inflammatories, etc. I was labelled a hypochondriac. I made the connection that some of my problems may be diet related and self-diagnosed as lactose intolerant back in 2015.
But it was more than that and I knew it. After many requests, she grudgingly sent me to a dietician, who despite my repeated reminders that dairy was the enemy, she sent me home with some recipes and 5 bottles of dairy-based Boost.
Often the only way I could go up the stairs was to sit on the step and go up backwards on my bum. I simply could not lift my legs high enough to climb a step. My balance was also off, I often fell or bumped into things, frequently injuring myself and those injuries weren't healing anymore. I felt like an 80 year old woman, but I was only 48.
Over the past 6 months, insomnia, chronic pain and chronic fatigue set in. I would usually go to an event or put on a workshop and go home to bed for the rest of the day.
I was wrought with severe depression, overly emotional and very mentally unstable. I cried uncontrollably every day for 2 weeks straight after the Humboldt crash. My kids reassured me that it was a very sad event but reminded me that I didn't know any of the people involved and I was overreacting. I just couldn't stop sobbing. Concentration also became a problem so I increased my ADHD medication to no avail. I finally resorted to the fact that I would soon need to ask my doctor for anti-depressants.
I was in a downward spiral with no end in sight.
I wanted answers. I knew I was really sick and I was afraid, but according to my doctor, there was nothing wrong with me. I finally sought help outside of the traditional medical system. I had blood work done for food sensitivities and sure enough, I had epic results. In fact, my results were so bad, they were the worst my healthcare practitioner had ever seen.
Disclaimer: Now keep in mind that I am not a doctor, a scientist, or healthcare practitioner of any sort, although I did take a first year university biology course in the summer of 2015, so for one summer I fancied myself "practically a doctor." The results I mention in this blog are my interpretation of what I heard and what I've read, they may not be 100% accurate, but they are how I understand them. Remember this is my story, not a scientifically accurate medical report.
These results delivered a devastating blow. Yes, I know it's not cancer, but it had come to the point that without a drastic intervention it would be just as deadly. Luckily for me, a significant amount of recovery is possible with immediate action. That means overhauling my entire lifestyle and eating habits.
It was one of the easier decisions I've ever had to make, but probably the most difficult to implement. That's part of the reason for the blog; for people going through any kind of upheaval, crossroads, or lifestyle change, I get it. I hope this resonates with you and inspires you to keep at it. I really want to share with you what I've learned. Tune in to the next blog entry for Part Two - The Start of the Recovery to see what changes I'm making, the frustrations those changes cause and the amazing results I've already experienced. You won't believe it!
Recently, I've been asked several times, "What's your story?"
I smirk and say "Which one? I've lived a thousand lives already."
You see, I'm usually the one asking the questions, helping people tell their stories. I am infinitely interested in people's personal stories. I am a psychology junkie at heart! I am utterly fascinated by human behaviour guided by psychology and sociology; the events that happened in our lives that taught us who we are.
My own story doesn't come out a lot. Well, you know, bits and pieces come out, random highlights revealed in rapport-building moments. I'm very good at giving just the right amount of information to make people feel like I've revealed something private without me ever scratching the surface. I'm actually quite a private person... except when I'm on stage. When I'm on stage, I become a teacher. I use my own experiences with the intent to help others. There is no greater teacher than a well-told story.
I am a die-hard people watcher. Because I have ADHD, I usually look like I'm not paying attention, but in truth, I absorb far more than the conversation at hand. I read people well and my first impressions usually prove accurate. I notice body language, hesitations, lip twitches, posture, speech patterns, eye movement and subtle nuances that tell me far more than your words ever could. I love the above quote "Don't underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak & notice more than you realize." Which got me to thinking, how would I view myself?
My life is messy. It's chaotic. It's uncertain. And sadly, it's currently in disrepair. I'm definitely at a crossroads in many areas of my life, but few people know this because I have an entertaining sense of humour and use it well to distract people. This isn't the first merry-go-round for me, I've spent a lifetime making messes. Every time life gets messy, I seem to get myself back on track, or more accurately, on a new track.
So, for once, I thought I would share. This blog will be random. It will be full of life lessons and crazy topics. It will be about relationships, parenting, what I ate that day, top ten lists, people watching, education, #metoo, work, divorce, health, grief, what I watched on Netflix, the book I read, ADHD, my quirks, my sense of humour or who I talked to yesterday. I'm also ready to talk about my addiction, recent health diagnosis, and how I have lost everything.... twice. Basically, I plan to share my life lessons, in the hope that they can help someone else navigate their way through the messes and crossroads and come out on top.
Some days it will be about my struggles or my funny observations (like going to an 80's concert) and other days it will be about the events that taught me who I am. Some are my experiences, others are taken from people I know. Some will be funny, some thought-provoking. Hopefully most of them will be both. Each story represents one small part of the thousand lives I've lived. Stay tuned...it's about to get far more exciting than this!
Copyright © 2017