I’m Sorry We Made Fun of You, Gerabaldine

Posted by on March 14, 2011

When I was a little kid, my friend had this kind of ugly, knock-off Barbie that was almost completely bald save for a few follicles of millimeter-long brown hair. I don’t know why she was bald but we named her Gerabaldine. And we laughed and laughed. What a hoot, right?!

I had actually planned on blogging about something only marginally related to my hair situation and not at all about my hair itself. But… I figure I’ll see some of you sooner or later and I won’t be able to hide it so…we may as well just go there and get it over with.

My hair is falling out. A lot. Shedding. That’s what all the women’s hair loss web sites call it. Because nothing boosts your confidence like a dog reference.

Brushing it has become an exercise in futility. I try not to tug too hard or pull at any tangles because I know it will just make it fall out faster…but it just puts off the inevitable. The shedding never really stops—I pick hair off my arms and shoulders all day long.

Showers? Well, what ought to be a nice, relaxing experience is now it’s own kind of hell; something I’d avoid completely if being clean wasn’t a social necessity. I spend half my shower picking and shaking hair off my hands while I try to convince myself that it’s less than what fell out last time and trying NOT to cry.

I used to curse my thick, wavy  hair. It made certain hairstyles, like a sleek bob, impossible (we didn’t have flatirons and smoothing serums in the olden days) but even when I finally did begin to love my hair, I took it for granted. And now?  I’m losing it—a fact of which I remain acutely aware as I unconsciously reach back to touch the thinnest area at least twenty times a day.

How it started…

It all started about 8 months ago. Well, actually, I think it had already started but that’s when I started to notice that there was a lot of long, dark hair collecting on the floor behind the bathroom door. I didn’t think too much of it, though, because I’ve read many times that it’s normal to lose up to 100 hairs a day.

Sometime after that, I started noticing that there was a lot of my hair collecting around the shower drain. Again, I didn’t panic. It’s normal to lose hair every day and I have a lot of it, I rationalized.

I continued to use that same rationalization for a while until one day, when I grabbed all my hair to pull it into a ponytail and realized—OMFG—there wasn’t nearly as much there as there used to be. It was so…thin. I’d reached the tipping point where my hair loss had become noticeable. Now, to be fair, it probably doesn’t look that thin to anyone else because I had a lot to spare, but relatively speaking, I have about half as much hair as I used to and that? Is a lot of fricken hair gone. And still going.

These days, if my husband accidentally rolls over on my hair in bed, I freak OUT. If one of my kids pulls it while giving me a hug, I bristle and bite my tongue while mentally calculating how many hairs it just cost me. In the shower, I try not to look at my hands and when I blow dry it, I purposely try not to see all the hair littering the sink and floor until I can psych myself into dealing with it.

Despite everything, there is one small upside—I have tons of new little hairs growing all over my head, so what’s falling out is coming back.

The not-so-upside is that even the new hairs fall out sometimes. And? It will be a couple years before these new hairs even reach my ears. My biggest fear is that even all the new hair will eventually fall out and I will have to wear a wig.

A wig? Here? I can’t even imagine wearing a wig in Florida in the summer—and it won’t even be a nice wig because those are VERY expensive. So yeah…me sweating my brains out of my ear, while wearing a cheap rug. And I’ll probably get head zits or something.

Gah. It’s so pathetic it’s almost funny. *sigh*

What I know…

I know that late last year I found out through a routine metabolic panel (for my thyroid, which is doing fine) that I was anemic. This is not uncommon for me. I’ve been diagnosed with anemia several times in my life. I admit to never sticking with the iron supplements. This time, however, my doctor (as well as Dr. Google) confirmed that hair loss can be caused by anemia and that it’s one of the most common reasons for hair loss. So…I started taking iron 2x a day and my serum iron levels are up to normal levels now.

My hair, however, continues to fall out.

SO. I’m going to see a different doctor next week, one who might *crosses fingers* actually CARE that I’m probably going to be bald in a year. Or less.

Many tests will be conducted and perhaps, if I’m lucky, I will at least know what is causing this waking nightmare. And that description is not me being dramatic. For a person who loved their hair as much as I did and who is as vain as I am and who is a woman in a totally shallow and vacuous society…hair loss IS a nightmare.

What I really started this post to discuss…

About a year and a half ago, I went to the doctor because I kept having these insane physical symptoms for no apparent reason: heart palpitations that felt like my heart might just pop right out of my chest; a constant churning stomachache and an inability to feel calm and relaxed no matter how hard I tried. I also noticed the heart palps became much more common right before my period.

My doctor informed me that these are classic anxiety symptoms, though I had never had them before in my life. After doing an EKG to make sure my heart was okay, she suggested I try Xanax. I scoffed. Just try it and if it works, then we know your problem really IS anxiety, she said. So, I tried the Xanax, it made the weird symptoms go away and now I have a prescription, to be taken as needed.

But I’ve spent over a year, possibly longer, feeling like I was doomed to be dealing with mental health issues of one kind or another for the rest of my life; that I was somehow defective and horribly abnormal. I mean no offense to anyone who suffers from depression or anxiety, as I have dealt with both, too, but that’s how I felt about myself—defective.

Well, while I’m still pretty doomed in the hair department right now, I’ve noticed something very interesting… Since I’ve been on sufficient doses of daily iron, the heart palps have stopped and I haven’t noticed any feelings of anxiety since I’ve been on it.

Naturally, I consulted with Dr. Google and guess what? Low iron levels can cause anxiety and heart palpitations—not that my doctor ever put that together or even thought to check.

I’m NOT a doctor and I don’t play one on TV but knowing how deficient Americans are in so many key vitamins and minerals, I have to wonder is sub-ideal iron levels could be a contributing factor to what seems like an epidemic of anxiety (almost every female I know takes a prescription medication for it).

In short, if you suffer from heart palpitations or anxiety or notice it kicking in right around your period, when you lose iron, you might want to have it checked, or at the very least, supplement with a safe daily dose (I recommend Slow Fe because it doesn’t make you smell like metal).

Wish me luck this week at my doctor visit and let’s hope after I get more blood work done, that I actually know something more than I do today—because seriously, the worst part of hair loss, aside from the obvious, is not knowing if it will ever stop.

Well, that and the fear of head zits :)  <– feeble attempt at levity



15 Comments

  • DJINFL says:

    I agree with your discovery that low iron can cause heart palpitations – same thing happened to me and coincidentally the doctor found me anemic – told me to take iron and when iron levels came back to normal I felt fine again. Hope your hair recovers! Maybe you could rock a super short cut – like you planned it like that!

    • IzzyMom says:

      I’m glad to hear that bringing your iron up helped. And to be honest, it’s very comforting to know that I’m not just grasping at straws with the iron thing, that it really can cause palps. I’ve definitely considered getting some cute short haircut but I don’t want to do it unless I lose 10 lbs first because I don’t want my face to look all fat.

      Vanity, thy name is IzzyMom :)

  • Apryl's Antics says:

    You are actually one of those who can rock a short cut, but I know it’s distressing to think you would be forced into it. I’m sure you’ll find out what it is and try not to stress out too much about it, because it will just just contribute to the problem! Gah, the world is full of Catch 22′s.

    Also, I totally remember Gerabaldine. Heh.

  • Lena says:

    I feel your pain. I too have lost more than half my hair. Chris pulls things out of the drain every 2 weeks that look like cats.

    But, I have to say it has improved a lot over the last year. The only thing I can attribute it to – cuz it sure the hell aint less stress! hahahaha – is my diet. Less carbs and sugar (and more alcohol!) really seem to have made a difference. I’m sure it’s an inflammation thing at a cellular level. But, eating better has improved my skin big time and I think this also includes my scalp, improving my hair preservation.

    (I also noticed that it is MUCH worse in the Fall. I think my body thinks I’m a tree. Maybe I should move around more?)

    Lastly, you have THE MOST GORGEOUS FACE. So, there’s always that. :D

    • IzzyMom says:

      Noooo! Really? Well, I never noticed, if that helps at all. Last summer you looked as gorgeous as ever, as did your hair.

      And I envy you for being able to save it with a healthier diet. Bread and sugar are my weaknesses.

      But my God…to be able to clear up this middle-age freaking acne? It might be worth a try for that alone.

  • Jolene says:

    I am a fellow anemic with a thyroid problem. I have, twice, lost a good portion of the hair on my head. It nearly always signifies that I need my thyroid medicine adjusted. Unfortunately, once the hair is dead at the root, it is only a matter of time before it falls out… that is why adjusting medication doesn’t stop it from falling out. It just allows new growth to start, unhindered.

    It really is a hard thing to handle. I have ‘that’ hair… the kind that makes strangers stop me to tell me how pretty it is. So losing my hair was insanely hard for me. I ended up cutting it up to my earlobes… just so that the piles in the tub drain looked like less. The same amount fell out, but it was easier to handle because it was shorter and I could fool myself into thinking it wasn’t as bad.

    I did find that taking biotin and zinc helped it grow in nicely. There are people that swear by it… and others that insist it won’t work. I can’t tell you if my hair grew back faster or stronger because of the pills, but at least I felt like I was doing something to help it along.

    I hope your doctors have answers for you.

    • IzzyMom says:

      This is why I love the internet… No, not because misery loves company but because you can hear from other people going through similar things and they can give you real-life information, as opposed to the 8 frillion same articles being republished all over the internet.

      I’ve been trying to determine for some time now if once hair goes into a shedding cycle due to illness, hormones, thyroid, whatever…that there’s no reversing that, that you have to wait for new hair to grow in. And while it doesn’t make me happy to think all this long hair is headed south, at least that helps explain why it doesn’t stop shedding even when my iron levels have been improved.

      Thanks you so much for sharing your story :)

  • Libby says:

    It makes me crazy how many times you have to go to the doctor before you get answers that actually help.

    Stay strong. Think hairy thoughts.

    • IzzyMom says:

      That is the damn truth! It took over a year to get my thyroid condition diagnosed by a doctor, even when I already knew. Thank you for your support. It means a lot.

  • You are so brave for tackling this topic. I can only imagine how painful it was emotionally to bring it to the forefront. I have a feeling this is far more prevalent than any of us realize. Since it is more accepted in men than women (and THEY don’t like talking about it either), there seems to be no dialoge about female hair loss. I had a coworker who had alopecia and she was rocking the Ben Franklin hairstyle like a vandal. I had not heard about a shortage of iron causing that symptom.

    My only suggestion to you would be to go to a few other different types of doctors until something works. I know no one like to do this but I think I’d be tempted to try an endocrinologist. Where you get your hormones tested like Dr. Phil’s wife suggests. Another thing is having a strand of hair tested at a lab. I had another coworker do that and they could tell what she was lacking in her diet and vitamins, etc. I also wonder if a dermatologist wouldn’t have some insight into this. I’m just grasping at straws here but I’d really like to help you in some way.

    Hang in there and somewhere you’re going to find the answers that will solve your problem!

    • IzzyMom says:

      Thank you for taking the time to share all those ideas. I really appreciate it. And you’re right. Someone out there has the answer. I just need to find them. Thanks again, Chrisor XO

  • roo says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your hair– and I don’t think it’s a sign of vanity to be upset about it.

    People have already mentioned how it’s more acceptable for men to lose hair– and even they don’t like talking about it. Too true. My husband has hated the hairdresser’s with a passion for ten years now– bought a shaver so he doesn’t have to go anymore. And he’s convinced people treat him differently once they’ve seen the top back of his head (he’s tall enough that he can hide it in certain situations.) I’ve often thought that women wouldn’t tease men for being bald if they thought about how they’d feel if it happened to them.

    But this sort of tails into a question– can you use Rogaine for this? My understanding is that Rogaine is better at keeping hair you have than it is for regrowing hair– but if you’re already growing new hair, that’s not your worry. I’ve even seen commercials for women using Rogaine– but I don’t know if it’s only for certain kinds of hair loss…

    Anyway, that’s what I was thinking, reading this.

    And this may be cold comfort, but you are stunning. If push came to shove, you could even rock a Sinead O’Connor do, and look all bad-ass and doe-eyed.

    I hope your doctors can help. Good luck!

    • IzzyMom says:

      I think Rogaine works by suppressing androgen receptors in your scalp. If I’m correct, it’s for use in androgenic alopecia (or in men what’s commonly known as male pattern baldness, which also affects women). Judging by the diffuse pattern of hair loss, I don’t think I have that but hopefully I’ll know more after I get bloodwork done *crosses fingers* And bless you, sweet Roo, for your kind words and support. It means a lot XO

  • Bethany says:

    I hope you find out what the problem is. I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your hair keep falling out for no apparent reason. Will you let us know what happens?

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