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My Life with AA (and no, I don’t mean alcoholics anonymous…) – Part 3

I feel it’s appropriate to begin the second half of this saga with the second half of my battle with AA. Over the last two posts, I covered topics that happened when I was a teenager. Sure, I still struggle with those demons every now and then, but the AA battle I started fighting as an adult was actually much harder for me to handle.

When I started losing my hair as a teen, everyone would say, “oh, but at least you have such beautiful eyelashes and eyebrows!” At the time, I absolutely HATED that statement. Admittedly now, I probably hated it most because I knew it was true…I had a great hair piece that, when styled correctly, completely hid my bald&shiny head. And unlike some other alopecia patients, I still had THICK eyebrows and long, full eyelashes. Looking back, I never realized just how lucky I was…

Fast forward four years from April 2004 – I can still vividly remember the day I realized I was losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. Sitting in my bedroom at the sorority house, I held a good pinch full of eyebrow hairs in my hand. Cue the sloppy, ugly waterworks display. As I always did when I felt something spiraling out of control, I called my mom. From 200 miles away, she sat there and cried with me. She promised me we would do everything in our power to stop it from falling out, and at the time, it’s exactly what I needed to hear. That night, I needed hope. I went back on the crazy restrictive diet in an attempt to stop the hair loss – it didn’t work. Slowly, but surely, I watched all the hair disappear from my face. I filled in my eyebrows with a pencil until I no longer had enough hairs to act as my stencil. I bought 10+ different kinds of fake eyelashes from CVS to try and hide my naked eyelids. Quite frankly, it sucked. Most people don’t realize JUST how much of an impact eyebrows make on your appearance. They can make you look innately surprised, angry, happy, pleasant, sassy, crazy…changing their shape or losing them completely wipes away so much of how nature intended your face to appear to others. In this case, a clean slate isn’t exactly the best gift. And in a world with no eyelashes – do you have any idea how much makeup/dirt/dust/pollen your eyelashes keep OUT of your eyeballs?! Let me tell you…it’s sh*t ton. Every time your sad, it becomes a “tears pouring down your cheeks” kind of cry. Without eyelashes, there’s nothing there to catch the gentle tear here and there. These are things you learn when you suddenly become a naked mole rat.

I had never been a huge makeup person – most days I only wore concealer (to hide my constant dark circles) and mascara (to wake up my dark, tired eyes). That’s it. Suddenly I found myself Google-ing tutorials on “how to apply false eyelashes” and “how to draw your eyebrows from scratch.” At the time, there weren’t any good advice sites out there. Basically, I would have to learn the old-fashioned way – a hellllluva-lotttuva trial & error. And I quickly learned that my “trial & error process” would never end. It’s ongoing. I still try new products, learn new tricks, test new ways to apply my eyebrows. For reference, here’s a diagram of my facial hair evolution from high school up to today.

evolutionofhair

When I first lost my eyebrows, I started drawing them on with eyeliner pencil. It was the best I could do…I tried to use shadow a few times, but that never gave me the look of thick, full brows like I was used to. I wanted my large and in-charge brows back, so I thought a thick, dark-brown line was the way to go. I know now that I was a mess…it wasn’t a good look for me, it didn’t fit my bone structure AT ALL, and it looked ridiculously fake. But at the time, it worked for me. And that was good enough.

Now I use the following products to apply my eyebrows: Anastasia Brow Powder Duo (Medium Brown/Taupe-Based Brown) || Chanel Angled Brow Brush #12 || Chanel Le Crayon Yeux Precision Eye Definer (59 Coffee Bean)

My eyelashes change depending on my mood, where I’m going, how big of an impact I want to make, etc. Sometimes I’m feeling understated and I’ll wear shorter, thinner lashes. But other times I want va-va-VOOM lashes that make my eyes pop. Learning to apply strip lashes with glue took a LONG time. Especially for someone who’d never worn eyeliner on her top lid before…yes, I know. Crazy, right? I made it almost 20 years without applying eyeliner to my top lid. And then I learned.

My eyelash regiment consists of a combination of the following items: Kiss Ever EZ Lashes (#01) || Duo Striplash Adhesive (White/Clear) || Ardell Natural Eyelashes (#105) || Ardell Natural Eyelashes (#110) || Ardell Lash Grip Adhesive (White/Clear) || Chanel Le Crayon Yeux Precision Eye Definer (59 – Coffee Bean) || Chanel Le Crayon Kohl Intense Eye Pencil (61 Noir) || Bobby pins (to apply glue to the lash strip)

As this site progresses, I’ll write more tutorials on how I actually apply my eyelashes and eyebrows everyday. But for now, a brief intro will have to do!

Tomorrow will mark the end of the “My Life with AA” saga. And tomorrow’s post is the hardest one to share…How do I cope with it? How has living with alopecia changed me? Am I really as calm as I appear on the outside, or are my emotions stuck riding a never-ending roller-coaster? Who knows – we shall see…

 

My Life with AA (and no, I don’t mean alcoholics anonymous…) – Part 2

Yesterday set the scene – you now understand WHAT alopecia is, WHY I wear a wig, and hopefully you feel you know a bit more about WHO I am. Today will be a lot about the “HOW.” HOW I get my wigs and HOW this whole thing works.

#1 How: I bit the bullet and shaved my head

If you read yesterday’s post in its entirety, you know my world changed in April of 2004. For those who didn’t, all you need to know is I shaved off what little hair I had left and started rockin’ a wig. And the ONLY reason I felt comfortable enough to do this was thanks to man named Randy Clark. My mom found him through a mutual friend, we made an appointment, and I never looked back. (Okay, not 100% true – it took months of tears and emotional breakdowns before I trusted him, trusted ANYONE with this part of me). But I finally did let him in, and together we decided this disease wouldn’t define me. He promised he would do everything in his power to make me feel beautiful again. And holy moly, did he. The process looked a little something like this:

  1. We had several appointments working me up to what was bound to happen – total hair loss.
  2. When it came “that time,” Randy stayed late one night and personally paper-mache(d) a mold of my head. Once the mold hardened, he drew my natural hairline on the outside and prepared to ship it to his manufacturers.
  3. He then brought in rings and rings of beautiful hair colors and textures. Together, with my mother’s help, we picked out the color, the texture, the thickness, the highlight color, the length, the texture of the lace base and the amount of curl I wanted (which, by the way, was a good amount since my natural hair was BOARD straight. literally, nothing in the world could curl my real hair).
  4. Randy sent my head mold and my specifications to one of his manufacturers, and they set out making my first 3 pieces.
  5. When my first piece arrived, I was ready. I couldn’t hide my “baldies” anymore, and I knew I had to trust Randy if I ever wanted to feel “normal” and “pretty” again. So I did. And on that Good Friday morning, I started my journey wearing a wig. We shaved my head, taped the wig and attached it to my head.

I’ll never forget the look on my Dad’s face when I met him for mass later that night… It was completely normal; he didn’t notice anything different about me. And somehow that was everything I needed.

#2 How: Making it stick (pun intended)

The pieces I wear are made of 100% high-quality human hair. Hair is sewn onto a net-like lace base to give the illusion of hair growing out of your scalp. The strands are carefully sewn in the proper direction to ensure they lay flat against your head. This technique really does provide the most natural looking pieces I’ve seen. Having such natural-looking pieces is part of Randy’s business model – he wants you to forget about your hair loss while you’re wearing your piece.

A big thing for me as a teenager was ease of use, meaning how much would wearing this piece really affect my normal activities. With the use of strong adhesive tapes, I’m able to shower, swim, sleep, exercise, jazzercise, “whip my hair back and forth”, etc. in my piece. I wash my hair just like everyone else every (other) night, I blow it dry, curl it, straighten it, over-process it, torture it. But eventually the tape does break down (for me, after about 5-6 days). Then I’ll take my piece off, remove the adhesive, wash it, re-tape it, put it back on, and start over again. Is it annoying to do this every week? Yes, obviously. Wouldn’t you hate adding an extra hour or so to your shower routine? I think so. But I do it for love – my love of a silky mane.

Some wig-wearers use liquid glue or other intense bonding materials to attach their pieces and ensure long-wear. But not me, ohhhh no. Of course not. Life wouldn’t be fun if it were easy, right? Turns out that not only am I a control freak with a buttery-smooth scalp, but I also have the MOST sensitive skin. Meaning my skin hates, and I mean HATES, every single long-wear adhesive out there. First, we tried extra-strong tape. That made my scalp raw, so we switched to a different tape. That tape only lasted 2-3 days, and the maintenance alone was exhausting. After around 4-5 different trial tapes, we landed on the only kind my scalp can (moderately) tolerate. I still have raw spots on the perimeter of my scalp, but I push through it. I can only liken it to the awful, manipulative mantra of pro-ana websites, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Well to me, “Nothing hurts as bad as being teased feels.” You win some, you lose some.

*As we hit the halfway mark of the “My Life with AA” saga, I want to thank everyone for sticking with me as I lay it all out there. Thank you for reading, for engaging with me, for being patient as it all unfolds. I wish more people told their AA stories… so I promise that until more baldies find their voices, I’ll try to speak loud enough for everyone to hear.*

Cheers to that!

cheers

 

 

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