All my life I have found myself feeling betrayed by my body. Often this betrayal comes in the form of a serious bowel issue coming up at a seriously inopportune time. However, other times it rears its ugly head in poorly timed crying, aggressive gas in public places, or massive cystic pimples on my chin right before my cousin’s wedding.
All of these things can be traced back to my lifelong relationship with stress and anxiety. Last week I had another startling reminder that my body often knows more about my emotional state than my brain does. I found a sizable bald patch on my head. Like, my body is jettisoning hair from my head like I’m Apollo 11 releasing my Saturn V rockets.
I am not the best at coping with uncertainty and stress. And my body KNOWS it and often forces me to face the truth even if my brain is like “whatever I GOT this.”
I’m the emotional equivalent of those marathon runners you see who are running along, shouting I’m doing it, I’m almost there, I’m running a marathon!!! and then all of a sudden they lose all control of their limbs and start splaying about and collapsing to the ground. I imagine they feel pretty damn betrayed by their body at that point.
This is common in anyone who is pushing themselves to the limit. Overworked and overstressed people often reach a breaking point. The New York Times recently released a really beautiful (and heartbreaking) portrait of what the modern working family looks like and why it’s so challenging to find balance.
What bothers me about my “breaking moments” is I am experiencing nothing compared to most people. As in, I get stressed if my weekend plans book up too full. I get stressed if I’m given a work assignment I’m not 100% clear about. I get stressed if a crow looks at me the wrong way as I walk down the street.
When I taught at a community college in Northern Idaho I had students who were dealing with real, true, heart-rendered stress. Students who were caring for dying parents, students who were seventeen but expected to pay their family’s rent, students who were single parents and working two jobs while also going to school, students who were waking up at 3am to go to work before they came to school, etc etc.
And then here I am saying I’m stressed because my dirty laundry has piled up so far I probably have to do three loads today.
I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of not invalidating ones feelings. As in, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Don’t belittle them. Be gracious to yourself and patient. Move towards growth and strength, but embrace your sensitive emotions. And for the most part I 100% know this and believe it. But then there are moments where I get genuinely PISSED at myself for feeling stressed or anxious when, in comparison to the realities of this heartbreaking world we live in, my life is as rosy as a damn baby fawn prancing through a meadow. Fuck stress.
I’ve been pretty open about how challenging this past year has been. I open The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating book with a scene in a hospital where I had to get my heart checked out because of stress…and I talk about quitting my full-time job at a tech company, got engaged, and am trying to keep my shit together. Now, eight months later, I can see this year has felt a lot like I’ve been doggy-paddling all day, every day, trying to catch my breath as I face the reality of launching a freelance career and planning a wedding.
When I was in sixth grade my family moved across state. I started a new school and then six months later had to start another new school when I entered junior high. In previous posts I’ve talked about how this move helped my emetophobia spiral out of control. However, it also sparked another weird physical reaction. A case of alopecia areata.
A non-contagious autoimmune disease, alopecia areata causes the immune system to attack healthy hair follicles causing them to fall the fuck out. I had a bald spot the size of a quarter on the top of my head in seventh grade. It was almost as attractive as when I got to wear headgear to school in first grade.
I’ve read alopecia isn’t caused by stress, but I’ve only had my hair fully fall out two very specific times in my life. When I was in seventh grade and then today. As in, right now. You guys, my hair has come out in clumps.
My brain has been like “we’re good, we can make all of this chaos work” and my body has been like “NOPE.”
Last week, as Jared and I sat on the couch watching TV, I casually scratched my head. I felt something weird. Casually, I asked Jared, “hey , is there some hair missing right here?” We’ve been together for years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so shocked.
And here’s why this upsets me: I’m pissed at what the bald spot represents. I honestly couldn’t care less about the patch itself…I’m not that vain and it’s luckily in an easy-to-conceal area. BUT it reminds me that maybe I haven’t been coping with the stress of this year as well as I’d thought. It reminds me that I still, even after fifteen years, take a life-curveball about as gracefully as a giraffe trying to ice skate.
All of this has reminded me that maybe I’m going through more than even I’m consciously aware of. Maybe planning a wedding and trying to think about The Future is more daunting than I thought. Maybe leaving a job and trying to build a freelance career from the ground up is more challenging than I’ve known. While I’ve been taking time each day to feel grateful for where I am right now, it’s clearly been a bit overwhelming.
If nothing else, I’m looking at the bald spot on my head as a reminder that I’ve fought hard for my life this year. And just like Apollo 11, I’m going to reach my goals and take one more step forward — even if it clogs my shower drain.