A SENSITIVE AND DEEPLY PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF ONE WOMAN’S STRUGGLE TO COME TO TERMS WITH HER ALOPECIA, AND GET ON WITH LIVING LIFE.
In the United States, men who are bald are usually assumed to have achieved that state through what has come to be known as male pattern baldness. Sometimes baldness, especially in women, is assumed to be a result of chemotherapy treatments related to cancer. But, as regular readers of hairlosschat.com are aware, there are other initiators of baldness, one of the most common being Alopecia areata. This is the baldness experienced by Christine Mager Wevik, author of the recently released It’s Only Hair: Hair Loss, Help and Humor (Inkwater Press, 2009).
As Wevik explains, this condition comes in several forms. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s white blood cells begin attacking hair follicles and preventing them from growing, is sometimes used to refer to any form of the condition and sometimes used to refer to a specific form, in which hair on the head tends to fall out in patches. Alopecia totalis, on the other hand, refers to a condition in which hair anywhere on the head falls out (including eyebrows and nose hairs), and alopecia universalis refers to a state in which hair all over the entire body falls out. It’s into this last category that Wevik fits.
In many instances alopecia (as it is referred to for short) is temporary, but in some it is a continuing or recurring condition. For Wevik it began as “typical” alopecia but over the years progressed to the universalis state and has continued as such for some time.
A self-described “51-year-old wife, work-at-home mom, and aspiring Christian” from Beresford, South Dakota, Wevik takes a proactive, affirmative approach to her hair loss. While she is careful not to minimize the deep well of emotions that can be, and for her very definitely were, associated with alopecia, she also firmly believes that one cannot allow these emotions to have a crippling effect on a person. She encourages those who suffer hair loss, for any reason, to allow themselves to grieve and mourn, to feel angry or hurt. But she also encourages them to find a way beyond those emotions, to accept the fact that they are experiencing hair loss and to determine the course of action that is going to let them feel comfortable — or as close to comfortable as possible — with their situation.
Wevik used a number of approaches, including therapy and a strong spiritual belief, to come to terms with her alopecia. She suffered from depression, which she is quick to point out was not caused solely, or even primarily, by losing her hair. Learning to deal with her depression, and with its various causes, allowed her to develop a long-range perspective on her hair loss and to cultivate an attitude that emphasizes all the elements that make up her total persona.
The author clearly has deeply personal religious beliefs and feels that these have been a big aid to her. She takes care to underscore that her specific spiritual approach may not fit in with the beliefs of all people, but the emphasis on the spiritual may provoke strong reactions among some readers. Many will undoubtedly identify with the idea that religious underpinnings can play a big part in helping a person through a difficult situation. Those who do not think along these lines, however, may feel a bit uncomfortable or skeptical during these sections of the book. (Some may also have reservations for those sections in which Wevik discusses therapy as an aid.)
Although this is a very personal book, Wevik includes short histories and comments from other people who experience hair loss. She is clearly a compassionate, concerned and considerate individual and wants to touch as many of the bases as possible: hair loss in men, women and children; alopecia; male (and female) pattern baldness; chemotherapy-induced baldness; and more. Her desire to be inclusive, even in a book that ultimately deals more with one woman’s journey through alopecia, is commendable.
Wevik is also full of helpful hints, such as describing the pros and cons of hats and scarves or offering suggestions as to how to respond to questions about one’s hair loss.
The author’s writing style is lighthearted and friendly, the writerly equivalent of sitting down in a neighbor’s kitchen and having a good heartfelt chat over a couple of cups of coffee. It’s engaging and makes for easy reading, and it’s just the thing for individuals who feel the need to talk to someone who understands exactly what they’re going through.
That said, Wevik admits that she is not a professional therapist, and this is evident in the book’s tendency to get slightly below the surface of issues but not plumb their depths. That’s not what Wevik is interested in, so this is hardly a fault, but readers looking for greater depth may be a bit disappointed.
All in all, It’s Only Hair is a fine, very readable personal account and is especially valuable for those who are still trying to come to terms with their hair loss.