What does it mean to be well? I believe it means something different for each of us at different times.
I lost my hair to alopecia a few years ago. I used to have long thick silky brown hair with a few greying streaks. I was devasted when it all fell out but there was little I could do.
I chose not to wear a wig. I hate having things on my head. For me it also felt false, a fake version of myself. And yet I hated being seen without hair.
Thinking back over the last four years, I see that I withdrew inward and stopped going out. Less people would see me if I didn’t go out. My alopecia reflected a disconnection—a splitting off and fragmentation.
Luckily some ease developed when I was teaching groups of therapists. But in big groups or in general public environments I felt anxious and overexposed. I felt different and separated from others.
I recall running a large event soon after I lost my hair. My then business partner questioned using a promotional photo of me without hair, suggesting it portrayed a picture of sickness which wouldn’t be good for our wellbeing conference brand image. I was enraged. But it also helped to confirm my inner belief that I should hide away. I wasn’t good enough or well enough with no hair.
I have noticed that people often stare at me when I am out—supermarkets, forest parks, meetings, garages. I tend not to go to restaurants, bars or big events. I feel too exposed if I do.
Over the last four years, I have really noticed what it feels like to look different. This has also been a great learning for me. I have had to dig very deep to connect with something unseen in myself. I have been learning, and still am, what it feels like to connect to the source of my being, something bigger than myself. Who is Jane and is it good enough to be okay just as she is?
About six months ago I was invited to present to a group of Northern Irish business executives. Just before I arrived at the meeting, an old picture of me flashed up on my FaceBook page. It had been taken 10 years ago, showing my long healthy abundant hair. In that moment I realised just how much my no-hair made me feel anxious and fearful. I still truly hated not having hair. It was still gnawing at the core of my being, telling me to hide away.
What does it mean to be well? On that occasion, for me, it meant feeling well-enough to stand up and present to a business forum with no hair. I felt vulnerable and nervous. But when I shared my story, the warmth reflected back to me from the room told me that it is okay to be vulnerable.
Sharing our stories with others can be an empowering act of connection. It can bring forth the stories and experiences of others, forming bonds and community. As Rabia of Basra (c717-801) offered, “I was born when all I once feared—I could love.”