The Stress Of My Divorce Is Literally Making Me Lose My Hair

Photo: courtesy of author
Monica Bielanko divorce hair loss

I had another panic attack in the shower today. I stood there sobbing as the warm water pounded my skull, staring in horror at the nightmarishly thick wad of hair clutched in my shaking hand.

I'm developing stress alopecia and losing my hair.

It's been happening for a while now. I'd estimate that in the past 2 months I've lost 65 percent of my hair, including eyelashes.

It started in early July. I'd brush my hair and within minutes, an amount of hair that usually would've taken several weeks to accumulate would be clinging to the brush. Instead of the smattering of hairs that would normally line the drain, I would spend most of my time in the shower dealing with small clumps of hair coming off my hands.

Initially, I ignored it. I've had long, thick hair for most of my life, so not only do I have hair to spare but dealing with long hairs strewn about the house or clogging the drain was a regular occurrence. 

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But this time, it didn't stop.

I'd randomly run my hands through my hair while at work and small clumps would come away tangled ominously in my fingers.

Not a couple strands here and there that you can release into the air by quickly flicking your hand, I'm talking enough hair that I'd have to stand up and find a garbage can. My hair stylist noticed the difference but couldn't explain the loss so I made a doctor appointment, even though I figured she'd just tell me what I already assumed was the cause after a cursory Internet search: stress.

Stress has been the one constant emotion in my life since January when my husband and I separated about 2 months before our son was born.

After his birth, the divorce talk got serious and we ended up in a horrible impasse over where we'd raise our kids. I wanted to move back to my home state of Utah where I could find solid employment and be near friends and family, he wanted to stay near his family in Pennsylvania and ride the freelance writing rollercoaster. Attorneys were consulted, battle positions taken, guns locked and loaded.

I spent a good chunk of my time almost completely incapacitated, screaming myself into near unconsciousness when he had the kids, yet barely stumbling through the days when they were with me.

In one especially awful episode, I became so horrified by the way my life was coming undone that I couldn't hide it from my kids and had to call my ex to come to get them. I simply could not function as a human being. Ultimately, we managed to talk out our issues, call off the attorneys and behave like calm, rational adults. But there were some black and bleak months during which I wasn't sleeping or eating, the most nightmarish and dark times in my life, without question.  

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That was May. In early July I noticed unusual hair loss. I chalked it up to just having a baby, stress, whatever. I managed to avoid really thinking about it for another month, convincing myself that I would stop shedding soon, no big deal. But the hair loss has continued, unabated.

What used to be thick hair that regularly broke elastics with its girth can now be pinched limply between my thumb and index finger. I constantly wear it in a messy top knot because I'm afraid of brushing it or washing it and enduring the horror that is watching your own hair come out in clumps in your hands. And my eyelashes suffer the same fate, too. Angry pink patches of bald eyelids scream at me every time I look in the mirror. 

After scheduling an appointment with my regular doctor, I turned to Dr. Google and found an article about a thing called Stress Alopecia and its causes: 

  • A sudden hormone change (usually a drop in hormone levels)
  • After the birth of a baby (delivery of the placenta causes the levels of pregnancy hormones to plummet)
  • Discontinuing birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy 
  • Acute trauma (surgery, physical injury, or psychological trauma)
  • Severe dieting (inadequate protein and iron intake)
  • Underactive or overactive thyroid
  • Diseases such as diabetes and lupus
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medications: These include retinoids, blood pressure medication, anti-depressants, certain birth control pills, and even NSAIDs (including Ibuprofen)
  • Burns or radiation therapy

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I was floored. Birth of baby, hormone change, psychological trauma, inadequate protein. Check, check, check. If I had to self-diagnosis myself, I'd guess what I'm dealing with here is, in fact, a nasty case of stress alopecia, but I'm still headed to the doctor next week to confirm.

I expect she'll check my blood for iron levels, maybe check my thyroid and then tell me to manage my stress, exercise, and take some vitamins. Great. Thanks. I'll stop being stressed right this instant, I'll get right on that.

Mostly I try not to think about it, because what can I do? Not much. My hair is already gone, so freaking out about it isn't going to help.

Still. I have these moments of sheer terror. Like this morning in the shower, when it just kept coming out in my hands and I wondered (like any self-respecting dude going bald) if I should just shave it off like a bada** punk rocker and start over. Because when will it stop? Who wants a couple of stringy hairs drizzling down their back like some female version of Donald Trump? Not this chick. No way. I'd rather be bald.

I'm trying to view this whole hair loss thing as a life lesson, a scary reminder of what's important in the grand scheme of things. Although it's terrifying to lose a chunk of my femininity, hair loss certainly isn't on the top 20 or even 50 most important things in my life. I'm navigating a divorce, solo parenting, working a new full-time job, freelance writing, oh, and moving into a new house. All at the same time. Hair loss? Please. I've got this.

(Except that's all bravado. I'm totally freaking out.) 

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Monica Bielanko writes about relationships, her personal experiences, and co-parenting with her ex. Her writing has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, and Mom. me.