i don’t look like i did before this happened

I’ve been with my hairdresser, Karen, for at least twenty-five years. There’s no solid anniversary to celebrate, but our monthly appointments are some of the most memorable evenings of recent memories. So much laughter and speculation crammed into sixty minutes, I didn’t think it was possible.

Basically, she’s been responsible for my hair-happiness. It’s been long, it’s been short, it’s been permed, it’s been highlighted, and colored. There have been bangs and the do-not-ever-try-to-cut-your-own-bangs and then agonizingly growing out of bangs.

Oh, and the colors … let’s talk about color. She tried the burgundy rinses, but they didn’t take. My hair didn’t retain the color, but my face did which was discovered shortly after my first shower post-burgundy.

I started going gray, in my opinion, way too early. Every four weeks for about twenty years I had my hair colored a variety of shades that were my “natural” color. Together we’d assess the gray outgrowth and then she’d retreat to a backroom, disappear behind a curtain, and create the magic potion that would grant another four weeks of hiding my age along with my grays. She lightened the shade in the summer, darkened it slightly in the winter as the true professionals do while I nodded with approval.

It was a simple relationship based on mutual trust. She kept my secrets, as hairdressers do. I kept hers, as friends do.

Almost three years ago, I fell ill. It was a mystery and I continued to get worse with no apparent cause. We needed to take my hair shorter because I couldn’t care for myself as easily as I had been previously.

The first cut took three inches off, a few months later a few more inches came off. I still had too much hair. It was all too much. Everything in my life became too much.

She watched me deteriorate. She listened to what I shared from doctor visits, she heard about my tests and then the results, and she helped me brainstorm the next step. And the step after that.

I had gotten so tired, even getting from the car door to the salon chair was a challenge. Together we decided it was time to stop coloring. And even to this day, I have tears while I type that sentence. This mystery illness took so much away from me and now it was dictating my hair.

After going a few months without coloring but keeping up with the monthly trimming, we had significant gray outgrowth and I finally gave permission. I left the salon with a cut that was reminiscent of the summer-style pixie that was perfected by my grandmother in her backyard during the mid-sixties. The only thing missing was the plastic barrettes.

By this time, I was truly convinced I was dying. I feared I had seen my last Christmas. When my adult children visited, they sat on the edge of my bed. May of 2019, I begged a nurse practitioner to please help me. I remember sobbing uncontrollably as I explained how my life was slowly leaving me. After appealing to so many for help, this was the day I finally felt heard.

This nurse practitioner ran tests that hadn’t been run previously and discovered a clue to what may be the cause of my illness. After two and a half years, I was finally optimistic.

A simple blood test showed a medication I had been on was causing me to deteriorate. I fell ill shortly after the medication was started, I complained to every medical professional that would listen, tests had been run and no one found the link. I was continuously reassured exercise and a diet change and maybe some counseling would help me.

They were wrong. All of them, wrong. Terribly and horrifically wrong. Life-altering wrong.

At this time, I am not ready to publicly type about how I believe I was failed. I can’t talk about my recovery without crying.

I am ready to tell you that today, with a handicapped placard and a mobility scooter I can go anywhere and do anything. Some days as an act of independence and defiance I will take the parking space next to the handicapped spot because on that given day I can.

I am ready to tell you that aggressive and grueling physical therapy is giving me a portion of my life back. I was told I could possibly regain as much as eighty percent of what I had lost but that’s all on me. My time. My work. What I put into it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made but I’m greedy. I want it all back. I look forward to independence and I finally believe it will happen.

And I am ready to tell you that today I can talk without exhaustion. I can cut my own food again. I can sit at a table and complete a meal. I can wash dishes. I can do light housework. I can care for myself, my family, and my pets.

I want the rest of my life back. Typing those words generate tears but they aren’t tears of sadness. Today’s tears are the tears of a woman who will never again take tomorrow for granted. A woman who finally believes there will be a day after tomorrow and a day after that tomorrow and then another day. And again. And again. And again.

I am sixty-two years, six months, one week, and one day old. Reclaiming what is rightfully mine is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I will do it.

But first, there is acceptance. I’ve adopted the attitude of a survivor. I made it through the worst and I’m on the other side. Nothing will ever take me back there again and I finally believe it to be true. Every day I’m attempting new tasks, new goals, new muscle strengthening techniques.

Professionals must now earn my trust and after a series of physical therapists, I am finally pleased with my choice. My progress is not only a testament to his knowledge and care plan but a showcase of my tenacity. I’m not always successful but when we revisit the skill and I achieve what seemed previously impossible it is a win for everyone.

And then there is the task of finding gratitude. I don’t look like I did before this happened. And I don’t move like I did before this happened.

But I face each day with fresh enthusiasm and that includes my hair. Somehow, someway that gorgeous gentle wave I’ve had for years has turned into a mop of silvered curls. I’m working with an ever-shifting part, transient cowlicks, and rogue spirals. And like many things, it has become the new normal.

And when your hairdresser extraordinaire suggests that it is time to add a blue rinse to tone the brassiness you buy that blue rinse and you use it with the confidence of a woman that has learned, above all, trust your hairdresser.

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