It is commonly known within the medical industry that alopecia or hair loss is caused when the immune system goes haywire and attacks the hair follicles. They look at the problem solely on a physical level and treat it with steroids for the purpose of suppressing the immune system temporarily.
Seen from an emotional level, hair is very much linked to personal identity. Alopecia is a sign that the base emotional center, relating to our identity within the primary family setting, is disturbed. Sufferers ‘lose their identity’, typically, when not able to voice their feelings, and therefore cannot fully express who they are. Issues that threaten our security within the family could trigger off the emotional distress that could lead to alopecia.
True Life Stories of The Emotional Aspects of Alopecia
When Ayesha’s (name changed to protect identity) husband walked out of their marriage, leaving her with a toddler and a five-month-old, she was devastated. The discovery that he had been having an affair throughout her second pregnancy was shocking and shattered the 24-year-old’s self-esteem. This was not helped when, a month later, her beautiful shoulder-length hair began to fall out.
‘It was a horrific time,’ says Ayesha. ‘My world fell apart. I thought I was happily married, we’d planned the baby together, but when he told me he no longer loved me, everything came crashing down around me.
Humiliated, Ayesha went to see her general physician, who took a blood test, which recorded worryingly high levels of androgen, a hormone that some people produce in excess in response to stress.
She was referred to a dermatologist (many hair problems are classified as skin disorders and the NHS tends to refer cases to dermatologists rather than trichologists), who came to the conclusion that Ayesha’s hair loss was caused by the stress of the break-up.
‘That time was so horrific that there are big chunks I’ve blocked from my memory,’ says Ayesha, now 40, who is a youth work manager and lives with her second husband and four children, aged from eight to 17.
Another woman, Maryam (name changed) went bald at 34 when her marriage broke up and though her hair did start regrowing five years later, by last year she was bald once more.
‘It’s not uncommon for women to suffer hair loss after the stress of a relationship breakdown,’ says Dr Bessam Farjo, medical director of the Institute of Trichologists.
He explains that when we are under stress, the brain produces neurotransmitters (brain messages) around the body that can trigger a variety of responses in the hormone and immune system, which have a knock-on effect on hair follicles.
The more traumatic your heartache, the more of these neurotransmitters you release – depending on your genetic make-up, they can interfere with the life cycle of your hair in several ways.
In Ayesha’s case, experts believe the heartbreak triggered the release of excessive quantities of androgen, causing a condition called androgenic alopecia (or female pattern baldness), which is characterised by thinning all over the head, but particularly at the top.
‘I couldn’t eat or sleep properly – all I could do was cry. My heart was well and truly broken. And to top it all, my hair was falling out in front of my eyes. It didn’t occur to me for one minute that the two might be connected.’
At first, she assumed she was experiencing the hair loss many women go through after pregnancy, but as the months went by, her hair continued to get thinner. Then, one morning, she glanced at her reflection and realized she could clearly see the top of her scalp.
The lowest point was when Ayesha visited a salon to ask if there was anything they could do. ‘The stylist tried to mask a look of disgust and called over her supervisor,’ she says. ‘She took one look at me and shrieked: “There’s no way I’m touching that!” ’
In other cases, these neurotransmitters can trigger an auto-immune condition called alopecia areata, where white cells, normally used to fight infection, attack hair follicles, leading to patches of hair loss across the scalp – and sometimes total baldness (alopecia totalis).
Zainab, who works as a transport controller for her local council, started to lose her hair 20 years ago – shortly after her brother Ahmad’s sudden death aged just 38.
She was in great health at the time, happily married and expecting her first child. But within a month of her brother’s death, she noticed small round bald patches on the back of her head. By the time her son, Mikail, was born, she had lost 30 per cent of her hair.
‘I was terrified there was something horribly wrong with me and spent the pregnancy worrying the baby might be at risk,’ says Zainab.
‘My general physician referred me to a specialist who diagnosed alopecia, but said it was likely to be a hormonal issue that would sort itself out once the baby was born.’ It was three years before another GP suggested heartache could have been the trigger.
Zainab learned that Ahmad, who lived in Thailand, had died of a heart attack when her father called her at work. It was such a shock,’ she says. ‘I was inconsolable. I was devastated I’d not had the chance to say goodbye or properly grieve.
“I couldn’t afford to fly to Thailand for the funeral. My parents dealt with their grief by clearing out his room and throwing all his stuff away. It felt as if they were erasing any memory of him.’
Over the next decade, Zainab’s hair would grow back in patches. Then, just as swiftly, it would fall out again – a legacy of her grief. Briefly, when she was pregnant for a second time with her daughter, Samia now 17, she had an almost full head of hair.
But in 2008, she lost what hair she had left – and her eyebrows and eyelashes. ‘I’ve had to go through all the
agonies of hair loss so many times,’ she says. ‘Last week, I had two eyelashes and I thought “Is this it? Is my hair coming back?”, but they’ve gone again.’
According to Dr Farjo, women who suffer from alopecia areata tend to be genetically predisposed, but it can take severe stress to trigger it, as 48-year-old Raheema found out.
While the form of alopecia Zainab suffers from is rare, affecting just 2 per cent of the population, the most common form of heartache-induced hair loss is called telogen effluvium – when much of the hair stops in its growing phase and falls out, causing thinning all over the head.
Looking at 45-year-old Raheema’s full head of thick, curly hair, it’s hard to believe she once suffered from this. But when her marriage ended five years ago, the stress of dealing with the split while still living under the same roof as her ex-husband took a toll on her hair.
‘The first thing I noticed was handfuls of hair on the pillow and in the shower,’ says Raheema, a full-time mother of four.
‘I thought perhaps my conditioner was too harsh and spent a fortune experimenting with different hair-care brands and pumping myself full of supplements.
‘But over the next few months, my hair continued to fall out, my curls dropped and I ended up with thin, wispy, straight strands. When I parted it, I could clearly see my scalp shining in the mirror.’
In the end, she cut her hair very short and used gels and mousse to make it appear thicker.
Raheema’s GP tested for early menopause, which can also disrupt hair growth, but the results came back clear.
‘The doctor agreed the problem could only have been caused by the stress of the break-up,’ she says. ‘There’s no doubt it was a traumatic time – the tension in the house was horrendous.’
That goes to show that dealing with hair loss only on a physical level with medical drugs, topical creams, shampoes and conditioners does not fully resolve the problem. One has to also deal with the emotional aspect of hair loss. Doing hijama on the head and doing emotional healing can help with this problem.
For more information or to schedule an HijamaHerbs appointment or emotional healing, call Amin Shah at 617-787-5151 or email – firstname.lastname@example.org.