I first noticed gray hairs growing in 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child. I was horrified at first and would try to pluck them out.
It seemed unacceptable for me to allow my hair to turn gray. Why? Because I know so few women who simply allowed it to happen. It seems like every woman out there is quietly dyeing her hair every month. Was there a secret meeting I missed where we all agreed that women should not be allowed to go gray?
What is so bad about gray hair? What is so bad about getting older?
It means I’m not as naive and reckless and selfish as I once was.
Getting older means I have survived everything this life has thrown at me.
This summer marks my 20 year anniversary of contracting Lyme disease. Which means I have been sick for more than half my life (I am 36.)
[Sidenote – what is the standard gift for a 20th anniversary? I should really get my spirochetes a gift…]
I decided I was not going to allow Lyme disease to stop me from living my life.
Despite missing a fair amount of school my senior year, I managed to go to college on time. I brought my Lyme disease meds with me and was probably the first student asleep every night because I was so exhausted.
Lyme disease did succeed in ending my stint at graduate school. I wanted to be a medicinal organic chemist, and discover/develop novel drug molecules. I went to graduate school in denial about the fact that I was still sick, and got worse and worse until I could not continue school.
I regrouped and moved myself out to Wisconsin for my first real job as a chemist. I met the love of my life, Jason, and married him in short order (10 years ago last September!) When I got pregnant right away, I knew being in denial about my disease was dangerous for the baby. I found doctors who agreed to prescribe antibiotics during each of my 3 pregnancies so my babies would not be born with Lyme disease.
I have spent the last 10 years in survival mode, scraping my exhausted self through each day. Trying to live my best life despite the constant pain and exhaustion. Taking care of my children and my clients before I take care of myself.
And I am so, so thankful for this full and exhausting and happy and messy life I get to live, because I know it could be taken away from me anytime.
I work hard to put on a brave face and pretend to feel fine, because after 20 years, not even my own mother still wants to hear about my illness.
And I don’t blame her. I am pretty tired of it myself.
I am proud to say that in 10 years of being a photographer, I have only had to cancel a photo shoot for health reasons ONCE.
[Sidenote – it was last fall, when I came down with a terrible case of mononucleosis on top of the Lyme disease. I emailed the client to cancel from the hospital.]
The Bottom Line
With all that I do to mask my symptoms and pretend to be “normal”, I think my gray streak is my body’s way of expressing what it has been through.
Years of antibiotic treatments (often two at a time) that made my liver start to fail.
Handfuls of daily supplements I swallowed that never worked.
Numerous expensive alternative treatments (including the claustrophobic terror that is hyperbaric oxygen therapy) that were ultimately unsuccessful.
And the epic, ongoing adventure of balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship while I feel like hot buttered garbage on the inside.
Am I ashamed of my gray streak? Not anymore.
Like Rogue from the X-Men movies, I have been marked by what I have survived. I refuse to be ashamed of that.
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