Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Stress v. Body – Guess Who Wins?

on December 10, 2010

I deal with stress pretty well.  I have a fairly stressful job, yet most of the time, I don’t get to wound about about things.  Yeah, I’m currently in the middle of a double course of anti-biotics because I got another sinus infection, likely due to a new work situation, but heck, I get sinus infections even if I’m not stressed!

However, there was a time where I experienced more stress that I ever have in my life and my body reacted in several ways to that stress.  It was back in 1999 when my parents divorced. I opted to live at home through my junior year of college to save on money, so as my parents marriage was falling apart, I was witness to everything.  I took on a lot of responsibility in addition to 18 credits at school and I was having a hard time managing it all. In fact, the only class I failed in college was that semester and several other grades were much lower than usual. I was trying to be strong for my mom and my still-in-high-school sister, but it was at my own expense.

First of all, I started withdrawing from people. My mom actually made me go out to a New Years’ Eve party because she knew that I was just going to hole up in my house and be depressed.  It was the only semester that I was not involved in some theatre show.  Most of my friends barely saw me outside of classes and major events. This actually made my depression and stress worse since I didn’t have many people to vent to.

The next thing I noticed was rapid weight gain. Up to this point, I never really had to worry about my weight. I wasn’t super skinny, but I was healthy.  Within a year, I gained almost 30 pounds.  I went from a size 4/6 to a size 10.   I had to buy all new clothes on a very limited budget.  My self image was in the toilet, again stressing me out even more.

Alopecia areata.

Image via Wikipedia

The third thing was hair loss.  I experiences what is called Alopecia Areata, an auto-immune disorder that causes your immune system to start attacking your own hair follicles, causing it to fall out in clumps.  I first noticed a dime sized bald spot on the back of my head. I went to the dermatologist, who prescribed a cortisone gel that helped it grow back, but not before it grew larger than a quarter.  It did grow back in, but the first quarter inch or so was nearly white and super fine.  I had to trim it as soon as it was long enough so it didn’t show through my much darker hair. Alopecia is uncurable, and I have had reoccurrences over the past 11 years, the most recent was a small spot last spring. It’s growing back in now, but it’s still really devastating when I have to deal with it, and when I have to explain to my hairstylist what has happened.

After all these issues, my doctor tested me for thyroid problems.  An underactive thyroid can be caused by stress and can cause weight gain and/or hair loss.  After numerous blood tests, they decided that my thyroid “fell within the normal range.”  The stress eventually decreased, but I am still battling my weight, unable to get all of it off, and still dealing with occasional bald spots.

So maybe that’s why I don’t let the little things get to me. I have stressful days, but I’ve gotten really good at dealing with it. I call up a friend and chat, I go out with people, or I’ll go run it off on the treadmill.  It’s a heck of a lot better than weight gain and hair loss!


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