My Long Hair Helped Me Feel Strong Against Lyme Disease—Here’s Why I Cut It

Photo: Getty Images/dimid_86
I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and babesiosis (a parasite-spread disease similar to malaria) in 2017 after years of weathering mysterious symptoms. The conditions compromised my mobility, cognition, digestion, and overall ability to function, and the many medications I took also took their toll on my physical strength and sense of personal freedom. But, one feature of mine helped me feel strong and normal and myself throughout the anguish of illness: my long hair.

Two years prior to diagnosis, when I was feeling unwell and had no idea why, I decided to stop cutting my hair. I felt weak and out of control, and subconsciously believed that if I could muster the patience to nurture long, healthy hair, I could somehow channel that strength to heal the rest of my body. But as my hair grew longer, stronger, and freer, my body grew thinner and weaker. Upon finally receiving an accurate diagnosis and embarking on a treatment plan, I expected to get better quickly. Unfortunately, as is the case with many chronic illnesses, the road to restored health is hardly a straight path. Treatment made me feel sicker. The Lyme and babesiosis traveled to different parts of my body, infecting various systems, and the dead microbes left inflammatory toxins in their wake. I felt like my body was imprisoning my life.

Through it all, my hair still gave me hope. It just kept growing and transformed into a symbol of youth and beauty—two qualities that I felt in no other aspect of my life. Even mores significantly, though, my hair acted as a marker of time, measuring the days I'd fought parasites inside my sick body. Each new centimeter of growth marked a couple months more that I had endured. When I felt strands brushing the base of my spine, lower than I'd remember noticing before, I thought, I've made this far—I can keep fighting. Caring for my hair gave me a sense of control: I pulled my weight to keep it healthy, and, unlike my body, it reacted as it should.

But, it also sent a complicated outward message, because how I appeared to others did not reflect how I felt internally. My hair flowed healthy and long, and my skin—acne-ridden and blemished for much of my life—cleared up thanks to antibiotics. Most dramatically, my ongoing nausea and intolerance of many foods resulted in noticeable weight loss. During the two most taxing years of being sick, I received more compliments about my appearance than I had during any other point in my life. Bus seats opened up for me, doors were held, and I took up space with an ease that I had never previously known.

The rift between my internal and external presentation was tough to understand, so I smiled at compliments, said thank you, and moved on—looking great, feeling terrible, and continuing to grow my hair longer.

But the compliments did nothing for my ailing insides. The rift between my internal and external presentation was often tough to understand personally let alone explain to others. I didn’t know how to tell people what was actually happening, so I simply smiled, said thank you, and moved on—looking great, feeling terrible, and continuing to grow my hair longer and longer. Growing out my hair taught me patience, gentleness, and acceptance. But it also projected an image to people around me that I really didn’t feel.

After about two years of vigorous treatment, I've finally started to feel better on the inside. As my energy has increased, my body has slowly softened and filled out, and my skin is back to its temperamental self. But now, my smile is genuine. My body no longer feels like a prison, and I feel control over more than just my hair.

To that end, my relationship with my hair changed. A few weeks ago, my hair began to feel heavy, weighed down by all the hardship it's witnessed. With every other aspect of my being stabilizing, I didn’t need my hair to be long and strong anymore. So I cut it—12 inches of it, and it was shockingly easy.

After all we’d been through together—four years, to be exact—I anticipated the chop would be emotionally taxing, but as soon my stylist snipped off the ends, I was flooded with relief. The hair carried so much pain for me, and I hope in its new life as a wig for someone else on a health-restoring journey, it can provide similar strength.

Here's why hair is such a crucial part of our identity. And, here's the two-step test to learn how strong your hair really is.

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