Since leaving The Cleveland Clinic, not only have I thought about how to improve the delivery of functional medicine but I’ve worked on accepting my changing hair. Going gray is not an easy decision for anyone but it is especially hard for women. Societal constructs tell women that we must have the perfect hair, body, skin, demeanor and at all cost cover the signs of aging. We are bombarded with images of better hair color, Botox, fillers, plastic surgery, clothing to “support” your changing body, etc. The message is very clear…DO NOT GET OLD!
Hide who you really are.
What kind of message is that?
For me, deciding to go gray did not start out with society but my personal struggle with thinning hair as menopause approached. Trips to the dermatologist explained that this is common with menopause but worse for some and if there is a familial component (like there is on my maternal side) which only adds insult. UGH. I don’t have male pattern balding but temporal area (the sides of the scalp) which is even harder to improve! (double ugh). After trying literally all of their remedies and many that are sold on the internet, along with functional medicine, the hair thinning has stabilized but I had to accept that this thin hair will be a part of my life. (sob, sob). I counsel my patients that after a certain age, hair maintenance rather than hair growth is more important. The dermatologist confirmed that the hair may grow but albeit very slowly, will mostly come in white (ugh) and will not be enough to rejoice (double ugh). And I have not tried the more invasive treatments due to cost and pain (I am allergic to pain).
The dermatologist assured me that coloring my hair was not an issue. However, my scalp burned so much with each session (adding sugar to the color helped but was not sufficient) so I decided to stop. If a patient presented with a non-healing skin lesion, I would advise stopping anything that was irritating the area. So I listened to myself and stopped coloring my hair. I told my family, read the silver vixens blogs, stared at endless gray transition photographs and started the process. OMG, it takes 18-24months to complete! My youngest son tells me I look older than Dad (This is terrible. My husband is bald!) but my older son was like you guys look the same age (but would not specify the age, UGH). My husband is supportive but the greatest support came from my sister and my mother.
As I embrace my grays, I think about what this means to women, especially younger women. I realize that we must message what is inevitable (aging) better. I am a great physician because I have lived longer and experienced more. I am positive that whatever I said in my 30’s lacked the depth of wisdom that I have now. I may have had the knowledge but I lacked life experience and now, I have both. I am embracing this “matriarchal” role, which is a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. In anthropology, the grandmother hypothesis explains that older women (post menopausal) provide a survival benefit to their grandchildren by providing help to mothers so that they have more children as well as leadership to help guide younger generations on survival.
The message that the matriarch sends is of authenticity and love. Embracing my grays and practicing medicine my way is just that.