10 Steps to Accepting Achromotrichia
The Infamous Gray Hare
Change…it’s inevitable. Like death, taxes and even shit…it happens…and nobody is completely exempt. One day, you are a relatively happy individual and the next…well, everything has been rearranged without your prior consent.
Lucky for us, there are steps. If you don’t believe me…just do a quick web search on the simple phrase “ten steps" and you'll be inundated with information on everything from how to breastfeed to how to overcome an addiction to porn. Occasionally, your problem can be sorted out in as few as five, six or even seven steps…but the vast majority seems to agree that ten is a nice even number of steps toward general acceptance of any life-changing experience.
Pretty much anyone can dispense this advice. You don’t need a psychology degree…just a been there, done that attitude along with a propensity for believing that what worked for you might work for somebody else. With that in mind, I feel perfectly qualified to dispense advice on how to reconcile yourself to the inevitablility of achromotrichia.
Like most conditions, achromotrichia can strike suddenly. Although more prevalent in people over the age of forty, I was diagnosed with this insidious usurper at the rather tender age of sixteen…by my hairdresser.
Step One - Denial
“Oh my god!” Vicky exclaimed as she dried my naturally frizzy, dark hair, “Laurie…you have a gray hair!”
“I do NOT!”
Step Two – Emotional Numbness/Uncertainty
It’s hard to deny what is staring you right in the face (or mirror..in my case).
“Maybe it’s a blonde hair?” I suggested hopefully. After all, my siblings were all blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Perhaps I was just a late-bloomer.
“No,” said Vicky sadly, “I’m positive it is gray.”
Step Three – Fear/Apprehension/Panic
“Pluck it!” I yelled to Vicky above the jet engine scream of the blow dryer.
With the threat removed, I was able to live in complete and ignorant bliss until the next hair appointment. That one hair had obviously been a fluke.
(NOTE: In most step progressions, it is completely natural to revert to an earlier stage...such as denial).
Step Four – Frustration/Loss of Control
As time went on, I continued to pluck hairs…note the use of the plural form. One strand begat two which begat three…etc, etc, ad nauseum. This culminated in…
Step Five – Anger/Resentment
Anger? Resentment? I was sixteen years old, what do YOU think?
I had visions of attending the prom looking like my mother. All my life I had to endure living in the middle of my own familial Aryan Nation and now I would become its hag. Wonderful!
Step Six – Attempt to Resolve/Desire for a Quick Resolution
Then again...it was the eighties and the punk look was in. People thought the silvery skunk stripe centered over my right temple was rather cool looking and that I’d done it on purpose. I stopped plucking.
Step Seven – Disappointment/Depression
Unfortunately, along with leg-warmers and slap bracelets, my punk hair eventually became a fashion faux pas...
Miss Clairol Ad
Miss Clairol Ad
Step Eight – Re-evaluation
Something obviously had to be done. I could not survive my twenties or even thirties watching my natural hair color depart without a fight.
I consulted Miss Clairol and spent the next three decades living one colorful lie after another. Jet Black, Butterscotch Boom, Zip Zoom Macaroon, Mochalotive, Full Tilt Toffee, Cinnamon Red Hot (and yes...these are all actual names for hair colors)…nothing was too glamorous or taboo. I was free! For six weeks…at least…until the traitorous roots gave away our dirty little secret.
Occasionally I would splurge and have my hair colored professionally. It was a real treat. On one particular occasion, I was having highlights added to deflect attention from the slivery-white strands. To accomplish this, the hairdresser had snapped a rubber bathing cap on my head with strategic holes placed in it. Then, she commenced to pluck strands of hair through the cap with an instrument of torture that resembled a crochet hook. By the time she was done…and while she went to mix the chemicals…I had the opportunity to admire the effect.
I looked like the victim of a nuclear accident.
Thirty years…for THIRTY YEARS…I lived my life from bottle to bottle, cycling relentlessly every month or so through stages one through eight over and over again. And in those thirty years, those colorless strands never ceased their own quest for complete scalpular domination.
The Home Depot Prophecy Chicken
Step Nine – Recognition of the Situation
Just like a recovering alcoholic can tell you the exact moment he or she decided it was time to attempt sobriety, I can vividly recall the moment when I had my own epiphany. It was at a Home Depot.
I only saw her for about fifteen seconds…twenty at the most. My intention that day was to purchase a few plants for the house, but as I picked over the selection a flash of light distracted me and I looked up.
It was a casual hair flip…but the effect it had on me was galvanizing, for the thick, shiny mane that was confidently tossed back was a stunning shade of silvery-white. The owner of this magnificent collection of hair, marched past me regally, shoulders square in a natty blazer and form hugging faded blue jeans. Her youthful looking countenance preoccupied with important business, conveyed an air of complete competence.
I was awestruck…envy and admiration oozing out of every pore.
“I wish I had hair like THAT!” I muttered to myself.
And that’s when the moment happened…my recognition of the situation.
“But you do!” said the little voice inside me that I often ignore because it’s wielded by an annoying know-it-all. “You just have to stop coloring it!”
Back to Step Two….Fear.
Short of shaving yourself bald and starting from scratch, there is no easy way back to your natural hair color. Nowadays, it's rather fashion trendy to be seen with chemically produced silver hair...but at the time of my first attempts, no such crutch existed.
I endured the beginnings of a silver beanie, even going so far as to attain a nearly perfect three to four inches of growth that ended in an abrupt line of demarcation encircling my skull before continuing on in a completely different color. Inevitably I would weaken and run back to the comforting arms and rubber gloves of Miss Clairol.
It was really just plain luck that finally led me to a place where I could safely shed the lie I had been living for so long…and that place was Arizona.
Arizona, with its unforgiving sunshine, that bleached the chemically produced color from my hair within days of application, insisting that I’d be much happier as an ashe-blonde. Arizona, with its large population of retirees (especially in the winter months when the population swells with snowbirds), camouflaged my transformation. I was just one more semi-silver head of hair amongst thousands.
Step Ten – Acceptance
I cut ties with my old hairdresser…she had been an accessory to my habit, even going so far as to suggest that it was time to color before I was ready to do so. It would be like an alcoholic asking for help from his bartender.
“So what were you thinking of doing today?” Misty, my new hairdresser, asked by rote.
I looked into the reflection of her eyes in the mirror…this was a serious moment and needed to be treated as such.
“I want to grow my hair out to its natural color,” I stated firmly and then watched closely to gauge her reaction..
Misty pursed her mouth and thoughtfully combed through the roots of my hair. I admired her for realizing the amount of commitment this would take from both of us.
“Are you sure?” she finally replied.
I nodded…and because I knew how weak I can be, I added, “Don’t let me color it…no matter what I say…don’t let me do it.”
To Misty’s credit…when that moment came several months later…she didn’t budge. I pleaded, I wheedled, I begged…even telling her that surely temporary hair color wouldn’t set us back much…but she didn’t buy any of it.
Each month or so, she would issue a report from the back of my head. Things like “only seven inches left!” or “the silver really looks good with your coloring!” I doubt I would have stuck to my goal without her encouragement and hair-cutting talent.
Two Silver Backs
It took a year…
Today, a gentleman walked up to me and shyly asked if I minded very much if he asked me a question. I told him no…
“Is that your natural hair color?” he asked hesitantly.
I smiled at him and said that indeed it was.
“Pardon me for saying so, if it sounds offensive” the gentleman continued, “but I find a mature woman who is confident enough to keep her natural hair color to be incredibly sexy.”
I was flattered...but when he asked if he could touch it...well, that was rather creepy.
So there you have it…ten basic steps for acceptance of achromotricha, better known as gray, silver or white hair, from somebody who has been there, done that and has the locks to prove it. While it may be an inevitable change for most, it is definitely not as detrimental to your self-image as Miss Clairol would like you to think.