I really don’t know how to begin: vulnerability has never been easy for me, especially since hiding my struggles is embedded in my brown-girl-skin. Often times, vulnerability is linked with shame and fear, two things I have run away from my whole life. However, I have come to realize that my lack of vulnerability had left me trapped in a dark place for far too long than if I had just been open about my suffering and struggles along the way. Nonetheless, through this process of healing, I have discovered that I am instructed to be only strong and courageous (Joshua 1:18)—a commandment I chose to obey; which means I must face my fears and unmask the lie of shame. That is exactly what shame and fear are: lies. Lies that keep you trapped in the comfort of hiding and pull you miles away from freedom.
I share my experience with one thing in mind: to break the cycle of hiding when life throws you unexpected curve balls and to encourage girls to embrace vulnerability…well, I guess that’s two things.
When Sickness Set In
The summer of 2016 was my year. Everything I wanted for my life was going according to my plan, I was the happiest had ever been and was living my best life.
My “picture-perfect” life soon came to a close in the beginning of September of that year, when I discovered a tiny bald spot in the front mid-section of my scalp. Brushing it off as nothing, I carried on. Until a week or so later I noticed chunks of my curly locks just falling off as I showered, and to my horror, the dime-sized bald spot was beginning to grow. Later in October, once I was finally forced to see a dermatologist, she told me I had Alopecia Areta –an autoimmune disorder that is often time linked with stress. She also informed me that there were no preventive measures, but only treatments for hair re-growth.
This meant I would just have to watch my hair fall, and the only thing I could do was pray, so I did. My life came crumbling down, and I had no place to pencil this into to my five-year-plan. Yet, it was still happening, and there was nothing I could do about it. Every time I showered or brushed my hair, I would collect fist-sized amounts of my hair. The effects of Alopecia had begun to take over my body in every form. My immune system was shutting down, my mental health was deteriorating, and my foodie self was now sipping on organic bone broths. All of this wasn’t enough for me to seek help, or tell my community what I was going through. I still chose to conceal and tape my ugliness of all forms.
When Shame Shackled Me
Yet again, shame and fear kept me from reacting. Everything in my life was going so great I wasn’t going to let some shedding become the end of that. Little did I know that my hair falling out was the beginning of the end, just as the locks fell all around me, so did my life. By the end of 2017, I had lost almost 80% of my hair and 100% of my identity. For years I was always identified as the Indian girl with super curly hair; that’s how people found me in a crowd and that’s how I chose to be identified. Lord only knows the amount of hours of research (by this I mean YouTube) and coins spent on creating the perfect hair regimen to achieve my frizz-free curly coils. Growing up in a culture that heavily focuses of outward beauty (putting it lightly), I was faced with the reality that the one thing that made me special and so deeply admired for was being stripped away.
I was lost physically, mentally, and spiritually and was stuck in a cycle. The more stressed I was, the more my hair fell; the more my hair fell, the more severe my anxiety attacks were. The worse my situation got, the less I believed that God could really heal me. I cannot begin to express the groanings of my desperation for God to just heal me, to take away my suffering that I was drowning in. Why was I even going through this? I did not understand it. Why was my God that I trusted in so much not listening to deep cries that would leave me gasping for air? I mean what about the numerous members of family & friends that were constantly praying over me? It left all of us confused and frustrated with God. Everyone who prayed for me would declare healing over me, and promised me that my hair fall would stop, but I woke up to the reality that my hair still fell. Maybe they didn’t pray hard enough or maybe my faith was too weak to receive healing. This was where I began to question everything about my faith and my God. Where was this supernatural healing I was waiting on? The one that was preached to me since Sunday School. Finally, I had given up all hope; maybe this is the life I was going to lead: sick, wounded, frustrated and bald.
When Vulnerability Was Absent
In this season, relationships dwindled as I failed to be transparent about what I was going through. Embarrassed, I pushed myself away from community –I didn’t want people to know I was bald and I was struggling with my faith in all areas. Honestly, out of all the things I was going through, this was probably the most painful. In my period of hurting, I hurt my most loved ones, lashing out all my internal pain on them. My lack of being vulnerable left and my brokenness with God left me to rely a few people to pick up my pieces. The less I could feel God, the more I looked to people to heal me. It was also in this season my sin and areas of struggles marred my whole life, and it pushed away people I loved so deeply. I could not and would not tell them or anyone else how much I was hurting. I was so scared that if I let myself feel a little my towers of pride and self-image would come tumbling down. Instead, my hurt came out in little but brutal, insensitive outbursts.
Everything that made me who I was shattered into pieces. Apart from my physical appearance, my behavior and personality had drastically changed. It was like someone else had taken over my body and I was watching it destroy everything around me. This was my breaking point, after a severe break-down I had finally realized I really had no control over anything in my life, and the more I fought it, the tighter the noose became. I had lost all hope. I accepted that I was going to be completely bald and that a once truly jovial person had to live with the dark cloud over her, forever. My close relationships around me were estranged. It was in the period of desperation I realized all I truly had was God. I had no choice but to trust that he knew what he was doing with my life, and it was at this point I decided, healing or no healing, this is God I wanted to trust my whole life with. I was brought to a point in my life where no amounts of masking tape, putty or super-glue was going to mend my brokenness; I was shattered glass and no amount of DIY self-help would fix me. It was pretty obvious to me at this point that only a God could heal me. I had to believe that he would in his own time. All that was required of me was to be still for He would fight my battles for me. (Exodus 14:14)
When Healing Arrived
Life went on, and I lost more people than I did my hair. I lost my dignity and all sense of pride. I was an empty vessel. It was at this point I decided to indulge myself in the word of God, sermons, and prayer. Something I had never tried, and slowly, I could feel myself heal. My brokenness and emptiness were now being filled by scripture and incredible amounts of peace. I was in the middle of the storm, but I wasn’t so afraid anymore. A book my dearest friend Morgan gave me, “Victory over darkness” by Neil T. Anderson, helped me to quickly realize, bald-headed or head full of hair didn’t matter anymore. As a daughter of the most High, I was beautiful! I discovered that my identity was more than my hair, more than my worst days, more than anything society or anyone labeled me as.
Well, I’m sure if you’re still reading this, you’re wondering if I am still bald. As of today, I have 100% of my hair, and it’s miraculously growing faster and stronger than it ever was. All I can say is that, when the Lord provides, he provides in abundance. My relationship with God has never been stronger as of this moment. I am in a place of complete uncertainty of my future, but never have I ever had such peace and joy in my nothingness. My hair fall and regrowth story is a bookmark in my life of journey has put me in a position of immense faith and trust that he is a God of promise ( Joshua 23:14). I may not be an expert on the subject of healing and honestly still struggle with understanding it. However, I know for me personally, I need to go through this journey to learn the lessons that I have. He brought me from a place to complete self-reliance to complete surrender.
What I Learned From It All
Looking back, there are so many valuable lessons I have learned, lessons that I had to learn the hard way. I wanted this to be more than my story, but rather a teachable moment. I want people like me who struggle with vulnerability to come out! Although I wouldn’t change anything that happened to me, I only wish I had known the lesson I have learned through this experience before it had all happened. The first being:
Vulnerability in Community: During my alopecia days, I completely shut myself out from the outside world. I was filled with fear and shame. I was fearful that people would notice my spots and would judge me. I was so comfortable sitting at home hiding, and that just made everything worse. My lack of vulnerability led to loneliness, which left me living in an allusion that I was fighting this battle on my own. I have learnt that vulnerability brings people together because it breaks down the walls and creates an atmosphere where people too can share their feelings. In this life, you need people to help you pick yourself up and take you out of an unhealthy environment when you aren’t physically or emotionally able to do so.
Healing through Suffering– Although I may not be an expert on healing and suffering, I know that miracles are for glorification. What I have realized is that most times more than the healing, the suffering or rather the process of healing had more lessons to teach me than the instantaneous miracle healing I was depending on. Through the process, this journey has brought my family and friends closer to God as they saw the transformation in and through me. In the end, the slow process of healing glorified God in a much bigger way.
I want to thank my parents who have given me the freedom to share my story and embrace vulnerability. I know it is not easy for South Asian parents to allow their daughter to share such intimate details of her life in a society that gives importance to giving their daughter away someday. Which requires that girls are to be perfect, blemish-free and have no history of a troublesome past. My parents have decided that the glorification of God and my story of redemption from suffering to help others going through similar situations precedes all of this. That is what I am wishing for the most, that choosing to be transparent could lead to a community that helps each other grow.
Let us together unmask the lie of shame that is linked to being vulnerable, and may our lives be transparent so as to be a continuous testimony for the world to see.
Guest post written by Cynthia Charles
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