Hairy Situations (instead of tips on acing a colonoscopy – you’re welcome)

Here’s something fun: I went to the doctor in March right before the pandemic situation went crazy and she told me she’s pretty sure any GI diagnosis I got in the past has been incorrect or – at the very least – was not treated properly. She said this because no one in my medical records agrees on what’s wrong with me (Crohn’s disease like my dad? IBS? UC? Celiac? Lactose-intolerant? Just plain cooky?) and regardless of what each prior APRN or MD has said, none of them offered the appropriate treatment for whatever it was they thought was wrong with me.

How exciting.

Because of that, I have gotten to do lots of fun lab tests in the past few weeks, have a colonoscopy, and they tell me this week I get to do more fun lab tests.

I was going to write this blog post about my colonoscopy and prep but decided against it. There is enough poo going around in the world right now. (You’re welcome for my restraint.)

What I will tell you about the prep is that it isn’t as bad as it used to be, but I still give it zero stars and do not recommend it. The prep – if you’re lucky enough to get a newer kind prescribed – tastes like childhood illness on a beach vacation. More specifically, it tastes like you just vomited up seawater then your mom made you chase it back down with Dimetapp and 64 ounces of water within the same hour. I can also confidently say that if you have never had the pleasure of experiencing colonoscopy prep and you find yourself in a similar situation, I have two expert pieces of advice: (1) keep your charger cords in the bathroom with you with whatever devices you need to keep yourself occupied for several hours – I chose my iPad and phone so I could scroll through Pinterest or watch funny movies or shows, and (2) for the love of goodness when you go in for the procedure wear warm cabin socks and keep those suckers on your feet – hospitals are cold. (And yes, I followed my own advice – it wasn’t my first rodeo.)

Since I’m not going to go into further detail on that front, let’s talk about genetics at 37 years old and how I’m working on embracing me, shall we? Yes, I believe we shall, because it’s my blog.

My dad’s side of the family is Cherokee and Welsh-American (confirmed on the Cherokee since my great-grandmother was Cherokee, or at least half, and the Welsh is as far back as we’ve been able to trace, which wasn’t really that far if we’re honest – maybe one or two more generations back). My mom’s side of the family is German-American (also easily confirmed). When I was little, my dad had brown-black hair, the kind of complexion that turns into a clover-honey tan, and bright blue eyes. He also has Crohn’s disease and is super smart. My mom had a creamy complexion that would still tan to a golden, peaches-and-cream color, dark blond hair that she used to lighten to a platinum blond color when she was in high school, and aqua blue eyes. She also has a mild form of scoliosis that is easily treatable with chiropractic care. Oh, and she’s nearsighted and she has an astigmatism.

Mom used to iron her hair out straight since it had just a little bit of a wavy texture to it – almost like beach waves, but not really curls. Her mom always got perms, so I’m not sure what her hair texture was like, but mom’s three sisters had/have some wavy texture, too. Dad’s hair, when he grows it long (yes, even when he grew mullets – and yes, he has grown a mullet several times, unfortunately), is crazy thick and a little wavy.

Both my parents come from boisterous families where everyone sings or plays an instrument or both. Everyone grew up performing. I am quite proud to say it’s a little bit stupid how talented my extended family is.

My older brother was born with honey blond hair that gradually turned dark brown over time and was delightfully shiny with little to no curl or wave to it. He tans in about 5 minutes to that clover-honey tint my dad has year-round and his eyes are bright, ocean blue. He does not have Crohn’s disease or any other GI issues and he does not have scoliosis. He also has perfect vision. He is extroverted and has my dad’s charisma – he never met a stranger – and has been known since he could take his first steps to be ready to perform on the spot and with no warning. He draws, he sings, he plays an instrument or three. He is a public speaker and has traveled around the state to give anti-bullying talks. He even helped get an anti-bullying bill passed into law. (Thank goodness he’s not the greatest dancer – that would just be too much.) People love him.

How nice for him.

I have creamy pale skin that turns slightly reddish but will not really burn unless I’m on some sort of medication (which I usually am) and if I get the chance to spend some time in the sun, I can build a nice tan. I was also born with honey blond hair that slowly got darker over time and landed at medium ash brown with some darker blond highlights that come naturally.

I am very beige during winter months.

My eyes are green. My hair is and has always been quite curly. I am 100% introverted and have been tested enough times since kindergarten to say that with full confidence. More than one or two people at a time for me is incredibly unappealing. I love me some me time. I crave it. It makes me happy.

My older brother used to tell me all the time that I was adopted.

I totally believed him.

It still kind of makes sense, except that while my skin, hair, and eyes don’t resemble either of my parents at all, I did manage to inherit a few of their other traits – like GI/immune issues, scoliosis, intellect, my dad’s circadian rhythm (mornings are gross, nighttime is awesome), some of the family talent minus the extroversion and social grace, my dad’s love of cooking, my mom’s nearsightedness and astigmatism, sarcasm as my first love language, etc.

That hair and that accusatory, why-do-you-hate-me-so-much-not-to-give-me-coffee-this-early look is exactly how I still wake up. Burnt orange carpet and 80s kids table notwithstanding.

I remember my hair, though, being the biggest obstacle for me growing up. You’d think it would have been introversion, but no. Introversion just made me really, really good at hide-and-seek. I was a champion hider.

With my curly hair, I could look around the rest of my family and easily win the game, “Which One of These Is Not Like the Others.” (I did have some cousins with super-curly hair, but they were boys, so it was always cut short. There was no help for me from that front.) My parents didn’t really know what to do with my hair.

See that shiny, straight hair? That’s my brother. I’m the curly terror getting ready to rip his train off the tracks because it’s noisy and I want to go back to sleep.

My mom was and is an awesome mom. But she had straight hair. So she treated mine the same way she treated hers. It got washed, then it got brushed a few times throughout the day. We eventually had to invest heavily in detangling spray (Johnson & Johnson’s No More Tears saved my life). I used to cry because brushing my hair hurt so bad. I would beg my dad to brush my hair instead of my mom because I could trick him into using the natural-bristle brush and he only touched the top layer, so it was painless. Also useless and made me look a lot worse. But it didn’t hurt. At age 3, that’s all I cared about.

As I got older, the battle continued. Ironically, it was the 80s and big hair was all the rage. Women were getting perms and making the manufacturers of Aquanet and White Rain boat-loads of money. Mom even got a perm. It was quite poodle-like. But everyone in my family still thought my hair was a tangled mess that just needed taming, and by taming I mean brushing, and by brushing I mean fluffing it into a hot mess that made it look even more unruly. Here’s a picture from my fourth or fifth birthday party. Please ignore my little brother picking his nose (also, you’re welcome Heath) and see if you can look past him and spot me. It won’t be difficult. I’m the Cabbage-Patch Kid look-alike with hair that appears to be growing straight out before succumbing to gravity and hanging in limp tangles.

That’s my younger brother, Heath, picking a booger out of his nose. You’ll see my older brother, Josh, at the bottom of the slide at the far left, rocking his uber-shiny not-quite-a-bowl haircut. I’m the urchin in purple at the top of the slide looking like I may have just returned from a long trip during which I hung my head out the car window like our dog. That, my friends, is what brushed curly hair looks like. Yikes!

My hair was always a mess, and no matter how smooth, perfect, and untangled it was when Mom got done brushing it, within three minutes it turned into a frizzy nest from hell.

In middle school and high school, I discovered that if I used a hairdryer on high heat with a giant paddle brush, then went over all of that with a large-barreled curling iron, my hair would fall in slightly less frizzy, shiny-ish waves. I was delighted.

Unless it rained. Rain is the common enemy of every blow-out and flat-ironed style. It brings its best buddy, Frizz, along with it. They do not discriminate.

By the time I got to college, popular haircare lines like Pantene and L’Oreal were coming out with shampoo/conditioner and styling products meant to enhance curly hair. That was around the same time I realized how incredibly lazy I am and that working so hard to dry and straighten my hair while living on the tenth floor of a dorm with no A/C (it was broken half the time) and no elevators (also broken more than half the time) in the eastern half of Kentucky during late summer, fall, and spring is an exercise in futility. (It was dumb, y’all.)

Serendipity.

So, I bought all. the. products. for curly hair that I could find in the usual haircare aisle and started experimenting. I met some amazing women of color on campus who yelled at me to come over and chat one day. They asked me what the hell I was thinking brushing curly hair and they gently convinced me to stop it and use a pick or wide-toothed comb instead. They also pointed me to a different aisle of haircare products made for textured hair. Those young women were angels.

With the hard water in the dorm, natural humidity, and sweat build-up from climbing stairs wearing 50 pounds of textbooks on my shoulder, the new products and routine helped me rebuild my hair’s health. It turned out, I had some pretty tight ringlets.

Please excuse the lack of eyebrows, here. This was the time of the pencil-thin brow. Also, mine grow in blond and I have scars from chicken pox and measles so they don’t really grow in all the way. The scars are in the arches, and I’ve always felt I missed my chance to have a spectacular eyebrow ring. But I digress. See those ringlets?! I had some good hair back in college. Still frizzy on a rainy day (as shown), but good hair.

While in college, I did still enjoy experimenting with straightening my hair some days or changing its color, but I wore it curly about half the time, maybe more. I worked in two different restaurants and always made better tips when I wore my hair curly. People seemed to smile at me and want to interact more. They assumed I was fun and outgoing. (I wasn’t.) From an intellectual standpoint, I observed that I got treated differently depending on how I wore my hair. It was… interesting.

Me with my older brother (well, his right eye) and my natural hair, though starting to show some damage on the ends.

Fast forward to graduation and getting my first “big girl” job. I had gone on a few interviews and had read an article somewhere that suggested women with textured hair should straighten it so it appeared sleek and more put together for things like job interviews so others would take us seriously. So that’s what I did, and I got hired in for-profit education working as an Admissions Rep. I continued straightening my hair almost every day to appear more business-like for the first couple of years. After that, I realized how damaged my hair was and decided to lay off the heat styling for a while and let it do it’s thing. I was also very sick, malnourished (due to GI issues), and my hair showed it. Much like my energy levels, it was limp. It had started to fall out. I needed to give it a break.

I was okay at that job. I hated it (loved my coworkers) but I was good at it. I applied for a few other positions over the nine years I was there, landing some interviews at the local university. I didn’t get any of the positions I had applied for – I was under-qualified for one (fair enough), over-qualified for another (I call bull), and for the last two I was told I didn’t appear professional enough to be considered.

I asked questions about those last two. Was I unprofessional in my manner? I was told no. My dress? Also no. My speech? Oh, no, I was very polished and clearly intelligent.

Then what was it? No one could quite put their finger on it. It just seemed to them that some of the other candidates were more polished. There was nothing in my history or in my social media that gave the impression that I would poorly represent any company. Quite the opposite, I was told. I just seemed… like a social butterfly, less serious.

I was floored. That was the antithesis of who I was. I was the person at work who didn’t socialize as much. I was the person who didn’t gossip. I was the one who wore suits to work and full business attire in the business casual environment. I’m the introvert, the intellectual, the observer, the overachieving straight-A student who gets her work turned in on time – often early – and it’s precise and correct. I had friends who called me “Bones” after the main character in that show who takes everything so literally and seriously. How on earth had I shown up as unpolished and less serious?

One of the ladies I worked with at the time pulled me aside one day when I was lamenting my situation and got brutally honest with me. It was my hair.

I had worn it curly (though pulled back neatly) to the last few interviews. I was trying to undo the damage I had done with heat styles over the years. This kind lady – herself with course, kinky-curly hair and herself still in the entry-level position she had gotten over a decade ago – told me the truth: in our world, people just don’t take women with curly hair as seriously.

I didn’t believe her. I thought that was dumb. Surely potential employers understood that was discriminatory and biased. It’s illegal to make hiring decisions like that.

Then I had a conversation with another acquaintance who was also a hiring employer. I wanted advice on how to show up better for job interviews. I had finished my Master’s degree and my family needed me to make more money.

She told me to make sure I straightened my hair. She said curly hair looks unkempt. She personally hadn’t ever gotten a good impression from anyone who showed up to interviews “like that.” In her opinion, if they couldn’t take the time and care needed to “make themselves presentable and look polished,” well, they probably wouldn’t take the time and care needed to do their job the right way.

I felt hot and cold all over. I was embarrassed – for me and for her. Here she was, saying things that were discriminatory based on hair texture, of all things, and thinking it was okay. Here I was, listening to her basically tell me that in my natural state, I would never be enough, never be taken seriously, never be promoted or awarded for the quality of my work or for my accomplishments. In her world, in my natural state, I was incapable of accomplishing anything noteworthy.

What an ugly thing to feel.

I severed ties with that acquaintance pretty quickly. I also quickly got hired at my current company. I am focusing on being as healthy as I can be, and that includes my hair.

All of this has happened within the past 15 years. I have colored and straightened my hair a lot in that time, still, but now I am at a point where I need to focus on my overall health, and that includes my hair. So the other day, I decided to get rid of my heat styling tools, haul out my diffuser, and go curly-product shopping. There is an entire, gigantic community of humans all over the globe who are embracing their natural hair textures and who are focusing on healthy self-image that includes those textures. I’m joining it.

My hair is now more wavy than curly due to damage and lack of nutrients. But I’m a on a mostly plant-based diet, now, so with lots of time (it takes a year or two of patience) I’m thinking I can reclaim some of the actual curl. That’s the goal.

I’ve also been promoted twice in the past three years, and the last time I was promoted I went through the interview process with my hair in its natural state. Progress.

There’s not really a point to this post other than for me to celebrate the fact that at 37 years old I am deciding to be even more me.

Unless the point is about how liberating/frightening/traumatic/rewarding/amazing it can be to embrace everything about how you were made and learn to love it. Unless it’s about loving your life even if you’ve always been the weirdo, the underdog, the different one. It’s important to remember we are made exactly as we are for a reason and that we bring something to the world that no one else brings. It’s important to know that we don’t have to change who we are or how we look to be effective, successful, and most importantly, to be enough.

So cheers to my family for doing their best with what they knew and for supporting me even though I look a little different and act a little different than they do. That kind of love and support feeds feeling comfortable in your own skin and helps you build a good sense of humor.

Cheers to the people (Is it rude to say idiots? Yes? Well, then.) who passed over me because of some serious, deep-rooted social constructs they had developed that were wildly discriminatory. Coming up against that kind of fear after being raised with love and support creates grit and strength of character.

And cheers to me for embarking on this journey back to great hair and good health. And cheers to you for whatever it is that’s unique about you that you were somehow taught made you less than, or other, or not enough. Because how you were made is awesome and just. exactly. right. Be you.

(I’m still a little peeved about not getting the darker complexion and perfect eyesight, tbh, and about the fact that I just found a bobby pin in my hair that may have been from a couple days ago. At least it isn’t sticks and leaves any more like it was when I was little. Ha! I have matured. #curlyhairprobs)

(P.S. I cannot believe I forgot one important group of ladies who also helped me accept my curls and love them! Okay, I can totally believe it, but I have to say… my extroverted brother told me when I started college that I was socially inept – he used a different, non-Kosher word – and should join a sorority to learn how to ‘people’ correctly. He pointed me to three he would recommend and I was invited to join all three. Some of my favorite humans in the world came from all of those organizations and I shunned the one for which I was a legacy to join the one I was most comfortable with. What was the difference? I looked around at my new sisters and a lot of them had curly hair. It was like I found the tribe I looked like, finally. Acceptance is a big deal and a universal language. Never forget that. And cheers to all my sisters from other misters!)

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