September 4, 2008

It's the condition I'm in.

I remember the first time I realized the onset of hirsutism was a "problem." I was in my grade nine math class, probably getting my homework checked off at the beginning of class. I turned around to leave the teacher's desk and the boy behind me nearly collided with me. He flinched back and said, "What are you, growing a beard?"

Back then, I only had a soft vellus halo around my chin, and yeah, I knew it was there. But it hadn't bothered me until that boy said something. I started trimming it with a pair of curved scissors used for cutting nails. By grade eleven, I was plucking darker, terminal hairs from my chin and sideburns every day. Now, I love to travel and I love camping and all the things that go with it. I remember sitting in the jeep that summer while everyone else had breakfast, trying desperately to pluck in the side-view mirror before they finished. I remember driving all night to a friend's graduation in another province and agonizing over my reflection in a truck stop's Ukrainian restaurant bathroom. And I hated going to the beach because the thickness of the hair on my thighs was getting hard to handle. Imagine a good-looking guy trying to hoist you onto his shoulders to play "chicken" and you can think of nothing but: "Oh-crap-cactus-legs-cactus-legs-cactus-legs!"

In twelfth grade, I began bleaching my face from ear to ear. I had to do it every day because the hair growth was so rapid that you could see the dark roots emerging each morning. When I got my hair done for graduation, I had to ask my hair dresser to leave ample tendrils hanging down the sides of my face, just so I'd feel comfortable. I began to see this development might affect some of the most exciting years of my life A consultation with my family doctor got me referred to a dermatologist, who in turn referred me to a laser hair removal clinic. I was too afraid to even let her do a test zap on my inner arm. I could live with it. Yeah. I could. Maybe it would go away after puberty had run it's course.

That summer, staying in a trailer in a mountain valley with my best friend and her family, I found I could not sit in the closet of a bathroom every morning for half an hour while the bleach on my face and then my stomach below my navel did its job. They were making digs at the amount of time I lurked in there. And so, one morning, in a fit of rage, I mushed shaving gel into a froth on my face and dragged my leg razor over my chin and jaw. I couldn't remember the last time my face felt so smooth. It was faster, felt nicer afterward. I was hooked.

By age eighteen and a freshman in college, I was shaving my face and neck every morning. I couldn't wear shorter shirts for fear that if I reached for something high, the world would get a glimpse of my "treasure trail." A bra, at least, would hide what was sprouting on my breasts. But now my chest was getting in on the fun. I couldn't wear anything that showed more than my collar bones. And even the shaving was starting to get lame. Teenage acne was bad enough, but soon I discovered I was going to become victim to--dun dun dun!--adult acne. Couple that with razor burn and careless nicks and you've got total pizza face for most of the month.

Just before my second year I went back to the dermatologist and got a new referral to the laser clinic. I figured I'd start on my face, and if that worked out, I'd employ the method everywhere else. All the money I'd accumulated from babysitting went towards it, leaving only student loans to pay for college supplies. I'll leave the details of laser treatment for another post, but for now, let me just say that my beard gleefully cycled back each month, until my very lovely but puzzled laser technician ordered a blood test. ("Your doctor never got you to have one? Really?" Yeah. Really.) With pity, she gave me an extra freebie session, and then I spent months waiting for--and calling about--the results of the test. The laser treatment place told me I was calling the wrong place. The dermatologist's office told me my dermatologist was on vacation and I was calling the wrong place. And for unrelated reasons, I was no longer consulting my family doctor.

Meanwhile, the terminal hair cycled out, and nothing grew back. I went house boating and didn't shave my face once--which was good, because even shaving your legs can be a disaster in a tiny loo on a rocking boat. But, by the next year of college, I was having to pluck again. It was like my condition had been "reset" and was starting all over again. Resigned, I was back to bleaching within the year, and have been shaving ever since.

So, four years after that blood test, I still don't know what or if they found anything. Heck, I don't even have a family doctor right now. My biological parents are both of European ancestry with no history of hirsutism that we're aware of. I'm a healthy weight, fair skinned and haired everywhere but aforementioned places, and my cycles are like clockwork. I now hold a degree in the arts and two of the coolest-sounding jobs out there. I'm also single, 50% because I've been absorbed in work and school, and 50% because my standoffish nature is intimidating to others. (I will be discussing romance and relationships at some point.) And I live with my step-family, who I've never told about my unique situation. To this day, I wonder if they ever raised an eyebrow about those months when I'd disappear off to "the doctor" and come home holding an ice pack to my jaw.

So, don't I want to do anything about it? Yes, yes I do. There are days when I cannot make myself get out of bed just to shuffle to the bathroom to shave. And there are other days when I can do it, slap on some make-up, and forget about it for the rest of the day and feel really good about myself. Most days, though, I'm in between. I hit the snooze a few times, make faces at myself in the mirror, go to work, and worry about five o'clock shadow. It would be so amazing to roll out of bed and be able to get up and go. I don't even remember what that used to feel like.

One of these days, I'll audition some new GPs and see if they can't dig around in my records for this phantom blood test. But for now, I work two jobs and am easily distracted by hobbies. I can't decide if its because I'm beginning to accept this as something I'll have to live with, or just some kind of contentedly twisted denial. But that's partly what this is for.

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