It started at just the nape of my head. My dreadlocks began breaking off one by one from the root.
I was choosing what colleges I wanted to go to and making sure my grades stayed at an A average.
It started moving to the middle. My dreadlocks were getting thinner. I decided to combine them, hoping they would hold on for a bit longer.
I was pouring my heart and soul into studying for SATs and ACTs.
It spread to the sides above my ears. They weren’t going to hold on — I had to start cutting.
I was slaving over college applications while trying to stay at the top of my class.
It popped up at the crown of my head.
I was going to graduate in a month with an A average, a scholarship at an amazing university, and a Valedictorian’s sash.
And I was going bald.
I wasn’t supposed to bald. No, not yet.
In the beginning, I thought, “It’s no biggie. I’m young. The hair will just grow back.” Then two years passed, and the hair in those sparse spots had hardly grown an inch.
No one ever taught me about managing severe stress until after I encountered my first physical symptom: the panic attack. By then, my stress and anxiety-inducing routine was already a normal part of my life.
I had thought what I was feeling inside was normal. Didn’t everyone get stressed?
People would say, “Oh that’s life. It can be stressful.”
But at what point does the stress stop being normal?
You are probably thinking, “Well, I think losing your hair is a red flag.”
You’re right. It is, and it wasn’t the first.
Part of the issue here comes down to what one is taught to value. In your adolescent and young adult life, which did your loved ones, and yourself push you towards the most: A sound mind or a sound career?
Was a sound mind ever even brought up?
Before they have even mastered their ABCs, children are asked what they want to be when they grow up. I did not even know how to spell my middle name when I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian.
The future is pushed on children from preschool age. The mental health talks should start then, not after they begin to feel the crippling effects stress that can cause.
While preparing young people for what they will do in the future, we should be teaching them about what the future will do to them, and how they can manage that.
We should not brush off our young people’s tribulations or ignore signs of disorders because they may appear trivial to us, or we think they are too young to know “real” stress.
Nor should we teach them to normalize the symptoms with such phrases as “Oh, if you think that is bad, just wait until you get older.”
Stress knows no age, gender, size, or background. Stress is an everpresent being. It does not go away, but it can be managed to prevent it from taking over one’s life.
Stress management and college/career/future planning should coexist equally.
We should be telling young people they can have both a sound mind and a sound career, not “Be prepared to choose one over the other.”