Editor’s note: Healthwatch welcomes Victoria L. Price as its new “Coping With CFIDS” columnist. Victoria is an educator and storyteller who lectures on Afro-Native American history and women of color in the Civil War. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The Old Gray Mare
I found my first gray strand of hair when I was fifteen. I remember it distinctly, because it was the morning that I was going to the hospital with my family to visit my mother, who had had surgery at Hadley Hospital in Washington, D.C. The strand of gray looked like a thread of shiny stainless steel woven into my blue-black, raven’s wing tresses.
As the years went by, I forgot about it until, at the age of eighteen, I contracted mononucleosis while attending a small town college in Illinois. The steel gray began to grow in more noticeably, and by the time I was thirty, it was quite obvious. By that time, my mononucleosis had developed into CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome), and the sicker I became, the more rapidly my hair changed. Like most CFIDS patients, I’m a medical book devotee, and I began researching the subject of gray hair.
One source stated that Caucasian women lose their hair color approximately ten years earlier than women of color. Since my family is actually triracial (African-American, Native American and European), I tried in vain to formulate an equation which would express the velocity of my rate of gray.
Finally, I consulted my neurosurgeon about the gray. He informed me that my illness was robbing my body of minerals, and hence, the color of my hair, as well. Since I am also allergic to most mineral supplements, it left me with a common alternative—the dye bottle in the drugstore. I tried a permanent color. It was beautiful– for a while. As my gray/white hair grew out, there was a noticeable demarcation between the dyed hair and the “growing out” hair. I tried semi-permanent hair colors. They continually failed to cover all the gray. Or, as the color faded, the gray strands turned the color of canned beets or rusted nails, depending upon the brand I used. Eventually, I gave up, and let the gray grow out brassy and yellow.
A few months later, I moved into cooperative housing, and at my second board meeting I met an older member with beautiful gray hair. She said that she used a violet colored shampoo and conditioner, which moisturized her hair and removed the brassiness. I purchased it, and although it worked, it was expensive, and I was still not getting quite the effect I wanted. The neighborhood children told me that I had “witches’ hair.” I cringed at the thought that I reminded them of Cruella Deville from “101 Dalmatians.” Last summer, when I accompanied my sister (who is four and a half years younger), on her house-hunting jaunts, she was told, “Thanks for coming to look at the house. I see you brought your mother along.” I had friends who told me that they would never be seen “walking around with gray hair.” I mentally vilified Lucille Ball, whose hair remained (artificially) flame red when she died in her eighties.
I then, with nostalgia, recollected a final rinse product for gray hair made by the Nestle company. An elderly college town friend and neighbor, now deceased, used it with lovely results. I especially remember it because I would help her wash her waist-length hair as she was dying of breast cancer, and that rinse gave her a sorely needed boost of self-esteem. I searched the stores of my area for it, but regrettably, it had been discontinued.
After this setback, I gave up the search for covering up the gray. As I was thumbing through my mountain of mail order catalogs, (like many CFIDS patients, I rarely have the energy to “go out shopping”) I came upon a catalogue containing a product called, “Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing.”
“Aha,” I thought. “This caption says that it can be used on white hair.” It also mentioned, to my amusement, that it was a “blue ribbon winner for white pets.” After searching in several stores, I found it a month later at my local drug store, at half the catalog price. I purchased a bottle and used it as a final rinse. I diluted it and put it into a spray bottle to use for “touch-ups.” The brassy yellow disappeared and took on a silver sheen. I began to get more compliments (from women and men) on my gray hair than I ever did when I dyed it. (Two months later, I returned to Rodman’s to get another bottle, but the store had discontinued it (sound familiar?)
Given the fact that I am only 47 years old and disabled, I now wear my gray, although enhanced, hair proudly. Survivors can be beautiful, and my gray hair is my testament to CFIDS survivor status, even though I still have female friends who disagree. I simply tell them, “The old gray mare is still what she used to be, many long years to go!”
See related article(s): Doctors Who Treat CFIDS