Learning to Thrive Series: Lu Mueller-Kaul

For our second Q&A session, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lu Mueller-Kaul. Please take a moment to read Lu’s courageous journey with alopecia.

Q. When did you notice your hair loss?

In the spring of 2014 I suddenly lost an eyebrow. It was the strangest thing — I looked in the mirror, and my left eyebrow was gone. I did remember that it had looked a bit thin for a few days before, but I hadn’t really paid attention. At the time, I had long dreadlocks, and kept them very neat. They were carefully divided, and where the roots were parted, you could always see the scalp.

I had not noticed that these bare spots had gotten bigger in some areas–the dreads were really hiding it well. Now I’ve seen old pictures from 2011 where there was a very clear bald spot over the right ear — but I hadn’t noticed it at all.

So before I lost the eyebrow, I had no idea that I had alopecia. It’s very mild in my case.

Just 2014 was a bad year. I was traveling a lot for work, teaching manual therapy to physical therapists, and it was on one of those tours that I stood in the hotel’s bathroom and noticed a big bald patch. It was freaky. That’s when I knew it was alopecia–just the missing eyebrow was a first indication, but I hadn’t been sure.

Q. Did you get formally diagnosed?

No. I’m a physician, so I was already relatively sure, but of course I did a thorough differential diagnosis. It couldn’t have been anything else.

Since this is an autoimmune disease that attacks the follicles, it doesn't make sense to use anything that stimulates growth. If you have snails eat the vegetables in your garden, would you use fertilizer?

Since this is an autoimmune disease that attacks the follicles, it doesn’t make sense to use anything that stimulates growth. If you have snails eat the vegetables in your garden, would you use fertilizer?

Q. Did you get treatment?

No. There was a time when I contemplated shaving all my hair off, because I had five bald spots, and two were rather big, about the size of my palm. It got harder to hide, even with carefully arranging the dreads, and a big spot close to my left temple was impossible to hide.

I used one of the spots to experiment with a growth stimulant, but just because a hairdresser recommended it so insistently. Since this is an autoimmune disease that attacks the follicles, it doesn’t make sense to use anything that stimulates growth. If you have snails eat the vegetables in your garden, would you use fertilizer?

I wasn’t really considering the steroid shots, but maybe I would have, if it would have gotten worse. But after about 6 months, it all grew back. Now I have occasional small spots, and I try not to freak out about it.

Q. Did alopecia change you?

I’d say that throughout 2014 I was severely challenged, and I started noticing how much I had identified with my hair. Once the spots grew back, I was done with the dreads — I wanted simple hair, and now I’ve had it short ever since. How short depends a bit on the size of the spots. I think I’ve let go of a lot of hangups, and I don’t need hair to feel special or different.

Q. How did you cope with hair loss in the workplace?

I was surprised how little coping I had to do. Most of my clients and coworkers didn’t even notice the big spots that were visible. I did explain it to most people, though — I wanted them to know I don’t have any kind of contagious skin condition. But of course I was (and am) lucky that I have so little symptoms, and even in the worst time relatively little hair loss. I run my own business with a few employees, so I didn’t have to have an awkward conversation with a boss — I just told everybody what was going on. My friends and clients told me I could “rock a bald head, too”, and that felt very comforting.

Q. How do you feel now about alopecia?

Mostly, I feel lucky. I try to educate others that hair loss doesn’t automatically mean chemotherapy, and I like to be an example of hope for the ones who go through a period of hair loss — after all, mine came back without costly, frustrating treatments.

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