One gets used to looking a certain way. We always take pride in the way we look and take every effort to look our best. One constantly hears statements like “If you look good you feel good.” I enjoy dressing up, putting on make-up and making parlor visit to get a mani-pedi. Looking good is the last thing on the mind of a sick person, but a change in the looks due to sickness has a huge impact on a patient’s self-esteem.
Due to heavy medication, and especially steroids, my face and body had swollen up. My complexion had turned darker. In the hospital it was mandatory to wear hospital gowns. At home, I opted for comfortable clothing, mostly pyjamas. Going for dialysis didn’t require dressing up either, and it was hardly a place you would like to dress up for. So, my wardrobe hardly made me feel good. Make-up and grooming were not on my mind either.
Initially it didn’t matter much as I was too unwell to notice. However, slowly I started to notice it. I started losing my hair. Hair loss is normally associated with cancers, but due to lack of protein and medicines, kidney patients lose hair too. The only difference is that cancer makes you go completely bald and kidney patients end up with thin hair.
I developed bald patches. Every time I combed my hair; a big chunk would fall. I am known for my thick long hair and it bothered me a lot. I started looking very different. I started feeling very conscious about it and would avoid looking in the mirror. The last straw came when one of the dialysis centre technicians said, “Why don’t you use a wig! We are bored of seeing you like this.” I was in tears. Apeksha went and lodged a complaint against him. It was indeed a very insensitive remark, especially when your self-image is at all-time low. That’s the way our society is. We don’t think twice before passing a comment on someone’s appearance, looks and body.
After that remark, I started using a scarf to hide my bald patches while going out. I would feel embarrassed to go out looking like that. I looked the part of a “sick” woman. Due to my hair fall, I decide to cut my hair short – really short! I am not a short hair girl at all, and this was another blow for me. I hated the way I looked.
Seeing my discomfort, my cousin got me a wig which her aunt, a cancer patient, used to wear once she lost her hair after chemotherapy. I used it and I felt good. I had never worn a wig or hair extensions before. We spent the whole afternoon trying it and learning how to use it. It was fun! I used it once to the dialysis centre but found it uncomfortable as I had to be on my back for four hours and I sweated a lot with that wig. I skipped it all together. I reserved it for going out, which was quite rare. Dinesh got me another fancy wig from London as a birthday present. Now I could choose from two looks. I have used those wigs and I liked it. It made me feel somewhat better about the way I looked. One thing I learnt, never laugh on anyone who uses a wig or goes for a hair transplant. Having an inferiority complex about the way we look is real and we should not laugh on that person but on ourselves for being so shallow to comment on people’s appearances.
Once my health got little better and I could walk with help, we started going out, mostly restaurants or to a friend’s home. People would look at me, being helped to the seat, being walked out and chaperoned around. They would be curious about what’s the issue with me. No complaints here, I would have done the same.
I had a choice, to sit at home feeling embarrassed about looking the way I did or be comfortable with myself and go out and have a good time. Obviously, I chose the latter. By doing that, I accepted myself and had fun instead of brooding at home. I attended my niece’s wedding with enthusiasm. I bought new clothes, got a facial done, put on mehndi, make-up and the works. I have attached some of my looks that I was happy at that time. Now when I see them, I shudder of course!
With time I got comfortable with the way I looked and completely stopped using a wig. I just ensured I wore clothes that made me feel good and put some make up on as I like it. In December, a year after my illness we decided to throw a big bash for my Mother in law’s 75th birthday. I didn’t bother to use a wig. It was so liberating. Life is lot easier when you are yourself.
When I was hospitalized, one of the nurses on her rounds said to me, “Get up, comb your hair, put some make-up, nail paint and use perfume. You are in hospital for so long. You will feel fresh. Should I get you some tomorrow?” She said that in a real well-meaning way. In fact, I heeded her advice and I asked for make up and put on a blue nail polish to beat my hospital blues.
Not dressing up and not trying to look good is one mistake we all make when we are not feeling well. We should stop that. We may not look our best being sick but looking a better version of yourself gives a confidence to face the world.