Honey Badgers and Empathy Bears

September 9th, 2015

Two days ago, I arrived back in Chicago for HSCT transplant for MS. I have just been admitted into the hospital room where I will stay for the next 2.5 weeks. It’s a pretty nice room. I’m doing fine, and although I have a lot to tell you, I want to tell you about being home first.

I was home for three weeks in Raleigh. It was such a whirlwind, I had no time to post…

We have the first days of school, open houses, meet the teacher, PTA meetings, the climbing gym, coffee with friends, drinks with people, bridge, and brunch. Everything is good and fun, but it is emotionally exhausting. Everyone falls into one of two categories:

  1. I’ve told you all my secrets.


  1. I’ve told you nothing and you wonder if I’m suddenly the punk rock girl you always suspected me to be.

How am I going to present myself to everyone? I need to figure out how to act. I decide to be like the Honey Badger, because the Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit. Either you know about me or you don’t. It  doesn’t matter. I am the Honey Badger. I don’t even give a fuck.

(Watch this video if you are one of the 7 people who haven’t heard about the Honey Badger. )

With a purple mohawk, it was easy to pretend to be the Honey Badger. I looked like I meant it. But when my hair started to fall out, it got harder.

I thought my hair would fall out all at once, on, say, a Monday at 9:00 am. But it fell out in spells. It would get itchy, fall out for an hour or two, then stop. I could pick at it like a monkey picks at vermin, and this was surprisingly satisfying.

Eventually, enough fell out that I started referring to myself as “Patches MeGee.”


See that bald spot in the back, that’s where my hair rubs the pillow every night. Pretty, eh?

If you look up what to do when your hair starts falling out, you will see advice to shave it all off. The blog-o-sphere says is too demoralizing to watch it go piece by piece, and you will look crazy and homeless. But deciding when to shave your hair down with a razor is like deciding when to put your elderly dog to sleep. Is today the last day? Nope. Not yet. (Clearly, I waited as long as I could.)

Skinny has volunteered to shave his head bald in support of me. This is a very sweet thing to do. I decide that I want to do it in the Lot. (Every Tuesday, our gang goes climbing at the gym, and then at 9:00, we drink beers in the parking lot. We call it the Drinking Lot Club.) I text the gang: Skinny are I are going to shave our heads in the Lot tonight. We’ll be like twin weasels.

Stephanie texts back: I’m into weasel shows.

Gina texts: I’m into weasel shows, too.

Anna texts: Can’t wait to see the weasel gang.

It makes me giggle to think of us as a weasel gang. I imagine me and Skinny with little bandannas and guns.

When I get to the gym my friend Sheila asks if I have gotten sun, but I say, No, I’m blushing. She asks why, and I tell her that it’s hard to be losing my hair, and it’s possible that I am embarassed. I lift my scarf and show her Patches McGee.

In the Lot, Stephanie shaves my head, and Anna shaves Skinny’s. Anna’s getting married that Saturday, and we joke about her shaving her head before the wedding.  Her fiancé, Amanda, would murder her. Which is funny. There is  more lackluster joking, mostly about the heists and bank robberies that Skinny and I will pull when we both look like slippery weasels. I’m having trouble finding the joy in the moment. I wanted this to be fun, but I can’t help it. I feel sad about being bald.

The truth is, I am not the Honey Badger. I am vain. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how to act normal. I want to lay in the dark and stare at the ceiling. I want to send a mannequin to the thousand things I have planned with friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and teachers. I wonder if people will believe that a mannequin of Halle Berry dressed up as cat woman is actually me?

Here are some pictures of me and Skinny.

IMG_20150825_230102811 IMG_20150825_230051656 IMG_20150825_230012907

Everyone says I look beautiful bald. Sure, I’m gorgeous, but I’d rather have hair. I think of that internet meme about empathy and sympathy. It has a Sad Fox, a Sympathy Goat, and an Empathy Bear. In the response to the Fox’s sadness, the Sympathy Goat says, Yeah. That’s bad. Want a sandwich? And the Empathy Bear says, I know this is hard. And I’m here.

Shaving your head is what an Empathy Bear would do, and I’m grateful.

That night, Stephanie catches me on my way back from the bathroom and says, You’re doing a good job.

What? I say.

You’re handing this with grace and humor. It’s hard. Nobody wants to be bald.

All my tendons go loose. I can’t take this kindness because I am too busy holding myself together and being the Honey Badger. She starts to hug me and I say, You can’t hug me now. I don’t want to cry.

Stephanie wipes away her tears and nods. She’s an Empathy Bear, too.

This is harder than I thought it would be. And it doesn’t stop with just being bald.

I get prickly heat because I wear a head wrap to pick Zach up from school. It is too hot,  I’m a sweaty girl, but I am too vain to take off my head wrap.

I have an abundance of sore, itchy pimples.

Some of my hair is growing back in…in patches that make it look like I have male-pattern baldness.

And this morning as I am getting ready to go to Northwestern to be admitted for 2.5 weeks, I notice something else.

The hair that is growing back in is white.

Maybe I was never meant to be like a honey Honey Badger. That’s not my style.

I’m more of a fox, anyway.

11 Responses to “Honey Badgers and Empathy Bears”

  1. Gabrielle on September 9, 2015 3:27 pm

    It is hard. And of course we’re all vain. We’re not 20 anymore, we’ve had kids. Each of us has something about ourselves that seems appalling, and a horrible surprise. I’m glad your baldness is temporary, and if in fact your hair comes back in white, it just means that all the cool hair-dye colors will work even better. But I know it’s super hard. I would be bummed and self-conscious too. And I’m sad that I won’t see you in Charlotte at the end of the month. On the upside, you’re looking at no wheelchair, no dementia, seeing your kids grow up. So there’s that.

    Hugs and kisses.

  2. Kate Nichols on September 9, 2015 3:51 pm

    Stay strong! After all you’ve been through I know that there is something special waiting for you. You’ve been through a lot so I know that “something” is bound to be pretty BIG! I think of you every day and hope to see you soon.

  3. Michelle Leonard on September 9, 2015 8:56 pm

    You know what makes you the coolest? You.

  4. Marjorie Light on September 9, 2015 9:43 pm

    I want to be a honey badger, too. Or an armadillo. But we are what we are.
    It’s fun to try out different roles, though. Please don’t feel as if you need to be tough. It is okay to be a koala or a butterfly.

    I’m glad your Drinking Lot Gang, those bunch of weasels, were there to help you through a time you might have felt more like an octopus or baby bird.

    Although we are far apart, I’m thinking of you each day.

    Much love <3

  5. Skinny on September 9, 2015 9:48 pm

    Somehow I missed out on the sandwiches. Damn it!

  6. Wons on September 9, 2015 9:49 pm

    H really likes the picture of you with glowing red eyes. I disappointed her with the information that that is an artifact and you don’t always have glowing red eyes. It *would* be cool to be able to turn that on and off. I guess in slow motion you can turn baldness on and off too, but I am sorry that you didn’t have a choice about turning your hair off this time around. I am looking forward to hearing how it was worth it.

  7. Heathapatti on September 10, 2015 10:53 am

    Love this post. Can’t wait to see you on the 18th!

  8. Liz Hollar on September 10, 2015 1:39 pm

    So good to see your post! You failed to mention how awesomely you rocked the hat and fantastic ear rings (because you do). What you are doing is so hard because we all have our vanities and there’s no shame in that (I mean my toe hair is EPIC). Thinking about you.

  9. David Kwee on September 10, 2015 3:36 pm

    I wish I could go all Shaolin for you and do the empathy bear thing, but my wife and kids would kill me, I’d scare little children, and my barber tells me my head is lopsided, anyway.

    General Obvious statement: It sucks to be bald if you don’t want to. And honey badgers never go bald, so screw them. But the nice thing is, hair grows back, and when it grows back, your immune system will be much nicer to you.

    Wish we could see you at the conference. We’ll be thinking about you.

  10. Pat on September 10, 2015 10:22 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad to see a post from you. And yes, you’re handling this with grace and humor. You rock.

  11. Melanie on September 15, 2015 10:55 am

    I love this post and I love you.

Comments are closed.