This week I took back some more control, made my own sunshine, put my anxiety to one side and got two tattoos…on my face! Yes, people, I am now the proud owner of two, brand spanking new, hair stroke eyebrows that, even if I do say so myself, look pretty damn awesome! As with everything recently, I have had my eyes opened to a whole new arena: I never thought I’d ever get a tattoo or have semi permanent make-up but as with everything else, if it makes you feel better – do it.
As with most things like this, it’s better to go somewhere that has been recommended. I have started following so many inspirational women with alopecia on Instagram and one posted photos of her ‘new’ eyebrows that she had done in Canterbury. It had taken her four years to make her decision but she said how there were no regrets and she’d prompt anyone thinking about it to just take the plunge.
So, I started by ringing Helen Porter Advanced Cosmetics in Canterbury (www.helenporteruk.com) and had a lovely conversation with Helen Porter who owns the business. I knew almost immediately that this place was the real deal: she was calm, patient in answering my questions and very encouraging. I took time to then look at her Facebook page at eyebrows that she’d done (search:Semi Permanent Make up by Helen Porter) and then spoke to mum about whether she thought it was a good idea. The waiting list was 7 weeks for Helen but I opted to have mine done by Steph and, within a week, I found myself laying on the treatment bed!
Strangely, I wasn’t as nervous as I had expected to be – probably because it surely couldn’t be as bad as my acupuncture experiences in the last week…I won’t be going back to that woman! Yes, I was nervous because these tattoos, although semi permanent, would be on my face for at least a year before they start to fade, so they had to be done right – both shape and colour wise. I had my wonderful friend Claire with me who I knew would be honest about what suited me or not which also put my mind at ease and she was given the job of being photographer for the day to document the experience!
So, we started by looking at photographs of my natural hair colour and eyebrows so Steph could see what I was used to. She then started measuring my face – who’d have ever thought my face would be a blank canvas for an artist to draw on?! It seemed very mathematical – measuring from my nose out, having them set 3cms apart and using a rather heavy duty, ticklish piece of apparatus to do so!
Next, Steph set to work drawing on the template for my eyebrows – yes, we got the giggles and yes Claire had to step away with the camera because if this part went wrong I would have looked either permanently surprised or permanently naffed off! I then had to look in the mirror and decide if I liked the shape that had been drawn on – we edited them a little but overall, I was really happy. I was shocked at the colour and had to be reminded that this was just the template and it was block colour rather than hair strokes which is what I would have eventually. I must admit, I did feel like Boy George at this stage and did have a moment of doubt!
A question that I asked and many have asked me since, is did it hurt? The first outline did hurt, more so on my right hand side which is obviously where my weakness is at the moment but it wasn’t an unbearable pain. Helen did the outline and was very gentle and talked to me throughout which made me feel more comfortable. Once the initial outline was done, anaesthetic was applied and from then on I could barely feel a thing. In fact, it was the first time in five months that I didn’t have the irritating pins and needles in that part of my face and it was heaven. Once the initial hair strokes were in place, they had to be re traced twice more and then Helen came back to apply the powder base to give the final overall effect.
I then had another chance to look in the mirror and check to see if I wanted anything changed. One seemed slightly darker than the other so Steph adjusted that but apart from that, they were done.
For the first time in months I looked in the mirror and felt more like ‘me’ which was totally overwhelming. I knew how much losing my eyebrows had changed me emotionally but hadn’t realised just how much until they were back. Eyebrows change the shape of your face by giving definition but I also felt like I had a bit more colour in my cheeks and that my smile was better placed. Obviously there were tears but for once, they were tears of joy and pure happiness.
Aftercare was explained to me – no getting them wet or touching them for a week. They would scab over so needed to be coated in bepanthen cream using a cotton bud twice a day. I was also warned that because I have alopecia, the dye may not take as easily as it would for ‘normal’ skin but I wasn’t to worry, it would just mean that I possibly would need two top up sessions rather than one. I must admit I did make a panicked call to them this morning when little patches started to come off but as I’d never had tattoos before, how was I supposed to know that was normal?! The only thing I can compare it to is henna; the dark layer will fall off and leave me with the lighter tattoo underneath – I was a little worried at how dark they were but am confident that this isn’t the final colour I’ll be left with.
Claire said afterwards that it was already hard for her to remember what I looked like without my eyebrows but when we compared, side by side, it became even more apparent what a difference two strips of hair can make. When I think about that, it makes me excited for when my head hair comes back, I can’t even begin to imagine how that will make me feel. In a way, I’m almost frightened to let myself think that far ahead in case it doesn’t grow back but I must admit, it’s a nice thought.
I paid £195 for the 2 hour session and the top up in five weeks is £75. I know this sounds like a lot of money, and it is. I would NEVER go out and spend that amount of money on myself but as my dad would say when buying a pair of jeans, spend your money in a good shop and you’ll save money in the long run! You can pay more for eyebrows, even in Evolution, because different levels of experience warrant a different price label, however, I cannot praise Steph and Helen enough. They were simply amazing and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone. It’s amazing the range of treatments they offer and I’m unsure they are aware how life changing what they do for people like me is; within that 2 hour session they transformed me from a girl who couldn’t look in the mirror to someone who could look in the mirror and smile again, and for me, there is no price tag for that.
Now, as you know, when I got my wigs, we gave them names – Brian and Adam – because calling them ‘wigs’ somehow just seemed, for me/us, a hard term to get to grips with. So, naturally, trying to make light of tough decisions, I’d asked Cathy what she thought we should name my new eyebrows. Initially, we couldn’t think of any girl duos so we came up with possibles: Pinky and Perky, Ant and Dec, Bill and Ben. However, when I sent Cathy a photo of my new additions, she sent me a text that I will keep and treasure forever. Amongst friends, Cathy is known for her loooooong text messages because she likes to get all the details in and we love her for them, so when I could she was writing back, I was thinking, uh oh – what names has she got for them now?! But, in actual fact she sent a rather short text and in true Cathy form (known to be one of the only people to just give me a look and make me cry!) instantly made me cry because she hit the nail on the head:
“No name for them darling as they look so real why would we normally give our eyebrows names?! So, they’re just naturally now called, your eyebrows xxx.”
That was SUCH a special text to receive from such a special person to me and I will never be able to properly put into words how right she was.
Wednesday was my longest, most eventful day I’ve had since I became ill. I had the doctor first thing which I walked to (I’m trying to walk a mile every other day to build my strength up – excruciating but needs must) and then Claire took me to Canterbury. It was lovely as we had a nice lunch before my appointment and then we headed straight home but it meant I’d been out for almost 8 hours. I was on a bit of a high with my eyebrows but boy have I paid in spoons ever since. I’ve had a real flare, exhaustion like I haven’t felt in several weeks; I’ve slept so much more – with the help of new dose of tablets from the doctor – but my muscular pain has been so much worse alongside my sensitivity to light and sound. Don’t get me wrong, Wednesday was totally worth it, I just have to learn from it – I’m not ready for BIG days out yet, I didn’t pace it right, I probably should have got the bus to the doctors rather than walked as I did a lot of walking in Canterbury but, you live and learn and for now, I’ve just got to build my spoons back up again.
Also, I had some more sunshine thrown my way this week from an ex-colleague and friend who organised a cake sale at her hairdresser’s and raised £72 for Alopecia UK which is just amazing. Thank you Alison, your support has been fantastic. Also – thank you to those of you who have sponsored Jane for her run for Alopecia UK, every penny counts and doesn’t go unnoticed, both Jane and myself are very grateful.
To sign off today’s blog with something to make you smile, for some random reason my iPod souffléd to Jay Z the night I’d had my eyebrows done – 99 problems – and in my hysteria, without thinking, I changed up the lyrics – “I’ve got 99 problems but my brows aren’t one!” Gotta make my own sunshine right?!
Hairless Hannah xx