Five years ago, Stacy Long was desperate. She had suffered from eczema since she was a teenager, but this was the worst it had ever been. Her skin was maddening, itching fiercely, constantly, and her hands, mostly her left, cracked and oozed, the skin yellowed and thick. This was not becoming for a hairstylist, Long's profession and her love.
She wore cotton gloves and bandages and pushed her pain deep down, always smiling.
"I'm good at hiding and controlling everything," said Long, now 35. "I just kept saying, 'I'm not going to let this interfere with my work.' "
Long believes that when clients come to her, it is their time, not hers. They need to unwind and relax and talk, if they want. The salon chair seems to bring that out in people. So Long listened. Few, if any, of her clients knew her troubles.
Long was at her doctor's office all the time, trying various medications. Prescriptions. Cortisone shots. Nothing was working.
Her doctor suggested she find a new career — one away from a salon's chemicals and fumes.
Long refused. A friend suggested she visit Wellness Works, a medical practice in Sarasota that also uses holistic methods of treatment. Long went and her life changed. The doctors, whose extensive tests included hair analysis, found food allergies she hadn't known before. Somehow, she had abnormal amounts of tin in her system. The good bacteria in her body was depleted.
The doctors talked with her about food and products — what you put in your body and on your body affects your body. Previously, Long thought she ate fairly healthy. Lots of low-fat or fat-free packaged products. She looked at calories and fat grams, but not at ingredients. She learned about the chemicals in food and what they do.
She began reading everything she could find on healing yourself and made huge changes in her diet and the products she used. Long sought out yoga and acupuncture and found Tony Robbins, an internationally known motivational guru.
Through his seminars she has found the "emotional cleanse" she needed. When she began, she listed "perfectionism" at the top of her list of things important to her. Now she lists faith and gratitude. She learned that, if you listen, every single person in the world has a sad story to tell. She was not alone.
While at an airport after a Robbins seminar in Fiji, Long heard from Australian friends that there was organic hair color. She searched online and found Organic Color Systems, a European company that distributes in Clearwater, of all places.
She came back to Tampa and her job as a stylist in Wesley Chapel and researched organic products. She dreamed of opening her own organic hair salon, but thought it would probably take about three years. Then fate intervened and an owner was leaving — three months after she first wrote down her goal.
Stasia's Organic Element Salon has been open for a few months, with hairstyling, a spa and massage therapy. Long and her parents painted the walls in relaxing colors — limes, lavender, eggshell — in fume-free paint. She uses organic hair color and some of her clients have noticed that they don't get headaches or feel tired after coloring treatments anymore. Their scalps don't itch and the color, they say, lasts longer.
Long also has some traditional products there for clients she's treated for years who don't want to change. And that's okay with Long. She doesn't pressure anyone — she just wants people to have a choice.
For her, body and mind are connected and through all of this — the diet and exercise and emotional therapy — her eczema is nearly gone. She's not on any prescription.
It hasn't all been easy. Some has been really painful, with setbacks and dark times. But she's taken control of her disease and her health and, in doing so, she wants other people to know that this is possible, that there are other avenues besides traditional treatments for physical or emotional ailments.
"I went through this for a reason," she said.
She wrote an essay about her journey that will be on her salon's Web site. She knows most of her clients will be shocked, as she's always been quiet about any troubles she's faced.
It feels uncomfortable, but Long is ready to be the one talking, instead of always listening, because now she feels like she has something important to say, something that can help others desperate for help to know they're not alone and that life can be better.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.