I want to start a new series. I guess this would be the second post in the series as I previously posted Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby. My aim is to open up a discussion and get people discussing things they never usually would or learn things they didn’t know about before.
I wrote about alopecia once on my blog back in 2011 and even then it was only brief.
I want to start a conversation about what alopecia is and what it means to have alopecia.
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first:
What is alopecia?
Alopecia is the general medical term for hair loss. There are many types of hair loss with different symptoms and causes. – NHS
What type of alopecia do you have?
Alopecia areata causes patches of baldness about the size of a large coin. They usually appear on the scalp but can occur anywhere on the body. It can occur at any age, but mostly affects teenagers and young adults. […] Alopecia areata is caused by a problem with the immune system (the body’s natural defence against infection and illness). – NHS
I was diagnosed with alopecia areata when I was 7 years old. Imagine going 7 years of your life looking forward to your mum braiding your hair? Lacing in ribbons on special occasions? Giving you bangs for the first time? Brushing your long hair?
I can’t remember the exact feeling I had when I realised my hair was falling out. I was quite young when it happened and didn’t really understand what was going on, or why I had to be in the hospital so much. I do remember my mum sewing me special hats to wear. I do remember a boy picking on me because I had no hair. I do remember feeling really self-conscious.
My hair did grow back, but then it fell out again around the age of 9 and ever since then it’s been a downward spiral.
For all intents and purposes, I was generally a happy kid despite all of this. But not all of the time, you understand.
Scientists do not know the exact cause of alopecia, but they do believe that a variety of factors come into play. So if you asked me why my hair falls out, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
I have always struggled with my hair (for obvious reasons, you’re probably thinking), but it’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes back. Especially now as my alopecia is the worst it’s ever been in my life. I’ve reverted back to what my hair looked like in the photos above. There are some days where I wake up and look at myself in the mirror and burst into tears, and despite the fact that I wear a wig – have to wear a wig – it doesn’t make it any easier.
Throughout my secondary school years, my hair was great. Amazing. Fabulous. I really wished I’d appreciated it more back then. I really wished I’d taken care of it more back then. I actually had a full head of hair that I didn’t have to hide under silly hats or bandanas. I could actually style my hair the way I pleased and not have to worry about bald patches. I was actually carefree and the only thing that actually bothered me was teenage acne that made my face look like a football field.
This lasted all the way up until university. I noticed my hair started getting thinner. I bought my first set of clip in extensions and thought, this will do. It got to a point where I had to rely on them every day, and in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have used them as much as I did. It caused unnecessary strain on my hair because I was clipping and unclipping, pulling at my hair. But I didn’t notice and/or didn’t care because it temporarily fixed the problem. My patches weren’t showing. My hair was even (one side of my hair grew faster than the other, so despite haircuts to even it out, it would eventually just go back to what it was before).
Alopecia is not something I used to speak about IRL. My family knows about it, my best friend and my oldest friend know about it, and for the longest time, I believed those were the only people that should know.
I remember there was this one time in science class and I heard, “Hahaha, Chynna has a bald spot” and I panicked. I quickly tried to cover it up. How do I explain this? I couldn’t move for a split second, my face was burning with embarrassment, I could feel the tears threatening to spill out. Then a hand gripped my shoulder and firmly took me out of the classroom and I broke down and she allowed me to cry like an absolute baby, but she understood.
It’s hard, you know? How do you easily slip in the fact that you have alopecia and, “Oh, btw? This isn’t my real hair, it’s a wig.” This is and I think always will be an issue when it comes to guys.
My first boyfriend knew I had alopecia but didn’t find out until months into our relationship. I remember being in the kitchen of our uni accommodation and one of my housemates mentioned in passing about my tiny bald spots. (I mean really, girl? Couldn’t you have asked me in confidence?) and my boyfriend at the time being all, “Yeah, I’ve asked her but she won’t tell me.” So, in the end, it turned out to be a forced confession and even though he was very supportive, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.
I’ve made it a habit now of getting it out of the way. It’s still difficult, but I just rip it off like a band-aid. At the end of the day, alopecia is a part of who I am. I try not to let it define me, but I can’t deny that it’s there.
My last relationship, I reckon, was part of the reason my hair started falling out again. Stress and hair loss are said to be related. The worst part of it all is that he turned around and used my alopecia against me. Imagine being told, “Hopefully the next man won’t be repulsed by your bald patches as much as I was.”?
Something as personal as alopecia, to open up about something like that to somebody you love is a big deal. Just another way to learn that people are dicks, huh?
I really just want to post this to show people that alopecia is a thing and I know there isn’t much awareness about it. That’s why Alopecia UK is one of the charities I’ve chosen to support this year; I’ve yet to decide how I will raise money for them, but I’ll keep you updated.
In raising money for this charity it will go towards providing support, information, and advice to anyone directly or indirectly affected by alopecia.
So, to my fellow alopecians… we got this. It may not get any easier (let’s not lie), but if we’ve got the support and the care and the love, then we can do this. We absolutely can.