It’s a mild night in April, and my student house is currently getting egged by our neighbours. True to form, everyone in the house decides to congregate in the living room to talk strategy.
After a string of restless nights, I hold my head in my hands thinking to myself, “I really don’t need this shit right now”. Suddenly, as I brush my hair behind my left ear, I feel a silky smooth area on my head. I take my finger, and circulate the area, gradually increasing the diameter of the turn, to find an area half the size of my palm completely hair free.
Without delay, I gasp and run upstairs to the sanctuary of my room, in horror. My boyfriend follows, bewildered as to my disappearance, and asks what was going on.
“I’ve got a fucking bald patch, Rhod” I say, shaking.
He replies, “Don’t be silly, what are you talking about?” half joking, half concerned.
I lift up the thin strip of hair above my left ear to unveil a patch completely devoid of any hair.
After confirming that I did have a little bald patch problem, Rhodri continued to reassure my hysterical self for all of that long, long night. It was an almost unbearable wait before I could see a doctor the next day. Of course, I did Google my symptoms and got a massive scolding from Rhod, who insisted that I “wasn’t dying”.
Once I did make it to a Doctors appointment, he reluctantly informed me that I had something called Alopecia Areata. My first question was obviously – “What is the treatment?”. I could see then why he was reluctant to tell a poor 21 year old girl that there is currently no cure for this illness. In fact, he didn’t even suggest any treatments, because for most of them, the side effects outweigh the chances of recovery. He told me that the condition is likely to be genetic in nature, however it can be brought on by periods of intense stress 3 months prior to the symptoms. Which made a lot of sense, since I had just finished my January exams only 3 months ago.
After this, I tried to go about my daily life as normally as possible. However, I soon noticed that it was causing me problems. Due to the placement of the patch, I couldn’t tie my hair up higher than ear level. Otherwise, the whole bald spot was completely exposed to the world.
At first, this would be the most stressful experience.
I would check to see if the patch was showing by continuously taking pictures of the side of my head. If it was, I would become very anxious and embarrassed. During every shower, I would ritually run my fingers along my scalp to check for any new hair loss. When I didn’t find anything I would simply panic because in my head, I must have missed something. It’s safe to say that this was a very dark point in my life, and I did become depressed.
I thought it wise to prepare myself for further hair loss. I considered a possible hair style change like a buzzcut/undercut if the illness spread around the bottom of my head. And I asked myself extremely difficult questions, such as “Could I actually be strong enough to shave my head if I lost the majority of my hair?”
If anything, it was the unknown, yet imminent, declination of my hair that caused my the most distress. Hair, the thing that society tells you enforces your femininity as a woman. I honestly felt like I was on the brink of losing my femininity.
As the months passed, and I wasn’t developing any new bald spots, I became more and more brave. I would start wearing my hair in a top knot, or high pony tail, if I felt like it. At first, it was just awful. I would be in Tesco’s and catch someone having a peek, and they’d whip their head back round real fast. But the damage was done, and the look of confusion and slight disgust lingered on their face. This happened everywhere I went, even lectures or the gym. Some people were slightly more sympathetic and would smile when I noticed their stare. After a while it became the norm for me, and I accepted that people are naturally going to be curious about something they don’t know much about.
Alopecia Areta is a problem that is caused from within the body. It is caused by what is thought to be an auto immune condition, where the immune system turns on itself and begins attacking the hair follicles directly, causing hair loss. Sadly, there is little known about this condition and it’s hard to say what causes it to occur. It should not be confused with hair loss that is caused by outside influences.
I have had Alopecia Areata for around 8 months now, and I am finally beginning to see little, fine white hairs growing back. But there is no way to know whether this hair loss will reoccur on other parts of my scalp in the future.
2% of people will develop Alopecia Areata in their lifetime. If you imagine a group of 100 people, that means two of them will at some point be suffers of this illness. Suffers of alopecia areata are more likely to have relatives with other autoimmune conditions, such as asthma, eczema, hay fever, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some people with only one or two patches of hair loss will fully recover within a few months, or up to two years. Others are not so lucky. Almost 30% of individuals who develop this condition will experience more extensive symptoms such as full hair loss (Alopecia Totalis), or continuous cycles of hair loss and regrowth.
Luckily, my Alopecia Areata has not advanced and I have only experienced a little more hair loss in the last 8 months. Some are not so lucky, and do lose the majority of their hair. This includes women, men, and children as Alopecia does not discriminate by gender or age. I had a very difficult few months dealing with the condition, yet I can’t possibly imagine the emotional distress and loss of confidence that some people experience with a more aggressive form of hair loss.
Alopecia UK is a charity that provides ongoing support and information for those suffering with the condition (all types) and members can get useful discounts in wig shops, which can make it a lot more affordable to deal with the effects of this illness.
They have an online charity shop on eBay where you can purchase goodies, (the proceeds go to a good cause) and they offer a support group service for those who aren’t coping too well.
There are also some “Appearance Tips” to help with covering up patches, and for those with Alopecia Universalis, give the appearance of lost eyebrows and eyelashes. For more information, or to donate to this charity, follow this link.
Little Princess Trust is charity that not only provides real hair wigs to young children that suffer from Alopecia, but for children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments. Hair loss can be a very traumatic experience for an adult to go through, let alone a child. For more information, or to donate money/hair to this charity, follow this link.
I want to encourage anyone who has suffered from Alopecia or Alopecia Areata in any form, or know someone who has, to comment below and share your story.