My story begins in May 2012, a week before my 24th birthday when I first noticed my hair shedding at an unusual rate. Everywhere I looked I saw hair; on my pillow, on my clothes, on the floor, in the car. Everywhere. When I showered in the mornings a scary amount of hair fell to the floor as I washed it and I was becoming cautious to brush it due to the ease at which is seemed to just brush away. After I had discovered that first patch, I noticed more and more. Soon they began to join and in only a couple of weeks I had more bald patches than hair. It's hard to describe how I felt at this time, I was devastated and terrified, I had no idea when it would stop and there seemed to be nothing I could do to stop it. The doctor held no cure, no reasons, no answers and the internet filled me with horror stories and a sense of dread. I decided the only thing I could do was to shave my head, get rid of the last bits off hair and take control of the situation. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders but looking back I think I believed deep down that the sooner it all came out, the sooner it would grow back. It took some getting used to, my shaved head, I often forgot about it and jumped a little when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, or my reflection in a window. People stared when I went out or looked at me with a sort of pity or sadness, I felt as though people I had known all my life started acting differently around me and remaining positive was getting more difficult.
I bought a wig, something I never thought I would buy at the age of 24. It was horrible. I liked the style but hated that it wasn't actual my hair. I hated how it felt, I hated that I had to actually put it on and take it off. I felt that I was lying to everyone by wearing the thing, and I felt less confident than I perhaps had ever done in my entire life. I wore it to work but other than that it remained shoved in a box with my shoes in a wardrobe. It stayed that way for almost a year.
During the same time that my hair, or lack of it was creating havoc in my life, a plan to go on holiday had progressed into an amazing opportunity and in August 2012, I left London (with wig shoved firmly away with the shoes in my suitcase) and headed to Australia. I spent 5 weeks travelling without a care in the world, I met new people every day and saw things I never dreamt of seeing. For most of that time I was travelling alone, I was often met with puzzled glances but I found that glances led to questions which often led to a great way to meet new people.
I'm not sure if "getting used to it" is the right term to use, but I had accepted, for now, that I had no hair and began to appreciate the few positives that came with what in reality is a horrible diagnosis. I was travelling without shampoo or straighteners, my legs were smooth and I didn't have to spend much time in the relatively grim hostel showers! It was however, coinciding with this new found acceptance that my eyelashes and eyebrows decided to follow suit and abandon my body. I could handle my bald head, from the right angle I still looked ok, pretty even but without eyelashes or eyebrows, there's no features on your face, I began to look ill and I began to feel ugly. I feel that being where I was, doing what I was doing softened the blow somewhat as I was distracted from what was happening to me but at the same time, although mainly I was having fun, deep down, I wanted this whole thing to stop, I wanted to be normal and to not be the bald girl.
I spent the next 9 months working as a nanny in Sydney. I lived with a family who became my own in a neighbourhood that became familiar. Some people asked questions but soon I guess I became a norm. There was none of the awkwardness that I had felt at home. I was who I was, no one knew me as any different. The friends I made in Sydney had never known me with hair so I was no different to them without it. Somewhere in those 9 months, my self-esteem that had been shattered beyond belief on the other side of the world had returned to me with a sense of confidence that I had never had. I had my ups and downs, mores ups than downs and I found that the internet became a great source of comfort to me. I spoke to people from all over the world who had alopecia too, some older, some younger, some the same age. I found people that understood the things that I was going through and people to talk to about things that no one else could talk to me about. It was through the internet that I became aware of Alopecia UK and planned to get into contact with people in England once I returned home.
Until September 2013, over a year since I lost my hair, I had never met another person with alopecia so taking part in a flash mob with Alopecia UK was an amazing experience on many levels. I met people with alopecia from all walks and life and more importantly made friends who understood the things I had been through. I suddenly realised that I wasn't alone, I wasn't the bald girl anymore, and I was just one of a huge family of people. I found a new sense of belonging and a confidence to be whoever I wanted to be, I realised the importance of not allowing a condition to dictate the choices I make in life and to not let not having any hair stand in the way of what I wanted to do. Not a day goes by when I don't wish that I could wake up with my hair back but I am comfortable and confident with who I am now.
I feel privileged to have met the wonderful people I have through Alopecia UK and am so pleased that I had the chance to be part of Pretty Bald. I could never imagine myself having the courage to be part of such a project but enjoyed every minute of it and am so pleased that I got involved and hope that through such things, awareness of alopecia can be spread and increased and that other people diagnosed with alopecia are able to realise, like I did, that they are not alone.