There’s a saying that myself and a close friend have used many a time over the years of our friendship – “I’m fine.” For a man, that more than likely means…I’m fine. But for a woman…this is probably far from the truth! We use it as a stock phrase for when someone asks us how we are, but how often can we actually, honestly say that we are “fine?”
Eight weeks ago I noticed a little patch of my hair had fallen out, in exactly the same place as it had done five years ago when I suffered from glandular fever and experienced alopecia areata as a side effect. “It’s fine,” I thought, there’s no way I can feel as bad as I did before so surely the hair situation won’t be as bad…unfortunately I was wrong. Over the next week the clumps on the pillow started to appear and the daily trauma of having a shower and cleaning the plug hole started. Horrendous.
Hair is something we take for granted really. It’s something we can grow, cut, colour, style – it can affect our mood, if we think our hair looks good it makes us feel good in general. I’ve always loved my hair, I’ve had some VERY dodgy styles over the year but it’s always been the one part of me I’ve actually been quite fond of. I’m not good at the styling part but I like a good, new cut and have never been afraid of changing the col. Many a uni night were spent colouring our own hair with a bottle of Lambrini on the go, I even got my dad to colour my hair once but generally Jacky has always done my hair and done a bloody good job of it too.
I suffer from alopecia areata which means I developed patches of baldness on my scalp; my patches all merged together to form one huge patch but lots of people don’t experience this. Five years ago (see below) I had my first experience and back then my alopecia didn’t spread or go totally bald and luckily within a few months it grew back. This has given me the confidence to think that although this time round it’s much worse, it will grow back and this means I’m lucky as some people don’t get that luxury.
This time it started in exactly the same pattern but just kept going. My alopecia, like my personality seemed to be a little bit OCD…it followed a nice neat pattern and always made itself symmetrical. Whilst in Dubai, although feeling totally rubbish, I forced myself to go back to work…”I’m fine, each day as it comes.” I was able at that point to style a combover with headbands and cover it quite effectively. But I knew I wasn’t feeling good, utterly exhausted and my body was telling me I needed to stop. Each morning was a trial, dreading turning on the light and seeing how much had fallen out, to shower or not to shower? But actually, what did it matter, if it was going to fall out, it was going to fall out right?
Eventually, I returned home and blood test results showed that my auto immune markers were very high. My immune system was attacking my body thinking that my hair follicles were foreign bodies. There’s no real cause for this. Most people’s reaction was, “it must be stress.” And yes, I agree, I think I probably had experienced the most stressful period of time at work than ever before but everyone gets stressed. I was run down, I was unwell and my body, in a round about way, was trying to heal itself.
By this point I have to admit I was getting increasingly distressed by my hair situation. On the whole I put a smile on my face and whacked a baseball cap on when I ventured out (feeling very 90’s Sporty Spice) but the reality was I couldn’t look in the mirror, cried in the shower and resented the fact my hair was making me look like Friar Tuck! There was no hiding or disguising the situation now, it was either wear a hat or see the terrible thing that was my appearance. Whilst I was losing my hair, I knew I was losing it for a reason – I felt utterly crap. My whole body felt like it was shutting down, as a teacher it was like the end of term feeling times one hundred every day and even a good nights sleep didn’t refresh me. So as you can imagine, I didn’t really have the emotional strength to deal with my hair turning against me.
Here are the stages of my alopecia areata over the course of four weeks.
I needed to get rid of this emotional trauma and take some control back. It sounds drastic but after doing a bit of research I found that quite a lot of alopecia sufferers experienced the same feelings and found that by shaving their heads they took alopecia by the balls and said, “no more, it’s MY hair and I will decide what to do with it.” You see, there’s no cure for alopecia. The doctor prescribed me ‘Regaine’ a male hair regrowth product that’s proven to be effective due to the minoxidil ingredient – in these situations girls you’ll give anything a try! But apart from that, I could only see one other option. The whole lot needed to come off.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it scared me. How would I look bald? Would I have an odd shaped head? Would I have any marks or bumps?! How would it make me feel, would I feel worse than at least having some hair? Would I just feel like a big, bald, fat head on a body? How would I find the love of my life if I was bald? How would my friends and family see me? How can I even be in a situation to be asking these questions????????
I spent a few days decision making by talking to friends, family and Jacky and the general concensus was that bald was the way forward. Mum was nervous about the decision, I’d always had a lot of hair, even as a baby and I think she was worried as only a mum can be. I appreciated that, I’d rather people were honest with me. I didn’t want to upset anyone with my decision but deep down I think she knew, like I did, that this felt like a way forward. As a family we decided that before the big shave, I needed a wig so that if I did hate the baldness, I had a hairy option!
#digthewig is the next instalment otherwise this blog entry would just turn into my bald memoirs!