Around this time last year I was doing my darnedest to hide a pretty sizeable bald patch. I had alopecia and it sucked.
I discovered it the morning after a friend’s wedding. I was royally hungover and quickly bunged my hair into a bun before we left the hotel. As I scraped it up, looking bleary eyed into the mirror, I noticed some scalp showing on the side of my head. I quickly separated my hair to take a closer look, hoping it wasn’t what I thought it might be. There was a big old bald patch the size of a plum staring back at me.
My insides dropped and I started panicking. Proper panic – the kind that makes you go all sweaty and breathless.
Naked, ugly and unfeminine
I know, I know – it’s not like my arm had fallen off or I’d gone blind. It sounds ridiculous because it’s just hair. But, like most women, my hair is important to me. I’ve had it cropped, bobbed, long, mid-length, blonde, brown, black, red, crimped, straightened and curled – and as barf-inducingly clichéd as it sounds, it’s a big part of how I express myself. In all honesty, without it I’d feel naked, ugly and unfeminine, however vain that is.
I did the usual Google diagnosis and trawled the internet for as much information as possible. I found out it was probably alopecia areata – a type of hair loss which causes patches of baldness. I also found out that it may well grow back, but if I developed more patches there’s a chance I would continue to lose the whole lot, and there’s no cure for it. Perfect. The angsty forum posts and accompanying photos from people experiencing varying degrees of hair loss weren’t exactly encouraging either (more about that later).
My GP did blood tests and I prayed I had some kind of condition or imbalance that could be treated with medication and it would all go back to normal. But they found nothing. And because it wasn’t hereditary either, the doctor said it was likely to be caused by stress. So I was told to go away, try not to worry and come back if it got worse.
Stress does funny things
At that time things weren’t the best they’d been in my life but I wouldn’t say I was the most stressed I’d ever been. My job situation was pretty dire, and I was going through a really tough time with a friend but I’d been worse. Maybe it was a delayed reaction to a really difficult period I’d had in my life three years previous. Who knows? But they do say stress does funny things and, apparently, at funny times too.
What followed was weeks and weeks of obsessing over my hair. I could cope with one area of baldness if I knew it was all I’d ever get. But there was a very real possibility that if I continued to develop more patches I’d lose the lot and this petrified me. I’d seen programmes about Gail Porter and worked with a woman who went completely bald. It’s utterly shit – heartbreakingly shit – particularly because there’s nothing you can do to make it better and you can’t really hide it.
I’d do daily checks for regrowth and make sure there weren’t any other patches. I’d make my boyfriend look over parts of my scalp I couldn’t see and measure the bald area to determine if it had got any bigger. I became hyper-aware of my hair falling out when I washed, brushed or played with it, and I was convinced there were more strands in the plughole than normal. This level of anxiety wasn’t ideal when I was supposed to CTFO about it all. But that’s the thing – a stress-induced condition that in itself is so distressing is a bit of a vicious circle.
It’s probably going to be alright
So why am I writing this? Because the hair grew back. And another little bald patch I found on the other side of my head did too. They’re now about 12cm long over a year on. But when I was doing my (misguided) Google research and read personal accounts of alopecia areata on forums and blogs, it was just people fretting about hair loss, much like I did at the time. But then they went quiet. And I assumed it had all well and truly gone tits up for them and that it would for me too. No one went back online to reassure people that their bald patch grew back.
To make matters worse, in real life (outside of the internet) no one really talks about hair loss. Discovering a bald patch is not a beauty ideal, especially for women. It’s embarrassing. And when it happens to you, you feel like you’re kind of alone. But it’s actually more common than I thought – when I confided in a few people about it, they told me about friends or family members who’d had the same and it was pretty much OK for them in the end as well.
I still worry about alopecia. I fret a bit when my hair’s feeling thin or quite a few strands come out in my hand when I’m in the shower. And apparently because I’ve had bald patches before I’m more likely to get them again. But it’s probably going to be alright. And if you or someone you know is going through it, that’s the reassurance I want to give you. It’s probably going to be alright. Going completely bald is really rare, getting patches and them growing back is pretty common. And while you’re waiting for the hair to grow back, take zinc and biotin to help it along, only let yourself check for loss a couple of times a week and try to reduce the levels of stress in your life. But most of all, remember – it’s probably going to be alright.
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