Friday 29 April 2016

My Journey with Alopecia

We have always been a family with good hair - and youthful hair at that. My Dad kept most of his hair until a ripe old age, and didn't turn grey until well advanced in years. My brothers all still have full heads of hair and I've always had a real mop of strong, healthy, shiny hair which was thankfully and conveniently very low maintenance.

Imagine then, my surprise when my hairdresser rang me immediately after my appointment to tell me that she had noticed a bald patch at the back of my head, which she thoughtfully hadn't want to flag up in front of others in the salon. Surprised, yes - but also relieved. I thought she was going to tell me that I had head lice! Somehow, alopecia didn't seem quite so bad at that point.

The immediate thought in cases of alopecia is that it is a response to stress. Yes of course I've had stress in my life (having four children under 5 years old was one of them) - haven't we all? - but I would say that these days I'm probably the most chilled that I've ever been. Blood screens for thyroid problems, diabetes or other auto-immune conditions all came back clear.

Alopecia is one of those mystery auto-immune conditions where there's no specific cause and no effective treatment. Alopecia areata (which is what I have) is the non-scarring variety so at least there is the potential for the hair to regrow in time.

So over the past nine months, I have gradually but significantly been losing hair from the back of my scalp. What started as a patch about the size of a £2 coin, and very well hidden somewhere in my mop - has now affected almost three quarters of the back of my head. I still had a wispy covering in the worst places but it was becoming very drafty indeed!

The remaining hair was not unaffected though. In more and more places the ends of the hair were becoming slightly crinkled, as though it had been heat-damaged. And more and more hair was falling out each time I brushed.

So today I took the plunge and had it all shaved off - short back and sides if ever there was one! Yes, it feels a bit chilly at the moment but I've still got some on top, AND I still have slightly more hair than my husband has!

This may seem rather extreme, but embracing the next stage in this way is exciting and actually rather liberating. I was more than ready to ditch the old mop and now I'm looking forward to experimenting with headscarves, new earrings and even a head tattoo!

I have pre-warned my family and close associates so as to lessen their shock, and will cover my head at times if I feel some, particularly vulnerable people and patients, may feel unsure of how to react. But ultimately, I don't want to hide my alopecia - after all, it's not contagious or life-threatening, it's just different.

At the end of the day, it's only hair (or rather, lack of) - the person underneath it all (me) is still the same.