I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. I adored my curls — in non-humid weather — and I loved how thick and luxurious it could look and feel when I put in a little effort to tame that frizzy, Hermione Granger-esque mane. On the other hand, my ethnic background means that I’m on the more hirsute side of the spectrum, and that has been the bane of my existence ever since an eleven year-old boy with an expression of utmost disgust asked me in front of the entire classroom why I didn’t shave.
Needless to say, that very evening, I stole my dad’s unopened razor and shaved every inch of my body until I was rid of every single “unsightly” follicle of black hair. My teenage years were very much filled with raw, just-waxed, and epilated skin. I prayed for years for God to make all the hair on my body disappear.
It’s ironic, then, that at twenty-five years old, my hairdresser discovered two round bald patches on my head.
Through my own panicked self-examination over the next few weeks, I discovered six more bald patches, a total of eight smooth circles of scalp with not a single follicle growing.
Cue the devastation and panic. I went to my nephrologist and asked whether it was a lupus flare-up — because if it’s lupus, at least I know there’s chance of it all growing back. But he very quickly said no and referred me to a skin specialist, who promptly said two words: alopecia areata. An autoimmune condition where your body attacks the hair follicles, usually on the head, but it can affect the entire body.
She immediately started me on Shincort injections — which can be pretty painful, by the way, and did some awful things to my menstrual cycle.
I was hopeful, though. She informed me that all her patients responded very well to treatment and would see re-growth within two to three monthly sessions. But as three sessions became four became five became six, I’d listen with increasing depression as she told me there was little to no improvement. Additionally, the injections were taking a toll on me, resulting in a period every two weeks and my scalp sinking in at the injection sites. And I simply couldn’t afford to spend that much every month anymore.
It felt like a cruel joke; that all my years of pedantic prayer for my body hair to disappear — and I had very specific prayers — and one day I’m losing my hair, just not where I wanted to. In the end, I was praying for my hair to come back. To grow as thick and lovely as it used to. To be able to style my hair prettily rather than just leaving it down, for fear that people would see, that people would point out my bald patches, that I’d be the girl losing her hair in her twenties.
I decided to stop the injections and use more natural remedies. Castor oil, tea tree oil, gluten free diets, bone broth, and meditation. It hasn’t helped. Or if it has, it’s practically unnoticeable. I still suffer from bouts of depression when I think about my hair, and I spend hours scouring the internet for new treatments and looking at pictures of bald women, trying to make myself feel better.
I can readily admit that it hurts. It’s a constant source of despair and anxiety for me, which I know doesn’t help at all, since there’s a link between alopecia and stress. I’m constantly afraid that I really will go bald. I’m afraid of what people will say. Will they laugh? Will they curl their lips in disgust? Will they pity me or patronize me? Will they think I’m ugly?
And I’m entitled to those feelings, to all that fear. Because while it’s easy to say that it’s just hair, for people suffering from alopecia it’s never just hair. It’s so much more than that. It’s what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s one of the first things people notice when they first meet you. It’s the subconscious gesture of running your fingers through your hair, of brushing out tangles before bed, of being able to toss it over your shoulder or throw it up in a bun. It’s self-esteem and your identity in so many ways.
So imagine waking up one day and discovering that it’s just not there. That it might never grow back. That you may never have hair again.
It’s scary. It’s grief and loss because it is something precious that has been stolen from you and you are powerless to it. It’s crying out that this should not be happening, you’re only twenty-five, why is this happening to me?
For anyone out there who is dealing with this, I am sorry for the pain and the fear you’re going through. I’m sorry for every time your heart breaks when you wash your hair and come away with clumps of hair between your fingers. I’m sorry for the nights spent crying, for the obsessive checking to see if anything has grown back only to discover that it hasn’t. I’m sorry for every time you try to stay strong and tell yourself that it’s just hair when inside you’re saying, but it was mine.