This is my unedited version of the article I wrote for The Pool
I walked out of the Dermatologists office having just been told that the hair follicles were dead and there’s no hope of them growing back. Apparently people of african/ caribbean decent have less hair shafts than Caucasians meaning they are more susceptible to hair loss. I’m not usually an emotionally expressive person but after I came out of his office I cried, openly in the street as people walked past me. I was on the own, I’d dropped the kids off at school earlier and had almost skipped along to see the dermatologist after being referred by my GP a couple of weeks before. I was feeling positive, hopeful even, that I’d get some answers and be able to take a load of high dose vitamins and my hair would slowly start growing back. After all I’m otherwise healthy, never had any hair loss issues before, never known anyone in my family with alopecia so I was pretty confident it could be easily fixed.
We’d had a really difficult year last year (2016), in fact the worst year of my life thus far, and I was convinced my hair loss was due to the stress. Our daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition – Brittle Cornea Syndrome, she was rapidly losing her eye sight (one of the main features of the syndrome), countless operations, the loss of expectations, the change of life as we knew it and dealing with a very unsympathetic, and unsupportive school that we would eventually have to move our daughter away, from her friends, from. All this culminated in what I will always look back on as a very, very traumatic time. When I first noticed my hair starting to become thinner around the hairline, at the front and the sides, I was not entirely surprised, after all I knew that stress and hair loss were linked.
The doctor told me it was traction alopecia, and that stress certainly doesn’t help. I had abused my hair for many years. Straightening my thick, afro hair from the age of 7 or 8. Pulling it back as tight as I could. I never liked my hair, always wanted easy, straight hair. Hair that didn’t have to be painfully combed or plaited so tightly that my scalp would hurt for days or burned due to the harsh chemicals I used on it to make my hair more manageable. I had grown up thinking my hair was something I had to endure, something that I had to deal with and put a lot of time and effort (plus a bit of pain) into if I wanted it to look half decent and fit in.
Funnily enough 2 years prior to sitting in the dermatologist office I had turned a corner and actually started to embrace my natural hair. I cut out all of the chemicals that I had paid many thousands of pounds over the years to inflict on my follicles and sat in countless hairdressers for hours upon hours in many uncomfortable chairs indulging in small talk (which I hate with a passion). I cut it all out and started again. My girls hated it when I walked through the door with my ‘boy’ haircut and I didn’t like it much either but I was determined to give my hair a break, grow it and see what happens.
As it started growing I began to like it more and more, even more than how it looked I loved the freedom it gave me. I no longer had to clear a good 5 or 6 hours from a day to visit a hairdressers that I detested going to. I also didn’t have to worry about getting it wet anymore, and the dreaded minimum two hour blow-drying it straight session afterwards. I suddenly started to feel empowered because I was starting to love my natural hair and I was role-modelling to my two young, impressionable girls that I loved myself, exactly as I had been made. I was no longer trying to change myself.
So, here I am now and my alopecia is getting worse. Things have settled down at home, my daughters condition has stabilised for the time being. The kids have settled into an amazing new school, have made loads of new friends and we get a lot of support. When I have my hair out you can’t always see my alopecia. But if it’s windy, even when there’s a tiny bit of wind, or as I walk and my hair blows back away from my face, if I have it plaited it or put it in a pony tail it’s easy to see. It looks odd. Or at least i think it does.
I have spoken about it on my Instagram feed which has given some much needed confidence. I’ve gotten comments such as you would look beautiful even if you had no hair, and that does help, because the reality is that could happen, it is happening. However I desperately don’t want it to happen, I have finally started to love my big, beautiful, afro hair and I don’t want to lose it now. I could investigate hair transplantation or wearing hair pieces but I’m reluctant to because it’s very expensive and I’ve never seen anyone with it in the media that it looks good on. And I think if really rich people can’t have it done well then how can I?
The main thing now is that I realise there is no easy fix. I knew of people with alopecia that I’d read about before and I wondered why they didn’t just do something about it, I thought surely there’s treatment out there to fix it in this age of advanced medicine. Well now I know there’s no easy solution. And many, many people all over the world suffer from hair loss. It can affect your self-esteem, your emotion well-being, how you look, and how others look at you. Most importantly for me, it’s the lack of control. I have very little say in what happens to my hair from now on. I’m taking vitamins and rubbing castor oil into my scalp daily but every time I check my hair the bald patches get worse and essentially there’s not much I can do about it. However I’m determined to not let it get me down and hide away. Whatever happens I will deal with it, I will keep talking about it and I will carry on raising awareness to help other sufferers or feel ashamed, whilst keeping an ear out for any solutions that may come along some day.
If you would like more information about alopecia go to http://alopeciaonline.org.uk