I started to lose my hair when I was 17 years old.
I was at the mall with my hair in a top-knot half-down hairstyle, not realizing that there was a reason why some people were giving me strange looks.
I had a bald spot the size of the bottom of a plastic water bottle, dead centre in the back of my head.
I remember feeling a whirlwind of emotions when my mom looked at me when I came home that day, with a worried and concerned face as she inspected the spot.
Confused, shocked, scared; I really wanted to cry.
My hair has always been considered a safety blanket. I grew up having thick, virgin, straight hair, so when I saw that large bald spot on my head, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
My hair was falling out excessively in the shower and I started to get bald spots on different areas of my head. I had one behind my ear, and the low posterior hairline. My brush housed so much hair that it genuinely grossed me out to see it.
I was also losing the hair on my legs, my arms and my eyebrows. My thick eyebrows looked thinned out and it was alarming.
It was obvious that I didn’t have thick hair anymore.
Those who were very close to me started to take notice of my appearance. I didn’t feel normal.
I knew I had to do something about the excessive hair loss I was experiencing so I went to the doctor.
“You have alopecia areata,” he told me.
I never knew what it was or what it meant – and neither did my parents. But hearing those words was like being in a movie where the mouth of the bearer of bad news is always shown up close and in slow motion.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where smooth and completely hairless patches show up when clumps of hair fall out. Nail beds also become thin and white dents appear – something that I didn’t realize was the result of my alopecia. And the hair loss is due to your immune system mistakenly attacking hair follicles.
According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Centre, between one and two per cent of the population will develop alopecia areata at some point in their lifetime.
For years, it had been a habit of mine to grow out my hair, chop it and then donate it to those who needed it. It was heartbreaking to think that I might be one of those people who needed it.
I knew I had to do something to get my hair to grow back.
So every two months, for half a year, I got treatments where corticosteroid was injected into the bald patches of skin on my head. They were a bit painful – but worth it.
Alopecia areata can’t be cured but it can be treated and eventually the hair grows back.
I did everything I could outside the injections and went for a more natural route – applying castor oil on my bald spots, rubbing garlic on my eyebrows, and using a shampoo that promotes hair growth.
I’ve had alopecia for over four years now and I haven’t done the corticosteroid treatments in around two years. To be honest, I don’t know when I’m going to go back.
But even for a period of having a full head of hair and my eyebrows fully grown, it’s only a matter of time before slowly but surely, my hair starts to fall out again.
And that’s OK with me.
I realized that having alopecia isn’t the end of the world, as I thought it was four years ago.
I’ve learned to just accept having it because I know it’s never going away; my hair does grow back.
Yes, sometimes I still feel a bit caught off guard when I can see a huge patch of baldness underneath the hair on my head, but I’ve started paying less attention and not touching it as much as I did before. I don’t physically look any less healthy than the average person who doesn’t have alopecia.
People don’t treat me differently when I tell them I have it.
It makes me feel good about myself knowing that I can now look in the mirror and still feel confident and ready to take on the day.