A few years ago, I was brushing my long, thick hair and noticed that a lot of it was falling out when I ran the comb through. I didn’t think much of it—I would typically lose occasional strands of hair when I brushed through any tangles or knots. But when I washed my hair the next day, I noticed a large mass of hair in the drain. To my horror, when I got out, dried my hair, and brushed it, clumps of hair stuck to the comb.
I ran my fingers through and a handful of hair came out. Strands upon strands of hair were falling out at the slightest touch. Over the next week, there was what appeared to be thousands of strands of my hair on the bathroom floor. I became scared to brush my hair or shower, as those were the times when it seemed I’d shed the most.
Eventually, I gained a large bald spot. It was on the back of my head, so my long hair could still cover it, but I made an appointment to see my doctor, who told me I had alopecia areata, an autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair.
The cause of alopecia areata is unknown. My hair loss could have been caused by anything: could be stress-related, could be stress caused by my body fighting off something internally. I just didn’t understand; I didn’t feel stressed. My job was going well. I had just gotten out of a four-year relationship, but we had parted ways on amicable terms and were still friends. The hair loss could’ve also been androgenic alopecia, a potential side-effect caused by something else I have called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women.
There is no cure for alopecia. It can take a year to go away or it can be sooner. It can never come back or it can come back again often. I asked the doctor what I could do. She gave me a pamphlet and made me appointments to get corticosteroids injected into my head often to try to stimulate hair growth. Over the next few weeks, I saw two separate dermatologists to try to help.
On top of that, I started to experience female pattern baldness to the point of losing hair toward the front, where it was really noticeable. I was learning to deal with balding in the back and thinning out overall (it took out the bulk of the heaviness from my usually thick hair), but when it started to affect the visible parts of my hair in the front, my self-esteem dipped to an all-time low.
I never considered myself a vain person, but at that moment, I did not feel beautiful. I felt ugly.
I remember sitting on the floor, with clumps of hair in hand, crying. I was losing it more quickly than I could grow it. I stopped going out with my friends. I declined being in pictures. I didn’t want to see myself. I’d spend hours on Amazon looking for products to help in any way possible. I purchased hair-growing pills, thickening shampoos and conditioners, and I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed at the store as I purchased boxes of Rogaine. I continued my corticosteroid shots, added in a prescribed shampoo and took something called Spironolactone for my balding. I practically tried everything that was prescribed to me and also that I could do holistically, to great expense.
But I also discovered these hair-like fibers that you could shake onto your scalp to cover the bald spots – that became my go-to product and gave me a lot more confidence, as I was better able to hide my lack of hair in the front. With this newfound confidence, I walked into the best salon in town and asked them to cut my hair much, much shorter. I had been growing my hair for a long time, so this was hard for me, but I figured it’d be not as noticeable that my hair was falling out if I had less hair to begin with. I loved my new shorter cut, — but it seemed as though it triggered something, as I started to lose my hair more rapidly thereafter.
Over the next couple months, I kept losing hair at a fast pace. But: I started spending more time at a new church where I felt inspired. I started seeing someone I had known a few years earlier, and he helped me through all the ups and downs of my experience. He told me how beautiful I was, washed my hair for me with the thickening shampoo, helped me put in my Rogaine, and cleaned up the hair that would fall everywhere so I wouldn’t see it. Professionally, work was good and I was excelling at my job.
I felt truly appreciative and stopped feeling like I was less than myself. After all, I was always the same person. I didn’t know why I felt like having fewer strands of hair would deem me less competent, un-pretty or unlovable.
Essentially, life kept moving forward and I started to realize that hair loss is nothing. It’s insignificant. I had nothing to complain about. My life was still beautiful, and if anything, I started to see it with clearer perspective. I started speaking more vocally about my hair loss, and in speaking with others around me, I realized that I was not the only one experiencing it, and that there was a whole support community who was there to help if I needed it. I stopped focusing on losing my hair and stopped caring about how I looked to others, and in that moment, I started to love and appreciate myself more. I felt thankful to be alive, and that hair loss was the worst of my worries that year.
I continued to have alopecia areata for about a year – but really, I stopped keeping track of the time I had it. Eventually, my hair started growing back and my bald spots began to fill, and when my hair grew long enough, I got myself a fabulous a-line haircut.
It’s been over two years now since I’ve experienced rapid hair loss. I know it can strike again at any moment. If it does, I’ll be ready for it. My hair didn’t define me then, and it doesn’t define me now. It took me losing my hair to gain my self-confidence, which is something that will never go away.
[Image via Shutterstock]