“What have you done to your hair”? said the customer I will never forget as he spoke with a humoured and insensitive demeanour while I sat at work in the travel agency wearing a promotional baseball cap and t shirt – fully aware that by now I had lost all of the hair around the front of my face and my eyebrows and I didn’t need it pointing out particularly by this man.
That was enough to push me over the edge – the following day I was signed off work for three weeks by the doctor. I’m not sure at the time what was worse being at work losing my hair and dealing with the public or sitting at home with nothing on my mind but losing my hair. 6 weeks later I was completely bald – well even more humiliatingly a piece of hair about the size of a 10 pence piece clung on for dear life just add insult to baldness.
I first noticed losing some hair when I was 17 years old and on holiday with a group of friends. It was December and as I returned home I was losing two small sections at the front of my head – almost like where men have a receding hairline, not really sure what this was all about at the time I did some research and had put it down to a shampoo that didn’t suit me…. which wasn’t the case. That little episode amounted to nothing more than those two little patches but by the time I was 20 I was completely bald.
Losing your hair if you are a man or a woman at any age is difficult – as a 20 year old girl who has always loved hair, make up and fashion it was nothing short of traumatic. However some how even at that age I was able to reason with myself a little – I didn’t have cancer – it could be worse but why was I losing my hair? Why was this happening to me?
In the early days I was waking up to hair in my bed, on my face, in my mouth, and on my pillow . Sweeping it off my desk at work and out of my food at mealtimes, every day it was falling out rapidly and I needed answers. My first step was naturally the doctor – he told me at 20 years old that it was stress, there was no cure and there was no treatment proved to work. Wonderful.
They tested my bloods – all fine, and gave me two options – a steroid cream that would burn the top layer off my scalp in an effort to stimulate the folicle or steroid injections into my scalp – oh the joy, oh and for an extra bonus I got an appointment with the NHS wig department.
20 years old 2001 in a small room looking at NHS wigs was another moment that defined me. After another bucket load of tears and feeling humiliated and lost I decided there was no way I was going to wear one of those – they were old ladies wigs and neither was I giving up on finding out what this was all about and stopping it.
My step father had a friend who had been a hairdresser for around 40 years and he had offered to see me and offer some advice and so I went – strike two – the parts I remember from the conversation as he lifted and pulled my hair and scalp was well there isn’t a cure and the cause is stress. Your hair goes through 3 life cycles so if you lose it in the same place 3 times it will never grow back. Also I should make you aware that if you ever have a baby you may lose all of your hair – hairloss is common in pregnant women, if you’d like me to cut it so its not so long and helps with losing it I can – I was 20 years old, in a state of despair and thats the best advice he had for me – cue a few more tears.
Every day I saw my hair anywhere but on my head – on the floor, gathering around the skirting boards of my house, on the table, in my car, and at one point I was sat in the bath washing my hair which I was reluctant to do as each time I watched more of my long brunette locks disappear down he plughole, I sat massaging my tender scalp and my hands actually got tangled up in the hair that was falling out – I remember putting it into a ball on this side of the bath and staring at it – it was the size of large grapefruit and once more I sat and I sobbed.
Losing your hair to alopecia if a viscous circle. People telling me try not to worry about it you will make it worse – how can you not worry about it or think about it when it attacks you every day, every day that you scoop up some more of your hair and put it int he bin, not to mention that fact that I had now lost my eyebrows too so the girl looking back at me in the mirror was even less familiar – I was 20 years old bald no eyebrows and feeling very very sad.
I’m not sure if this is the same for everyone who has had alopecia but also my head was so so sore, ladies will know the feeling if you have had your hair tied up all day – when you release the pony tail that part of your scalp feels tender – my whole head felt like that – painful and getting balder by the day. I have never cried so much over a period of time – my tears going down the plughole with my hair every time I washed it.
My next stop being almost completely bald was a chinese herbalist – a consultation a couple of hundred pounds later I had 80 tablets to take a day 30 in a morning 20 at lunch and 30 at night – for 3 months – I would be practically rattling and I had the most disgusting smelling black shampoo to wash my bald head in.
Nothing was working
I tried everything I lay upside down on the bed twice a day I had read that the blood rushing to your head helps the folicles – indian head massage every week – apologising to the therapist for having to touch my balding head – I was so embarrassed by it and I couldn’t get a break from the stress and upset of it all, except for once a week when I went to my riding school – I turned up with my riding hat on and left with it on and the whole hour or two hours that I spent on that horse was an escape from being 20 and bald because for that small amount of time it was just me and the horse and what we were doing. That was one type of treatment I really needed galloping down a beach – the wind in the horses hair and most definitely not mine but the escapism was much needed.
After being signed off work and having 3 weeks to pull myself together I decided to look into getting a wig – just saying the words made me feel sick. There was nothing wrong with me why was I bald and why did I have to wear a wig – it was so unfair, but what alternative did I have be bald and proud? I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do that. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror or allow anyone close to me to look at me so it definitely wasn’t going to work out in the real world. I also knew that there was no way I was wearing a wig from the hospital. I remember one of my girlfriends saying to me I have a friend who wears a wig – she gets home kicks her shoes off and takes her wig off – you will do the same you will get used to it – I didn’t want to get used to it I didn’t want to even acknowledge it but I had to.
Desperate then to find a wig that looked like my hair in an attempt to fool people that this wasn’t happening to me I got on a bus from Lincolnshire to London – I had heard that Selfridges had a range of wigs called hot hair and they looked stylish and a vast improvement from anything else I had seen – and London was the closest stockist to me – and in my mind an 8 hour bus journey was totally worth it. I don’t remember too much of the day other than telling my mum I wanted to go to the department alone, I must have blanked out most of the details but the lady fitted me with a wig and I decided to keep it on – traumatised but not defeated we got on the bus for the 4 hour journey back home another defining moment in the hair loss period of my life.
That was then me for the next 4 months “wiggy” as a group of insensitive local girls had called me when I had been brave enough to go on a night out with my friends – which broke my heart because in my mind no one would know or notice but of course they did I was totally in denial. My relationship with my boyfriend of 6 years broke down as I struggled to come to terms with it – I used to wear a headscarf and couldn’t bear for him to see me without it or the wig.. looking back it must have been hard for him, his Mum said to me “you do know he still loves you don’t you?” but really I wanted and needed to hear that more than ever that I was beautiful that it didn’t matter – that I was still sexy…. and it never came from him.
I just wanted to run away – from everyone from everything.
A change of scenery found me and a house mate moved into a house off a main road in a tiny village in Lincolnshire and there was one house attached to ours and a big bungalow at the top of the lane and soon enough my 3 weeks of sick leave were up and somehow I managed to go back to work wearing the wig. That day was another feeling sick in the pit of my stomach day but the girls I worked with had become like sisters in the last couple of years and were truly wonderful and I am honoured to say I am still in touch with these special ladies today. My boyfriends mum came at weekends to help paint and make homely this new space I had moved into and one day she was approached by the neighbour from the bungalow a man called Ralph. As I arrived home one afternoon she told me he had been and introduced himself and asked why I wore a headscarf and did I have cancer? She told him I had alopecia but we didn’t know why and he told her he was a faith healer and he could help me if I was interested – I couldn’t get up to the bungalow soon enough. I had tried everything else I had nothing to give anymore or to lose. My self esteem was at rock bottom and I was still adjusting to the wig. Ralph insisted that I take someone with me – being an older male and that he would treat me for free or for a donation to his children charity – money for the local hospitals children unit, and so I went.
This funny smiley man sat me down on his sofa, he told me he was a healer and took a hold of my hand – he told me in an instant the things I had wrong with me physically and then looked me in the eyes and said “I can help you” – those words were all I had wanted to hear and in the last 6 months hadn’t heard from anyone else. Not one person had said I can help you we can fix this and not only did he confidently state that he also said – “I can guarantee you will see full regrowth on your head by end of January” It was November and I believed him and that was all I needed it was everything I needed. I saw Ralph twice a week and by the time my 21st Birthday arrived in February although I still wore the wig I had a full head of stubble all over my head.
Once I had started seeing Ralph I also became more confident in my own skin again – and my wig and I became friends we were able to go out more – always conscious of windy days I learnt to see a funny side and had read funny wig stories about ladies who had shut their hair in the car door and more and I started to feel better.
When I could see the shadow of hair underneath my scalp I was elated and continued to see Ralph and my relationship with him turned into one of a deep friendship and he used to call me his adopted grandaughter and this man had literally changed my life. We talked endlessly about life and I loved every minute of the time I spent with him.
I wore the wig to my 21st birthday party – everyone there knew I had been bald and so I didn’t have to justify it to anyone and by now I had a skin head of dark hair regrowth all over my head – I was also considering how lucky I was because many alopecia sufferers don’t get their hair back or get it back fluffy or a different colour and mine was seemingly coming back just as it was before.
Coming out of the other side of this experience somehow a slightly different person mental and emotionally and having been pushed to my limit a few times I decided on an emotional day to call up the company I worked for and see if I could get another placement overseas – I still wanted to run away. So 3 weeks later I was on my way to a training course and although I had a small amount of hair all over my head I was still not brave enough to confidently be a skin head and so my wig and I entered into a huge social situation with around 100 people I had never met. This was when my worst wig moment occurred – another moment that has definitely defined me and my life in part an awful moment and a magical one where I went on to meet my best friend (another blog post)
I can hardly believe I drove to a hotel a 3 hour drive from home to join a group of people I had never met for a job in a children’s club in Spain – I had decided this is what I needed to do to get away from my life and the situation I had felt with and i’m not sure where I got the confidence to be able to go through with it but I did. I knew something needed to change in my life and I had to be brave and look forward and do whatever it took to get away. I guess I was fuelled by adrenaline or on auto pilot – when I look back at my 21 year old self now I want to give her a hug for being so very brave.
I told the girl I was sharing a room with that I was wearing a wig and I would have to take it off at night before I got into bed and she was very accepting – luckily although we shared a room we were on different courses so I only had to see her at night.
Possibly the most humiliating moment of my life to date came when around 25 of us were in a training session with 4 people from head office assessing us for ja placement. We were asked to play a game of duck duck goose – if you aren’t familiar with this game you sit in a circle and one person goes around patting the heads of the others duck duck duck and when they pat goose that person has to jump up and race the other person back to their place – we were demonstrating our ability to play children games. One girl came towards me duck duck and goose on my head and pulled my wig clean off and as I watched it in slow motion fly into the air ind land in the middle of the circle a small part of me temporarily died. I had come so far and yet now I get like I had got no where.
Somehow, something, adrenaline probably allowed me to pick up the wig put it on the stocking which was still attached to my head and contemplate standing up – the ground hadn’t opened up and swallowed me and my fight or flight instinct was telling me to run luckily by which time the trainer had suggested we take a break . I promptly left the room for the toilets where I broke my heart crying for a good half an hour.
Bruised, battered but not defeated I returned to my room tied my trusty blue and white headscarf around my head and went back into the room to join the session – I needed to get away and as tough as it had been and now was it couldn’t get any worse. From that day on I never wore that wig again.
There were a handful of people who made this traumatic experience for me a little better and I want to share their acts with you and some of them will be featured in extra blog posts as they have been very special parts of this Chameleons life.
My mum who put her arms around me and said if she could swap places with me she would and nursed my tears – not a woman to openly show much affection this was a treasured moment. My dad who came round to sort me out in the middle of a meltdown the night before I saw the doctor and got signed off work – in 21 years I hadn’t seen this type of determination and ability to calm and reason from my Dad ever. My step sister who offered to shave her hair off in empathy for me and Laura – who literally saved me on that day in that room when I was humiliated and lost.
There was also a beautiful boy I met who will only be referred to as The Big Man (future blog post to be published) who made me to feel beautiful and sexy on many occasions and totally brightened my days over the telephone and on one special weekend towards the end of my hair loss period – whether he knew I was wearing a wig or not.
My friends dad who convinced me to go out into town for a night out without the wig but with very very short hair that made me feel anything but feminine – his words I will always remember – he told me let them call you wiggy while you have to wear that wig fine – but you don’t have to now and you’re young and beautiful so go out there and show them all that. God rest his soul as he has since passed away, and to Jon – the boy who made me smile by sending a mysterious large bunch of freesias to the travel agency I worked in addressed to “the lady with the dark hair” – “When I think of you my heart falls like an autumn leaf” and for the night he kissed me in the middle of the street outside his house – the very night I went out without my wig on, he held my face, kissed me and said – you look more beautiful tonight than I have ever seen you look – and don’t you ever let anyone tell you any different.
On reflection looking back 15 years and after a second attack of alopecia 4 years later after I can acknowledge that I was extremely stressed on both occasions. Consumed in a stressful family situation and feeling lost in life were undoubtedly contributing factors in my emotional state of mind but at the time I wanted answers, I wanted them to find something wrong with me so at least I knew why it was happening, I wished people would stop telling me it was stress and I was stressed – I WASNT STRESSED – but if course I now know I was. On reflection also on the cure – Ralph my faith healer – I don’t know if he healed me with his hands over my head or somehow he allowed me to heal me, but what I do know is there was a reason like many times in our lives that I moved next door to that wonderful man.
I have written his post int he hope that anyone suffering form stress related alopecia can be inspired by my story, know that they are not alone and that it is possible to get your hair back thicker and healthier than ever before. Not to rule out any type of treatment including that of a faith healer.
This post is dedicated to Ralph – my adopted Grandad who passed away last year.