“Your hair is gorgeous! Who is your stylist?”
“It’s a wig,” I say with a genuine smile. I have definitely grown to like them a bit.
I didn’t always feel that way though. My Alopecia Areata journey started after my son’s first birthday. I remember sitting there, stroking my long hair, and then a feeling of panic came over me when I felt a glossy smooth spot on my scalp with no hair just slightly larger than a quarter.
What is happening to me? I remember thinking and later asking my hairdresser what was going on. Everyone told me that spot would grow back and it did . . . after I found another bald spot elsewhere on my scalp. This was a vicious process that went on for a year and I never took it too seriously because my hair grew back every time.
Then, almost exactly a year later, I noticed I wasn’t missing just a small spot, I was missing a TON of hair on the back of my head. Panic set in again, and this time I went to the doctor. I was told it was the autoimmune disease Alopecia Areata, and not to worry about it — a few steroid injections would most likely fix everything.
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease that affects two percent of the population. It causes patchy hair loss in men, women, and children. For some, the hair may eventually grow back in, and for others it does not grow back. For 20 percent of those that have Alopecia Areata, it either turns into Alopecia Totalis (complete hair loss of the scalp) or Alopecia Universalis (complete hair loss of the body). At this time, there is no cure for this disease.
After several rounds of steroid shots in my scalp (and we are talking 20-30 injections every time I went to see the doctor — ouch), I started to get depressed. I felt sorry for myself. I was upset about my appearance and cried to my husband over my hair loss. My hair was a huge part of my identity. I have always had fabulous hair and would have told anyone that it was my favorite physical feature about myself. It just wasn’t getting better, and my hair was still falling out by the handfuls a few times a day.
There came a point where scalp makeup and wearing my hair strategically just wasn’t concealing my hair loss any longer. I swallowed my pride, gathered enough courage, and went into a local salon that helped me select a wig that worked for me. After I purchased a wig that day, I cried again on the way home. How on earth did it come to this?
Fortunately, I was able to get away with some friends on a long weekend just a few weeks after that first wig purchase. I got to be outdoors, really enjoy myself and the company of others, and almost totally remove myself from my personal problem at the time. After returning home, I realized I thoroughly enjoyed not feeling sorry for myself and not thinking about my hair loss while I was gone. That was truly a breath of fresh air and a turning point in my journey.
It was at this point that I decided that I was totally done feeling sorry for myself and holding myself back from enjoying life. I was tired of the tears and tired of feeling disgusted when I looked in the mirror. I bought two more wigs (this time online) that make me feel quite fabulous when I wear them. I picked up a new hobby to give myself a couple moments every week to focus on something relaxing that I truly enjoy. I learned to just move on, enjoy life, and accept that my appearance and hair loss was not going to keep me from that.
I have taken so much away from my journey with Alopecia Areata and it has affected many areas of my life. I have learned that caring TOO much about circumstances — whether it be your hair, your house, clothes, the car you drive, or the circles you run in — can reduce the amount of joy in your heart and how you serve others.
I shaved off what was left of my hair this week. Some may call it bravery, but this moment had been coming for a long time. There were no tears this time and no feeling sorry for myself.
September is Alopecia Awareness Month. If you are suffering from Alopecia Areata, please know you are not alone and there is a lot to be gained in your journey
After living in Houston, California, England, Nebraska, and Mississippi as an Air Force brat, Rachel landed happily in Fort Worth with her husband, Luke, right after graduating from Texas A&M University in 2011. While most of her days are spent with their sweet and spirited son, Henry, she also loves Jesus, patios, learning how to paint with watercolor, and any chance to escape to the mountains.