At the age of 27 I was diagnosed with a condition called Alopecia Areata and lost all my hair. Seven years on, here are the 7 things that I wish I'd known when my hair first fell out:
1. I am not the only young woman in the world to lose hair.
Might sound obvious but at the time of losing my hair, I genuinely felt like I was the only bald woman, particularly of my age, in the world. I had nobody else that I could relate to and felt like a freak. If only I'd known that I was one of many ladies with alopecia.
2. Doctors can talk about alopecia with authority but that doesn't mean they're always right.
Alopecia areata is a very unpredictable condition and we're often given opinion as if it is fact. After 18 months of losing all my hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes and body hair, my dermatologist explained my hair wouldn't ever grow back. About six weeks later, I started to sprout tufts of hair again.
3. The regrowth that I so longed for wouldn't be the regrowth I wanted.
I've had different degrees of patchy regrowth over the past few years. It's really frustrating because I've never returned to a full head of hair and, with hindsight, I actually preferred my bald head to my patchy head. I think the lesson is, be careful what you wish for!
4. Don't be afraid to experiment with wigs.
I never really got to grips with wigs early on and I think the mistake I made was to first choose a wig that was very close in appearance to the hair I had lost. This stirred up emotions that I struggled to cope with. It's only in the last couple of years when I've started to experiment with different colours and styles that I've seen wigs as something I can have fun with from time to time. Most of the time I don't bother to wear one though; what can I say, I've always been a low maintenance kinda girl and I find wigs too much of a faff to wear every day!
5. Don't give up on false eyelashes just because you have a few temper tantrums with them!
False eyelashes can be a really tricky thing to apply, especially when you don't have any natural lashes to act as a guide. I assumed false lash application fits somewhere between rocket science and brain surgery. In the first year of alopecia I had a couple of 'swearing fits' (or more accurately 'violent fits of rage') and gave up on false lashes for years. It's only been in the last couple of years that I've rediscovered lashes and finally got to grips with them. I don't wear them all the time but it's great to have the option to occasionally 'lash up'.
6. It gets easier over time.
There was a time when I really didn't think I'd ever be happy again. I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. Sounds dramatic huh?! But I really struggled to get out of bed and face the world, or even look at myself in the mirror. I no longer recognised the face staring back at me. I took a couple of years to get to the point where I thought 'I' can do this!'. I still have the occasional wobble moment when it all feels a bit unfair and I just wish my hair would come back. Luckily these moments are now very rare and, for the vast majority of time, me and my alopecia happily co-exist.
7. There is support and advice available.
At no point did any of my doctors signpost me to any form of support. I was declined counselling via the NHS when I asked my GP for some emotional support to help me come to terms with my drastically altered appearance. I was told the waiting list was too long and my hair might grow back. Cheers! Very helpful! If only had known there was an alopecia organisation.....
Alopecia UK is a charity that is working to improve the lives of those with alopecia. I eventually stumbled across the charity but I wish I'd known about it from Day One. Meeting others with alopecia via Alopecia UK was a life-changing moment. Five years on, I now work for the charity. One of my favourite parts of my job is when I get to meet new people with alopecia, either at one of the charity's many regional support groups or one of its larger national events, such as its annual trip to Alton Towers or 'Big Weekend' event in September (Alopecia Awareness Month).
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