I've been blessed with what my nan always used to call 'a good head of hair' and I was always thankful for that - never more so than when I was 17 when it started shedding all over the house and scary bald patches started to appear.
It fell out rapidly for no apparent reason, as a teen your hair is everything and I had recently cut it short in a bid to look like Madonna (who in 1992 chopped her hair off for The Girlie Show tour)! Not the best timing as it meant hiding the bald patches that had appeared from nowhere was no easy task.
I'd just split up with my first boyfriend - so my doctors immediate response to my visit was that it was stress; he diagnosed me with alopecia areata, and sent me on my way.
Obviously I had blood tests but luckily all okay; alopecia was one of those things that apparently baffled the medical world.
My hair grew back, then fell out again three years later - through no apparent reason again. No break ups or stressful situations. This time I wrapped bandanas round my head which were on trend in the 90s anyway and just got on with it. Even my friends didn't bar an eyelid this time.
Once again it grew back and I didn't really have any problems again with my hair, maybe a few fall outs by the nape of my neck but I just didn't (and still don't) really tie my hair back, so I didn't notice much.
Over the years a few of my friends have been diagnosed with alopecia areata, all girls in their twenties - all unexplained. We discussed possible causes: stress, the contraceptive pill, nutrition, everything you can think of, but it's totally different for every person and no doctor can pin point the cause, in fact they usually refer you to a dermatologist.
Twenty years after my initial hair tragedy, it fell out again, not in clumps or anything, but in 2013 I just found patches again. The feeling you have as an alopecia sufferer is initially panic followed by "oh god not again"!? Because the thing is you never know when a patch is going to appear - when it's going to grow back - if it's going to grow back?
There is lots of support for alopecia sufferers but what I don't find helpful is that every time the media broadcast or print anything about alopecia; advice or interviews, it's always with women who are proud to be bald and who suffer with alopecia totalis. Whilst I feel for these women and of course I could be one step away from this, I can't help think it's a shame and that people could then think that if you have alopecia you are going to end up completely bald - not always the case.
This is also terrifying for those who get a bald patch (some people with alopecia areata only get one) and could make them panic that this may lead to baldness.
I'm not complaining though - any awareness is good and talking about this menacing condition is helpful rather than when I first experienced it when no one knew what it was. And obviously the alopecia sufferers that are proud to be bald are amazing! I couldn't do it, I would be wearing wigs in the manner of Cher!
Alopecia can be a one off for some people and may never rear its ugly head again.
What people don't talk about is the absolute agony of not knowing what's next. I know it's not an illness and it sounds like I'm being vain but finding another patch when one has just grown back is such a blow. My stomach lurches every time a new one appears, not to mention the trauma of being out when a gust of wind comes and bares all. A blustery day is not a good day for alopecia!
I know men who experience early baldness must feel rubbish - but at least they know why it's happening and where it's going to go. With alopecia it just lurks around - springing on you when you least expect it.
I've learnt not to panic too much - to eat well, take my vitamins - try not to get stressed despite being a natural worrier (who isn't). Though I don't think stress is always a cause - it's not proven at all.
I'm still experiencing quite a bad episode of alopecia and have never been more thankful for my lovely head of hair which I now keep long (no bandanas in 2015!)
The hardest part is a visit to the hair salon - I always feel I have to prepare anyone before they wash my hair "oh it's just alopecia, I've had it years' I say breezily to whoever is washing my hair. I avoided hair salons for a while, but soon realised stylists don't care, they've seen it all and can even give good advice.
My advice to anyone suffering in silence with this unexplainable hair condition - is just don't panic, share your fears with your nearest and dearest who will hopefully soothe you.
Eat well - eat iron rich foods and please TRY not to stress. Evidently those little hair follicles hate a panic and will just go on strike even more.
I want to stress that I do know there are worse conditions to suffer with; I just wanted to make people aware that alopecia isn't always as dramatic as it has sometimes been depicted in the media - but that it is traumatic whether you have one tiny patch or a million.
For advice or more info please visit http://www.alopeciaonline.org.ukSuggest a correction