I remember the moment clearly, I was 9 years old an standing in assembly. The teacher, sudddenly blurted through the silence "Annabel! You have headlice!". I was rushed home in shame and washed with nit shampoo. One boy in the class taunted me until the day I left for big school. Unfortunately, Mum was very busy working, and dad lived on the other side of the country, so I was not closely monitored. To ensure that this humiliation never happened again, I began to look for nit eggs myself. It soon became easier, rather than combing out the eggs, to simply rip the offending hair out. And so I would spend around an hour a day or more, in front of the mirror, ripping out my hair. Needless to say, soon I had numerous bald patches. Everyone was appalled, but the routine had become strangely calming, and I continued to pull out my hair for a couple more years. Sadly, it has never recovered as the hair roots were destroyed. Nowadays, provided I keep my hair up, no one can really tell unless they know or unless I am under bright light.
As a young teen, being bald utterly broke my heart. I turned down any dates I was asked on, never did sleep overs, and bunked PE for the whole of secondary school for fear of anyone noticing. I never went swimming, avoided the rain, and always sat at the back of any class room, because if anyone was behind me, I simply couldn't think for fear of them noticing the patches under my carefully combed hair. I threw myself into riding horses, and running with my dog, two things that still give me great satisfaction and joy, infact, I even did the London Marathon such was the run-lust! I can't help thinking that without my bald patches, I wouldn't have achieved that.
For a long time I was terrified of anyone getting close to me. But as a teenager, friendships grew, and I shared my dark secret with a few very close friends, mostly boys. All were very supportive, while I was amazed that they still wished to engage with a freak like me. Everyone said that they too had some similar problem, either a physical or mental imperfection that troubled them in a smaller way. My male friends told me that any boy who dumped me for being bald would be an idiot. I found that talking about it gave me strength. I even started dating someone. I'm convinced that growing up with this problem has given me more empathy than I might have had, which has allowed me to really understand and be able to help women I meet now, who have the same, or indeed , unrelated but painful problems. So in a strange way it has been a blessing in disguise.
Over the years, sadly, my problem has not gone away. I have to tell new boyfriends about my 'scars', and I usually hold off getting too attached to anyone before they know. If they don't except me, warts and all, I've lost nothing, so it's a very effective filter that I would not have had without this "fault". I've had one lovely boyfriend who was a hairdresser, and couldn't have been more kind. He had worked in all the top London salons, and told me how common female baldness is. Infact, he said "i'd love you if you were completely bald!". I remind myself that I have arms and legs that work, and so much to be grateful for, that complaining about my bald patches is not an option. James O'Brien was on LBC talking about this topic last week. He was very understanding towards the pain it causes the sufferer, but getting sad about it simply isn't an option.
One of the most wonderful experiences of all was visiting Lucinda Ellery's salon for female baldness in Hammersmith. She treats everyone with such glowing positivity and shows such devotion to her life's work. It really is wonderful seeing young girls in there, realising that being bald does not make you a freak, and that although not every case is fixable, there are ways to cope, and others like you. I wish Lucinda Ellery had been around when I was a teen!
I would never ever have believed, at age 15, that one day I would be publishing my 'dark secret' on huffington post!