It is not uncommon in my world to be approached about being a woman who is bald. I can't be defensive, annoyed or upset about this. Lets be honest, I'm a woman in my mid-thirties, who happens to be completely hair-free. People will be intrigued and want to know why I don't have any hair, especially children who are naturally more inquisitive. I like to think of it as hair-care-free.
Recently someone in the middle of a bar on a busy Saturday night asked me "Can I sponsor you?". I asked him what he meant by this, to which he replied whilst making eye contact with my bald head and nodding "You know". I shook his hand, and left him to the dregs of his Stella Artois.
That very same evening, a lady told me how brave I was to be embracing baldness and that her mother had passed away 3 years ago to cancer. I responded that I was sorry for her loss. I explained that I did not have cancer, that I had alopecia. She still insisted that baldness was a brave move in todays society. She then got dragged off by her friend who was clearly mortified by her boldness to baldness.
Only last weekend, I was asked by a woman stood next to me "Can I touch your head?". To which I replied "Yes, if you like". She then stroked my smooth, bald head and declared how wonderfully lovely it was, and that the bald look suited me. I thanked her. She then said "I hate my hair. You can have some of mine".
On another recent occasion, a woman approached me in the middle of the street to ask me "Are you lost?". I said no. She asked "Are you on some kind of medical treatment?". I said no, I have alopecia. She said "Jesus sent me to speak to you and to tell you that he is thinking of you".
In my bandana wearing days, as I sat enjoying being a guest at a wedding, I was approached by a man. He stood at the head of the table, pointing at me and declaring that he'd not realised that a nun had been invited to the wedding. I was not at a place of acceptance at this point and my confidence and self-esteem were non-existent. At a time of desperation of self-acceptance, I ran off escaping from this never ending hell. Everywhere I went, I was discussed, approached, pointed at, sniggered at. I even had times that I disliked a lot of my very best friends and family. I hated myself and I was bitter and angry towards everyone around me.
I later tried wigs, and for a couple of years it was a confidence tonic to me. I felt happier and more able to face the world, because I was normal again. No-one noticed me as I blended in with everyone else. Unfortunately for me, this was short lived. I am not saying that this is necessarily true for others. Wigs work for so many people, but for me it led me to believe that I was hiding my identity. It is so important to find your own way and it is certainly not a set route. Like my car journeys in my VW Bug I usually end up going the wrong way. I think what alopecia has taught me, is that I am a very strong and independent woman and I have struggled, but that I have found a route that has enabled me to embrace being bald, to love being bald and to show the world that you can still be happy and strong. Today, 11 years on. I would not want it any other way.
I often explain my journey as "full circle". I lost my hair. I lost myself. I hated myself. I found myself. I loved myself. People often ask - would you like your hair to grow back. To which I reply "no". To explain why I wouldn't is because I have come full circle. I lost my identity 11 years ago. I have re-found a happier, stronger version of myself so why would I want my old self back.
To some it makes no sense. To me, it makes perfect sense, because my route has led me to this:
To establish the first alopecia charity in Wales. Dedicated to the condition that affects 1.7% of the UK population. Why is it that diagnosis of alopecia is so very final at that very first consultation. At my diagnosis I was told that it was a shame for a 25 year old woman but that he was sure I could find something support online. What I aim to do is establish a unique service dedicated to the psychological impact this non-life-threatening-life-changing condition has on people. Diagnosis is just the beginning and not where it should end.
Tuesdays with Morrie, a beautifully written book by Mitch Albom helped me appreciate what I have "Accept who you are; and revel in it."