September was Alopecia Awareness Month. This annual event provides a chance for alopecia organisations and support groups around the world to get some media coverage and raise funds for their work. The event also creates space for alopecia sufferers to speak out and tell their stories. Hearing the accounts of those dealing with the condition allows the wider public to see how it affects the lives of people who are their neighbours, colleagues and family members.
This article is going to look at three of those stories. Get ready to meet some amazing people!
Australian Katie Hale was diagnosed with alopecia areata in 2015. That was hard for a vivacious twenty-three-year-old woman to take. As Katie explained to ABC Radio Adelaide’s David Bevan, her hair was a central part of her identity. ‘I had beautiful, long blonde curly hair. My hair was my thing.’ Within one week, half her hair had gone. A few months later, the loss had spread to the rest of her body.
Katie was living in Sydney when her condition was diagnosed, but her subsequent experience prompted her to relocate to Melbourne. “I moved cities to have a bit of a fresh start, and to have people around who didn’t really know me beforehand, just because you do get treated quite differently.” Katie also had to put up with people staring at her in the street and making ‘jokes’ and comments about her.
Social media came to her rescue. Through Instagram, she was able to connect with other young women who were going through the same thing. As Katie put it, these were people ‘who look like me.’ She has managed to build a support network that stretches around the world. Her activity on social media has helped her rebuild her confidence. She still faces challenges but talking with other people in the same situation helps her deal with them.
Chloe Sheehan was twenty-two when alopecia areata robbed her of her thick brown locks. She lost eighty per cent of her hair within months of first noticing bald spots on her head. This triggered a difficult period in the young Irish woman’s life and almost crashed her relationship with her boyfriend. Chloe was unable to see a future in which she would want to get married or turn up at a maternity unit wearing a wig. During the worst moments, she even contemplated suicide.
Fast forward a few years; Chloe now works to raise awareness of alopecia and support those going through it. She knows how tough it can be. “When it comes to hair loss you are dealing with grief and identity issues, self-esteem and anger.” Like Katie, Chloe has established an active presence with her @chloeshairaffair Instagram page, sharing her own experience of alopecia and encouraging others to talk about theirs. She looks to the future with confidence, a future that includes her wedding next year. Her message is simple. “Society is wrong in what it has taught us — being different does not make you ugly, it makes you beautiful in your own right.”
Linda Duncan has had alopecia for over thirty years. Now in her fifties, she began losing her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes in her early twenties. She took to wearing wigs, importing them from the United States because she found it hard to source good ones in the UK. Wearing them was a difficult and sometimes humiliating experience. She once fled from a nightclub after someone pulled the wig off her head.
Taking up running gave Linda the courage to ditch her wig on some occasions at least. She joined her local Parkrun in Colchester, England, but found that running while wearing her wig caused her to overheat. She replaced it with a cap or headscarf before finally running the race bald to raise awareness for alopecia. She was heartened by the overwhelmingly positive responses she received when she posted images of the event on social media. Those responses encouraged her to push things further. She has since walked into supermarkets without her wig, something that she could never have contemplated in the past. She still has difficult moments, but things are getting better.
Alopecia is a hair loss condition that devastates the self-confidence of sufferers. It can wreck careers and relationships. That’s why it’s so great to hear the stories of people who have faced up to alopecia and shown that there is a way of living with it. More power to them!
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