News & Events Blogs Ground Control to Major Tom - Part One Disclaimer: This wasn’t the most fun blog post to write and I shall be as honest as possible about everything; however, before we dive in I feel I should say the following: I will be discussing aspects of mental health in this, there may be some of you out there who are currently struggling with some of these issues. This is ok. You’ve got this. Believe that. However, at the end of this post, I shall provide some sign posting and phone numbers for those of you who may need a little extra support or maybe just someone to talk to. If you need them, use them; it is what they are there for. It is ok to need a little help sometimes and not to be ok, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also, before I start I should say one thing: I may not be able to grow a beard and I may not be a plaid, flannel shirt clad lumberjack who rides to work on a bear everyday but I do consider myself to be a fairly ‘manly man.’ The all too common problem with this, which is something I was wildly guilty of, is believing that we are and should be alone in a struggle. Everyone struggles, but to believe you are too ‘manly’ to talk to someone or seek help about it is quite possibly the most farfetched thing you could ever believe. Help is out there, using it does not make you less manly, it makes you human; not using it makes you an idiot. I shall be writing this blog post in two parts. Losing my hair was a tough process. When the way you look physically changes so dramatically, it’s never going to be easy. In this section (Part 1) of this blog post, I’ll discuss my journey from being a ‘normal guy’ to having full blown Alopecia Universalis. I’ll give you guys as honest an account as I can and shed some light on the things I found most difficult to deal with. In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll explain how things have changed and what I’ve done and changed in my life to get to the place I’m currently in. I’ll give what advice I can to other young men on what actions I took in order not just to live a happy ‘normal life’ but how I took control to live a life I truly enjoy. Grab a cup of tea and get comfy, this could be a long one. So, to summarise: If you’re going through a tough time, talk to someone or get some help. Living in France when this all started wasn’t easy. I may have lived there with my girlfriend (in the interest of privacy, for the duration of this blog I shall refer to her as Sarah) at the time and spoke the language but it was still a very secluding, lonely place to go through the motions. Dealing with this is a lonely place as it is and struggling to get any progress with a doctor and not having a very strong social support structure of friends and family near by was tough. The first bald spot I noticed was in the mountains of Morzine, then in a small village about an hour south of Toulouse my hair continued to fall out and plateaued to the point where I had to shave my head, and finally, my eye brows, lashes and the rest of my body hair left me when I was in Théoule-Sur-Mer; a small village just outside of Cannes. In the space of around 5 months, I’d gone from having a full head and body of hair to having absolutely nothing; which, at the time, broke me. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, looking back, I had started to move into early stages of depression. I’ve always been quite proud of how I look and at that moment, feeling that my health and alopecia had taken that from me had put me in quite a bad place. I’d began to cut off from the people around me, I was becoming increasingly unsociable and starting to withdraw from people close to me which had quite an adverse effect on my relationship with Sarah. Mentally I was going through some tough spots and was slowly turning into a person I wasn’t happy with internally or externally. The thing is, when you go through these stages, no matter what anyone tells you; its your own internal thoughts that have control. When I looked in the mirror, I was borderline disgusted with how I looked; I found it repulsive and didn’t think it was me. Regardless of other people telling me I looked fine and it was in my head, I didn’t see it that way; I thought I looked ugly and sick and that seemingly set me off into a bit of a downward spiral. Fast forward a few months and I’d moved on from Cannes and spent some time living in the French mountains again in a beautiful little town called Tignes. Although a beautiful place to live, it was seasonal and the opportunities for work were not great. This left me with quite a bit of time alone with my thoughts which didn’t particularly help; I’d become more and more secluded in my head and as I said, looking back, was drifting into a place of depression and becoming quite socially awkward. This coupled with the effects it was having on my relationship lead us to take the decision to come back to the UK and I ended up back in Glasgow, Scotland. A month or so into my life in Glasgow and Sarah and myself had parted ways. We may have had our issues as all relationships do however the clear decisive factor in this was the type of person I’d become. Although my alopecia had not cost me the relationship due to my appearance, it was how I chose to react to it and the person I had become because of it. You see, at the time I thought it had very little effect on me but looking back; I was wildly blind as it had clearly caused me to become not a bad person, but not a particularly positive or great person to be with. I attributed this to my alopecia but in honesty, it was my decision. I chose how to react and I chose who I would become when facing this and I had not become a person I was proud to be – this was a very tough pill to swallow. In the months to follow I’d hit a low, I’d hit a very dark place where depression had taken quite a firm hold. You see, depression isn’t just one specific thing, we all experience it differently. For me, it took all my motivation to do anything: to go out, to go to the gym, to do things I’d enjoy, to spend time with friends, to improve myself or to put myself out there in any way. Although I hadn’t turned to any sort of release such as substance abuse etc, I was drinking most nights regardless of having work the next day, I’d be out on dates most nights of the week with different women in some vain attempt to fill a void and find some sort of self-value or respect. I’d become quite an ugly person on the inside, regardless of what I looked like on the outside and had completely lost control of the situation. Further to this, I was still struggling with my appearance and I’d invested in a hair replacement system which I thought was the answer. This may be the answer for others, which is fine, if you feel something helps you then you should 100% make it your own. However, for me it was merely a coping mechanism. I had become abundantly aware that the problem wasn’t how I looked, it was how I viewed myself and the choices I made when dealt a hand. You sometimes cannot choose the hand life deals you, but you can always choose how you react to it and this is something I had no grasp over at the time. I’d spiralled down and made quite a mess of myself and depression had taken me to a dark place. I did not want to consult a doctor because I did not want to be on antidepressants or any medication and was to proud of my ‘masculinity’ ??? to seek any professional help such as counselling. My diet had gone and I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t exercising, I was drinking too much, I had no motivation, I wasn’t surrounding myself with positive people or seeking the help I required. In the end, genuine thoughts of suicide had crept in and this was, at the time, something I had seen as a real option until one night, in the early hours of the morning I had quite a sobering conversation with a friend of mine. I wont name names as to who this person is but that conversation was a very tough one to have, I heard a lot of harsh and honest truths and in reality, it saved me and really changed my mindset. I went to bed at about 4am and didn’t sleep, I spent hours running through the last 8 months of my life and everything it entailed. I was disgusted with who I had become, and it was time to change. We all handle the transition differently and we all experience different emotions, have different coping mechanisms, have different support structures, view ourselves in different ways, have different paths forward and different mindsets on our own situation – this is ok, all of it is ok and none of them are wrong. I went to a bad place and through my own mindset and choices had made this even worse – and you know what? That’s ok too. That’s my experience, that’s my journey and at the time those were my choices. Do I look back and feel regret and disgust for how I’d acted or who I’d temporarily become? Of course, but that doesn’t make it wrong. We all have a different journey and I’m sure this has affected other people in a very similar fashion. The part that I do have a problem with however, is that the help was there. There are things in place, people to talk to, friends around you, family to lean on, coping structures and professionals to talk to in order to work through problems and help you deal with things in a healthy manner that will benefit your life. I’d urge anyone who has felt any of the things I’ve spoken about in this blog to use these amenities to help them through the process because, at the end of the day, you can do whatever you want and deal with it in any way you see fit but when you get out of bed and look in the mirror, you’ve got to be happy with what you see looking back at you. Below are some numbers I’d urge anyone to call should they be having a tough time. These people can help. Whatever you’re going through is ok, we all go through it. We ALL go through it at some point in our life. Do not suffer on your own, the numbers below and services out there can equip you with the tools to come through a rough spell and help you put things in place to live a happy and healthy life. It won’t seem it at the time, but at the end of the day, its all a choice; everything is a choice and it’s about actively making the choice to take an honest look at yourself, actively taking responsibility and actively making healthy, happy changes to be the person you want to be. Mind Info-Line: 0300 123 3303 Samaritans: 116 123 Breathing Space: 0800 83 85 87 Rethink Mental Illness: 0300 500 927 NHS 24: 111 I understand this has been quite a read and I appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read this. It hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world to write but I hope it helps at least 1 person out there understand that even if things suck right now, you’re not alone. You’re never alone. There are people who have struggled with this before, people who are struggling just now and people who will struggle with this when you are no longer having a tough time. There are people who care about you, who love you and who will help you. Understand that. You are not alone. In Part 2, I will discuss how I dealt with turning things around and the steps I took to build a happy and healthy life. Thanks for reading.