Hello you... Do you remember walking in to the GP surgery at the tender age of 6, being told you had 'a disease'? You were scared to death and so sad! Luckily you had a mum who pushed further and took you to see another GP, at that point you were diagnosed with Alopecia Areata. Little was known about it all those years ago but all you knew at that moment was that you are different now, the long luscious Rapunzel-length of locks you had kept appearing on the bed and the sofa.

Do you remember walking back into high school with a thick black headband trying to hide the ever-growing patches? Why you? Why did you have to be the odd one out? Well kids at that age knew you and didn’t seem to notice at school. They knew you as Catherine and didn’t care how you looked, they were just happy to be your friend.

Later, you could only wish that the rest of the world was so kind. You lost most of your hair. Weekends and non-school days involved you wearing a baseball hat to try and hid your patchy almost non-existent hair on your head. Both kids and adults could be unkind. 'Hello little man, how are you son?' All you wanted to do was to hide and cry. Well at least you had that one friend with you that saw the looks and heard the comments and decided to help. She popped a hat on too and together we went everywhere with those awful baseball hats on. Emma you were a true friend and never wandered far as you just knew I was scared and embarrassed of this new me.

The years flew by and before you knew it the day had arrived you had been dreading; the first day at the 'big school'. Here you were, slightly plump and overweight from those awful steroids the GP gave you to stimulate hair growth. In a brand new grey pleated skirt, a horrible tight blue shirt and a very stiff black blazer and very wispy almost grey flecks of hair on your head. Walking into the yard that day you saw the way everyone looked at you - strange looks, whispers, backs turned - this was about to become the toughest journey so far and you knew it. If only you could go home and hide under your duvet and listen to music. You endured both physical and verbal abuse every day. 'You look like Sinead O'Connor'  'Hey Duncan Goodhew!' 'Who are you, what are you?' 'Freak' 'Fatty' 'Baldy'. Yep you really did get everything thrown at you and I don’t know how you did it but you did, you kept going.

Now I don’t know what truly was your breaking point but you finally gave up. You just couldn’t face another day so off you went every day pretending to go to school but hiding on streets, in plain view, and walking around aimlessly to avoid school. Day in, day out, you refused to return to the place where both teachers and pupils abused you. You took strength from not seeing and hearing the words any more and slowly but surely you became blessed with lovely thick hair once again. Your dad finally saw the difference but still was unaware you often sneaked back into your home when he left for work. You decided to write away your troubles and listen to music to help with the sadness that you felt. It became your therapy, your soul slowly healed and you started to become strong enough to face the world again. With a few honest discussions with education and your dad you decided to work and leave school for good. A fresh start to enable yourself to be the new you, the one with lovely hair and a slim figure, close the door on the past abuse and become a new chapter of you.

Now knowing this condition nothing lasts forever and sadly neither did your hair growth. You cannot pin point what and how this happened but slowly your hair was slipping away again and so was your confidence. How could you work and face the world again like this? Do your remember that lady you worked with? She was much older than you and she asked a question that cut you to the core - 'Do you think you should work on a reception with the way you look? You put people off they think you are ill or dying!'

You took the plunge, you finally decided after all these years you were going to buy a wig. Something to hide under and perhaps blend into being 'normal' again. After much deliberation you picked a bob-like number in red- a bold, loud red. And that was you for a long time, full of confidence and personality and back to being you. A happy and content you. Over the years you encountered further nastiness. There was once that time when you had been in a club and a gang of girls kept circling you and just pulled your wig off and threw it across the room. Now some people would have crumbled but you stood there proud, and I was proud of you then too. People came over to you saying how pretty you looked without it and they would never have known. The way they rallied around you reminded you that not all people were bad, just the minority of people.

Over the following years you were to discover the joys of parenting. The highlight of your daughter's birth was throwing your wig across the delivery room and causing the young midwife to have a small heart attack, and I am sure that it soon become the great conversation in the break room! How anyone could go through labour wearing a wig wasn’t something you could understand and when your son was due you were prepared with a bandana to pop on after the birth and went 'au naturale' in labour after realising a healthy baby was far more important than how you looked.

Some of your funniest moments over the next years involved putting your hair on and off in front of a giggling baby. They couldn’t understand it but one thing was for sure, they loved you with or without it and took you for being mum regardless.

Now over the years you have come to terms with the fact your hair will grow and it will drop out. You have been blessed to keep your eyebrows and lashes where other people have lost everything. You learned to embrace who you are. There is no magic cure or wonderful serum that will ever give you your Rapunzel-style locks back. You have had moments when your hair has grown back fully but been too scared to remove your wig and embrace the hair. You felt naked and bare without your wig. You see everyone has their own way. Some people can share pictures of themselves hairless. Some, like you, will only feel comfortable wearing a wig and sharing your secret to people who care and love you. You will still have dreams of having long hair that flows and that will never change. However you will always be you, no matter what.

Remember to embrace who you are. You will never please everyone and you will always be a work in progress even now as you are about to turn 40.

Love Cat x

Thank you to Cat for this blog post. Cat has told us that writing this has been a cathartic experience and we're pleased to hear this. Alopecia UK will continue its work to raise awareness of alopecia, and its emotional impact, in the hope of ensuring the traumatic events experienced by Cat are very much things of the past.