I had just stepped off the Central Line eastbound tube train at Holborn. As I walked up the escalator to ground level, a big gust of wind lifted the hair on the back of my head up, exposing the bald patch underneath. Instantly, I became overly concerned about what the person behind me was thinking. Was he laughing? Was he taking the piss behind my back? Was he pointing me out to his mates? I was taken over by overthinking. Wild thoughts galloping around in my head, inner clouds obscuring any clear thinking.

Sean, my barber, had been doing a good job of concealing my patches, as they slowly enlarged, then grew back again only for other patches to appear elsewhere on my scalp. ‘Don’t sweat it’, he would say. But I felt like crap. Like my confidence had fallen out along with my hair. ‘What do I do? Do I shave it all off? Will it ever grow back? Why is this happening?’
This had been going on for a while; I hadn’t taken my hair loss that seriously at first. For the first year I had just lost a fair amount of my beard (alopecia barbae) back in 2005 (2005? – that long ago – really?!). But then by 2007 as the first patch on the side of my head appeared, followed quickly by another and another, I realised something was wrong.

Was I stressed? Yes, certainly. In my job as a graphic designer, I had a couple of clients that were particularly difficult. I wasn’t enjoying my work anymore and hadn’t for some time. I dropped them and eased off my work commitments. Which created its own issues. I slowly retreated from social life, as I was rapidly losing confidence in myself. It ended up as a bit of a downward spiral, a snowball effect.

I had begun lurking on alopecia-related message boards, desperate to find out more information about this condition, but never daring to post anything myself or contribute to any threads. Eventually I saw my GP, who was actually very helpful and knowledgeable about the condition and gave me some options. He referred me to a private hospital in Harrow, got a pathology report, and was prescribed a combination of Forceval, 5% Minoxidil Lotion and a reducing course of Prednisolone. I also began receiving regular injections of the patches with triamcinolone (something my doctor said he just would not do himself, but it was my decision. I took that decision).

My hair began growing back while on this 'pic’n’mix' of drugs, but I did feel my mood swing even more. The warnings were clear on the leaflets - you may feel depressed, or feel high, or anxious, or have problems sleeping. But the hair did grow back while on this regimen, and that did alleviate the downsides. I felt I had ‘recovered’, and for about a year all was fine, I had a full head of hair again.

By 2009, my hair started falling out again. When it didn’t get better on its own I began the same treatment. This time it wasn’t as severe, and I felt I was better prepared mentally for it. Nevertheless, it was still dispiriting. But this time, I began documenting the process. I had always kept a diary (more like a morning stream-of-consciousness brain dump – highly recommended) and took photos – but this time I began drawing and sketching my feelings, experiences, describing my regimen. The process felt very cathartic, as if I was somehow purging myself, getting rid of my anxiety and depression, and was an immense help.

I began going to creative art workshops again. It was time to get back out there into the real world. As fortune would have it, one of the people I met, Anna Nyburg, on a letterpress course at St. Bride’s in London, was looking for artists to put on an exhibition at the Imperial College in Kensington, where she worked. This was the spark. My pen-and-ink drawings were solely for myself, but when Anna mentioned that, I immediately thought, ‘why not turn these into something more, show what alopecia is all about?’ I had certainly never come across it in my life before then.

I began to turn these drawing into larger scale pieces and ended up creating a series of 24 screen prints (with massive help from Katy Goutefangea at East London Printmakers), which went on display at Imperial College in Kensington from October 2011 for about nine months. It was through this that I met representatives from Alopecia UK and began to attend their London support groups meetings. This became a massive source of help and support, even though by this time most of my hair had grown back.

Since then, I am extremely fortunate to have most of my hair – I have occasional small circular roving patches. Currently I am sporting a 50p piece size patch at the back of my head, which has now morphed into being filled with fine white hair. But I hardly think about it these days, much to my relief I must say, as even now, over 17 years after all this began happening, it’s been surprisingly difficult to write about.

But what has changed exactly since then? A lot. The awareness of alopecia has increased dramatically, not least to the immense hard work and drive by Jen and Amy at Alopecia UK, and then by people such as Joanna Rowsell, John Altman and Tomahawk (Tom Spencer) to name a few. It’s been amazing to see the profile of this condition being raised.

To draw attention to Alopecia Awareness Month, I will be showing a condensed version of The Alopecia Diaries at Ealing Beat in September, along with more of my recent calligraphy work and screen prints. The 2022 Borough of Ealing Art Trail showcases art by over 200 artists of the London Borough of Ealing in venues across the area on the weekends of September 10-11 and 17-18. Entry is free and many of the artworks are available to purchase.

This is the first time that any of these artworks have been seen for ten years and I am delighted to be showing them again alongside other more recent work. My show will be at St. Martin’s Church, Hale Gardens, London W3 9SQ. Opening hours: Saturdays 11am-6pm, Sundays 11.30am-6pm.

You can find more details about Rob's upcoming exhibition here.

You can find Rob on Instagram here.

And you can still see the original website created for the 2011 exhibition here.