I’m Reice (said like Reece), 27 years old, and I live with my fiancée Lily and my cat Winston. I'm a Paramedic with the East of England Ambulance Service and I've had the most stressful couple of years of my life relating to both work and personal life. This (I think) has led to me losing most of the hair on my scalp, all of my facial hair and, slowly but surely, the rest of the hair over my body.

I began finding white patches in my beard at the beginning of the year and thought I was just getting old! But this gradually turned to small patches of hair loss. I am the sort of person that turns a blind eye to these things and so left it for some time. I visited the doctor after being nearly forced by my partner and was told I potentially had a fungal infection and to try some cream. Me being me, I didn't believe this and never acted on the advice.

Within the next couple of months, whilst my facial hair loss got worse I had a small patch of hair loss developing on the left hand side of my head. This got worse and worse. I was digging more and more hair out of the shower every day. I grew my hair for a while and managed to cover missing patches with longer bits using wax and spray, but eventually this was impossible. I had a hair cut eventually and it looked so bad. It uncovered severe hair loss from places that I'd not even been able to see or look at. We patched things up, decided on a little plan and left a lot of the hair I had in place to see how I felt. I almost broke down in tears in the chair. A few days later I shaved it off. I laughed about it at first but I knew I wasn't feeling great deep down.

I've always had long hair. I joined the Army at 17 and my first nickname was 'Westlife' due to my boy band haircut and navy suit that I turned up in. Admitting defeat and braving the shave seemed like the end of the world and over the coming days I knew I was wounded. I just hoped that I’d keep hold of my eyebrows but these soon went also. I began shaving my head with a razor because I still felt the patches looked bad even after going short with clippers. This was quite painful for my skin and I eventually ordered a skull shaver which I now use every single day first thing when I get up.

It wasn't until my hair loss got to this point that Lily and I finally decided I should probably go back to the doctors because of the impact this was having on me. I walked out of my GP appointment feeling a hundred times worse than when I walked in. I felt like I was finally ready to open up about what I'd been going through and how I was feeling, but the doctor barely even looked at me. He confirmed it was Alopecia Areata and sent me on my way telling me I'd get a referral to dermatology. I don't blame the doctor for how I felt, they don't have anywhere near enough time. But I can't believe he didn't even ask me how I was feeling?

This is my first memory of feeling mentally defeated.  I'd been struggling with a lot of stress up to this point, but the extent of the Alopecia and the underwhelming sense of support from the healthcare system left me feeling pretty hopeless. I felt in a crisis and just had no idea what to do. I ended up reaching out to a colleague from work who does a lot with well-being. We agreed that I'd have an occupational health referral through work, which resulted in me having some counselling to try and talk through and deal with some of the stuff I'd been going through. I'm not the sort of person to usually talk about how I feel, especially if I'm not feeling good. Counselling was a strange concept but I engaged with the process and have found some benefit to it, mostly that it's okay to feel how I feel with things that I've been through.

This hasn't fixed me, but along with having some time to adjust to the new look, it got me out of a place where I genuinely became a bit scared with how I was feeling. I'd been purposely withdrawing from friends and family, postponed/ cancelled mine and Lily's wedding plans, which alongside my general state of mind put a strain on our relationship. All of this just to try and hide the physical look and the mental/ physical pain.

Everybody is supportive and tells you that you look great but it doesn't change the way you feel. You don’t recognise yourself anymore. You feel alone and like no one else understands. People say it's fine because men are bald anyway, but I wasn't bald and didn't choose this. It is still a shock. Even though most people close to me now know my story, I still get anxious, a feeling which I can confidently say I never appreciated or understood to this level before my Alopecia. I’m trying to avoid reaching for baseball caps and beanie hats to try cover things up, but sometimes the day just feels easier when people aren't staring and you know it's not as obvious.

But I'll get there. After waiting four months to get into dermatology, I'm going in to my last week of Dexamethasone and have a follow up appointment to discuss immuno-suppressants. I think I remember them mentioning JAK Inhibitors (which I've read have had good success in clinical trials) but saying that we can't have them yet, so it's likely to be Methotrexate. I've had no regrowth yet and am not a fan of some side effects I've been experiencing, but I feel like I'll stick with it and give things a good try. I'm trying to be more positive, making the most of the spare time I have to try de-stress, feeling a bit more accepting that this is how I look now and that it doesn't have to change who I am, but I'd be lying if I said I was over it. I've been generally a lot better but I still have days that catch me by surprise and put me right back to where I started.

The reason for writing this blog is that I've struggled massively with the mental aspect of this condition and don't feel it is addressed enough in the early stages. I understand that some people don't struggle with this side of things, but personally I've felt very alone and at times felt I couldn't see a way out of how I was feeling. I've had a typical 'man up', 'don't talk about your feelings' attitude, which on reflection hasn't worked for me. After gaining the courage to reach out to a few people, read other people's blogs on this site and listen to some podcasts, I feel less alone and more able to deal with things. I feel passionate about being there for other people and being able to offer some support so that other people don't feel as isolated and hopeless as I did. I want people to feel like it's more acceptable and therefore find it easier to reach out, to know that it's okay to feel down, it's okay to struggle, it doesn't make you weak, it just makes you human. 

One of my favourite songs is 'We're all we need' by a group called 'Above and Beyond'. I've always really believed in the lyrics as some sort of a mantra. That sometimes we don't need so much of what everyone else is telling us we need, like money or material possessions, we just need each other, especially during bad times. Be there for each other, reach out to people/ connect and we'll all be just fine. If anyone would like to get in touch with me, I have started an Instagram account to connect with others with alopecia: @ronbaldee