Goodness me, I don’t know where to begin with my dealings with alopecia.

Let’s rewind about 17 years ago, when I was 7 years old. My mother, who always brushed my long blonde hair commented that my hair line at the back of my head had gone up a few inches. My dad and I checked in a mirror. The hair loss was in such a perfectly straight line, we just assumed she was wrong, this must have been my normal hair line. My hair felt a bit thinner to me, and it used to get badly dreadlocked…but I just assumed I wasn’t brushing my hair properly.

The hair must have regrown by itself within the year, as I remember having soft short hair at the back.

When I was 12 I noticed a bald spot right at the front of my hair, right by my face. Smallish…the classic 2p coin patch. I showed my parents; this time it definitely was not my natural hair line. Within a few hours, I was sat with my GP, my dad having researched child hair loss extensively, and worrying about what it might mean. The GP explains that it is a fungal infection, at which point my father interjects, “...sorry Doctor, it's just I looked that up already, and the skin is usually flaky in a fungal infection, Melissa’s skin is not flaky at all, it is very smooth, very bald...have you considered the likelihood of Alopecia Areata? I looked up pictures online and it looks very similar’’. The doctor responded rather swiftly, that Alopecia Areata is very, very rare in children. My dad continues his point. The doctor explains that I should use the anti-fungal cream, and if it doesn’t work, we should return and maybe get the diagnosis changed or explored further. To which my dad states ‘‘my daughter is not a guinea pig.’’

The following day, I am sat in a dermatologist’s waiting room, looking at pictures of completely bald women, leaflets on emotional counselling for alopecia patients, and wig company details. This was rather overwhelming at 12 years old, all the while I was thinking "It can’t be this ‘alopecia’- my tiny little patch!!". Within a minute the dermatologist diagnoses me with Alopecia Areata. I am a little concerned, wondering whether I will be like the women on the leaflets. Or, what if I look like one of ‘The Witches’ from the Roald Dahl story?! They were evil- I remember being so scared of them! And what if now I was to be like that?! Or what about those jokes people make about keeping your wig on? What about the school discos? What about P.E. when we do trampolining? Or swimming? Will people still want to be around me? Or what if people think I have cancer? My mind was racing a little. A little too much for a 12-year-old. A little is an understatement.

Within 6 months- my little patch was gone. Hallelujah. Panic over.

I went through most of my teenage years unaffected by alopecia. My whirling-12-year-old-doctors-room-head was nothing but a faint memory. Now I am 19, I’m at university; making new friends; a boyfriend; learning how to be independent, all the usual things. But then, I’m home for the weekend and have my hair in a bun when my mum comments that some hair seems to be missing...the classic 2p patch, this time at the back. My 19-year-old self was not as lucky as my 7 and 12-year-old selves. Within weeks, the small coin-sized patch had turned into a £20 note sized patch! On top of that, I found 9 new smaller patches. I ended up losing about 2/3 of my hair. New patches would appear, then join into other new ones, then it wouldn’t even be a patch anymore, but a large portion of my head. I am sure if you are reading this, you know roughly what I am talking about. I kept thinking, should I shave it off? Memories of earlier doctors visits came flooding back. 

There were constant haunting thoughts, popping up when I took a shower, when I was with my friends, when I was writing a university essay. Constant. And now with age came new worries. What if nobody ever loves me? What if nobody wants me to work for them? What if I lose my eyelashes? What if my nose hairs go?

That anxiety of every 'what if' still hasn’t completely left me, but when it comes to alopecia, I have slowly worked on not letting myself become emotionally drained by the 'what ifs'. Alopecia can be so emotionally draining, and quite frankly it made my soul ache – I literally felt like I mourned my hair and my old confident self. It took away so many potentially brilliant times from me. Times when I was sat in the shower crying, trying to untangle dreadlocks in my hair. Times when I didn’t go out because my patches couldn’t be hidden. Times when I looked around at anyone and everyone, wishing I had their hair. Times when I’d be waiting for my next round of steroid injections. Times when my dermatologist would say "small sharp scratch" as Smooth Radio played in her surgical room. Times when I had nightmares about being strapped down whilst people pulled my hair out. Times which I still hate to think about. Times wasted.

But time didn’t have to be wasted. I let myself get consumed by it. The thoughts were so much worse than the hair loss itself. My change in outlook didn’t happen overnight; it is a constant journey. I started talking openly about my alopecia. I started writing letters to the alopecia, informing it of what it had done to me, and how I would no longer let it control me. I then started drawing, to be specific, I drew trees losing their leaves, flowers losing their petals. Because sometimes we need to shed parts of us to grow into who we were meant to be and to really bloom. Without alopecia, I may never have ended up with my partner- who has said my openness and honesty about alopecia is something that immediately made an impression on him. Without alopecia, I would have never developed into someone as empathetic as I am now. Without alopecia, I would have never felt the warmth, genuine unwavering love and support from friends and family around me. Without alopecia, I would have never been able to make my brother laugh about his own receding hairline. Without alopecia, I would have never understood how much alopecia can both take and give you.

I am 24 now, and for the past 5 years, I have never been patchless. I usually have about 6 patches at a time, they come and go constantly. Yes, it still gets to me a little. And this time, when I say a little, it really is a little.