When I first started to lose my hair at the age of 24, I was handed an Alopecia UK leaflet during one of many hospital appointments.

On the front cover, a person with alopecia universalis was staring back at me, with no hair, no eyelashes no eyebrows, nothing. I felt a great fear and disbelief that this could one day be me, and yet here I am, living what was once my worst nightmare.

I became engulfed by the trauma, desperate to find a cure in the hope that my hair would grow back, wishing that this was a brief interlude with alopecia areata that would soon become a distant memory.

As my hair continued to fall during the months that followed, taking some kind of action became unavoidable. I was caught between having 'not enough hair ' to hide my ever expanding patches and 'too much hair' to accept letting it go. My instinct was to cover and conceal, first with hats and later with wigs. 

After a lot of research and quite a few wig encounters that I'd rather forget, I eventually found a wig that worked for me. For the first time in a long time I felt like me, or at least a little closer to who I once was.

Finding a wig that I felt comfortable wearing enabled me to gradually re-enter a society from which I had slowly withdrawn.

As the years passed, I felt a growing disconnect between my true self behind closed doors and the image I was representing to the outside world. I became increasingly secretive for fear of being 'found out', insular, anxious and ashamed of my alopecia. I started to feel held hostage by the safety net of my wigs.

Subtly and sometimes not so subtly, wig wearing dictated my life, I stopped participating in activities that I once loved, limited social meetings and conversations. After everything that I had endured, it just felt so much easier and I became a master of avoidance. 

Naturally this impacted friendships, relationships and every aspect of living a full life - My world became very rigid and small.

Thankfully, through regular psychotherapy and a good therapist, I finally found the professional support that I so desperately needed. I can honestly say that it saved me.

Therapy is by no means a linear process but over the next few years I felt a strong desire emerging to live as my true self. I became increasingly frustrated from hiding behind my wig and struggled to authentically accept my alopecia or acknowledge the past trauma without fully embracing and living it.

Shifts started to happen inside, I began to prefer how I looked without a wig and the daily ritual of placing it on my head felt soul crushing, like I was not good enough to step into the 'real' world as myself. And yet, the leap to go without, felt so out of reach.

It wasn't until a family holiday that I could not get out of (believe me, I tried and just an example of my extreme behaviour), where I was really confronted by my decision to wear a wig. 

After a long flight, arriving late at night in extreme heat, feeling uncomfortable and agitated with a sense of 'I can't do this anymore', I had my 'now or never' moment. I could either suffer through as I had so many times before or just, not wear my wig. So simple yet so complex. The next morning, I woke up, took a deep breath and walked out to greet my family totally bald for the very first time.

Finding that courage, was the kindest thing I have ever done for myself.

Even writing this, four years later, I feel a huge sense of relief and extremely grateful to have taken that leap of faith.

Having the space to 'be' with my alopecia, in a far away place where I did not know anyone was a blessing, it allowed me to explore and experience a life just as I was.

The biggest challenge I faced was returning home to resume regular life. It would have been all too easy to put my wig back on and never take it off again. But I was fuelled by the taste of a life that I wanted and when confronted with another 'now or never' moment just before a solo dog walk, I dug deep, found my inner strength and chose to go without, head held high. I haven't worn a wig since.

The support from family, friends and sometimes people I barely knew was overwhelming, in a positive way. Whilst scary, it felt like a weight had been lifted and my alopecia finally had the acknowledgement that it deserved. I felt my anxiety and shame begin to dissipate.

My social anxiety still exists of course, my 'protection' has gone but by living my truth I know that my self worth and inner resilience is continuing to build from a truly authentic place. You also get better at rolling with the punches when presented with stares, comments and uninvited advice.

When I lost all my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes to alopecia, I also lost myself but 12 years on and steadily rebuilding my foundations, I am grateful for who I have become - My husband often refers to me as 'Amy Version 2.0' which I love. I have a complex relationship with alopecia, one that I don't think will ever leave me, after all, it's something that literally stares back at me each time I catch my reflection, but we are somehow learning to live with one another in harmony.

I believe that the decision to wear a wig, go without and everything in between is a completely personal choice, one that should be respected without judgement or comparison. It's important that you do what feels right for you. But, if 'ditching the wig' is something you'd like to explore, here are my words of encouragement...

Support - Friends, family, therapy and the wonderful AUK - It's a big step that you're taking and you don't have to do it alone, encouragement goes a long way.

Talk - Talk openly about how you feel to lift the shame - the right people will meet you emotionally.

Routine - Practice taking it off and going without, it helps normalise it little by little.

Patience - Unless you feel inclined to spontaneously whip off your wig, do it in your own time, on your own terms with a little nudge of courage.

Strength - We have lived through a trauma and I truly believe anyone with alopecia has the inner strength to show their true self however difficult it may feel at the time. If I can do it, so can you.

The positives outweigh the negatives - it gets easier and nothing beats the feeling of a gentle breeze, light rain and sun beams on your head.

Do it for someone else - You never know who might be impacted by you showing up, for alopecia awareness and otherwise. I feel proud to represent for those that do not feel able.

And lastly, take a deep breath and hold that beautiful head up high.