One of the things that people often say to me about alopecia is that it must be harder to have it as a woman. However, I don’t necessarily believe this to be true.
Men can find alopecia equally as traumatic as women, and in some ways it can be more difficult for them because they don’t have makeup to hide behind and wearing a wig is seen as less socially acceptable.
My friend Nick has had alopecia areata (also known as spot baldness) for fourteen years and has kindly agreed to share his story…
When I was 16 years old I went to the hairdressers with my Dad after rugby training. This was a pretty normal Saturday morning thing but I remember this particular Saturday morning clear as day.
I asked for my usual short back and sides and I was happily chatting away to the hairdresser. After about 15 minutes I was shown the back of my head in a mirror. To my horror there were two bald patches at the back and my immediate reaction was that the hairdresser had made a mistake.
This wasn’t the case of course and the hairdresser took 5 minutes to explain that I had alopecia areata. After seeing several doctors and being told it was most likely related to stress I tried a number of ‘cures’. I forget what I was initially prescribed but needless to say it had no effect. I even remember trying some Chinese remedy which involved taking around 10 tablets a day & rubbing stem ginger on my head to attempt to stimulate the hair follicles.
For the next few months my confidence was low as I tried my best to hide the patches which seemed to be growing every time I looked in a mirror. I made it to the end of the school year and completed my GCSE’s just about managing to keep the patches covered with a slightly longer hairstyle.
At the end of 2001 I made the decision to go to college for my A-levels instead of continuing at my secondary school. This meant leaving a lot of friends behind but was nothing compared to the eve of attending my first day at college and deciding to shave my head for the first time. I had mixed feelings as I felt that having a skin head was associated with a certain type of person and it wasn’t me. I wanted people I met at college to meet the real Nick so I went for it.
When the day came I couldn’t bring myself to go to college without wearing a hat. I remember feeling pretty low about the whole thing but after a while I picked up the nickname of beanie thanks to my grey beanie hat.
I continued playing rugby for the 2 years of my college and it was fair to say it was my release. I always felt happy and confident on a rugby pitch. It was the team spirit of knowing that there were 14 guys that would do anything for you both on and off the pitch.
I found myself playing more and more rugby as it was offering me a slice of normality where I felt myself for a couple of hours. By the time I finished college I was playing or training 4 times a week. Even all this rugby couldn’t prepare me for university and I decided that I wasn’t ready to leave friends and family so I deferred my place.
After working most of the summer I decided to go travelling for 4 months prior to university and it would be fair to say it probably made me. I met so many open minded people who didn’t ask me about my hair or make comments. When I did finally make it to university I was ready and totally embraced student life.
My hair mostly grew back just after my studies came to an end in 2007 meaning that I had been without my blonde hair for around 6 years. My hair grew back dark which I think I prefer but I put this down to the fact that I was shaving my head once a day for all that time.
I still get the odd patch of hair loss from time to time and although it annoys me a little I am thankful that I have hair at all as many doctors told me the longer you are without it the less likely it will be to grow back.
So how to sum up my experience… I would say that it will most likely knock you for six if you wake up one day as I did to find you hair is falling out. But it’s important to remember that your friends, family & teammates don’t care one little bit and when you come to terms with it which will take a little time you realise the important things in life don’t change.