Pia's Story | @rockinlockss
On the 12th of May 2017 I woke up and went to get out of bed, but the room suddenly spinned.
I tried again, and the same thing happened. It was the start of two months of a series of panic attacks and constant feeling of a “rocking boat” sensation.
I had all kinds of tests done, head scans etc. but everything turned up fine. It wasn’t until I ruled out any underlying medical issue that my psychologist recommended treating it as an extreme state of anxiety. That’s when I started feeling much better and the rocking boat sensation faded away. It was around 2 weeks into this ordeal that I started noticing large amounts of hair falling out. At first I though it was some seasonal thing or hormonal issue and had my hair cut into a bob thinking it would stop my hair loss. By mid August, I only had a couple of strands of hair left on my head and decided to shave them off. My eyebrows and eyelashes were starting to thin out quite rapidly and by the end of September they were gone too.
The emotional impact of hair loss
It was a very scary time. I had undergone a huge physical change in a very short
period of time and when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t recognise myself, nor did I like what I saw. I didn’t know anyone with Alopecia and as much as family and friends offered support, I felt no one really understood what I was going through.
Social situations became so difficult to deal with and I avoided them. I stopped exercising. My self-esteem hit rock bottom. I just couldn’t accept that that was my new reality and every night I would dream that it had all been a nightmare and would wake up with hair. Only that it was very real, and each morning I’d cry when waking up. I felt I would never be able to feel like “me” again. I had lost my identity, my femininity and my confidence.
I felt insecure in my relationship. How would my partner ever find me attractive again? Would I ever feel attractive? Would I ever feel at peace with the new me? Would I ever accept the fact that I may look like this for the rest of my life? I spent hours and hours online, reading research papers on treatments or clinical trials, desperately looking for something that would give me some hope with regards to getting my hair back and trying to outsmart my dermatologist. I watched YouTube videos of girls with Alopecia trying desperately to replicate how they would do their makeup but all the while thinking I couldn’t possibly look like them.
Seeking help & support
Amidst all this turmoil, I was very fortunate in that my psychologist constantly encouraged me to keep doing the things I liked and to not lock myself up at home avoiding situations because of my changed appearance. I remember she would say “just show up”. She kept asking me about my plans and asking “if you had hair, would you go?”. If I said yes, then she would say “Ok, then just go. Even if you only stay 5min. But get dressed, do your make up, put on your wig and get out the house, go to wherever it is you had planned and stay for as long as you feel comfortable. If it gets too overwhelming, then just go back home.” It was those baby steps that helped me a lot in making sure that I didn’t lose touch with friends and activities. Many times, I would show up, stay 5 min and leave. But then, I’d stay longer and longer and longer. Even though it’s been nearly 4 years, I still try to play by the same rule when facing a situation that I know I want to avoid because of my hair loss. This has been a very empowering way to go about my Alopecia and has helped so much to rebuild my confidence.
Finding support in the hair loss community
Something else, which helped me a lot was to talk about it. I was very open about my hair loss right from the very beginning. It just came out. Even at the very start, just when my hair was thinning and already had some bald patches, I would show my friends and work colleagues. It was as if I felt more at ease knowing that they knew and I thought that by being the first to tell them there was no room for chit chat behind my back.
It was around one year and half into my hair loss that I came across the IG profile of a lovely Irish girl with Alopecia Universalis. She was so stunning! But she was bald, how could I possibly find her beautiful? So the question popped up in my mind: If I find her beautiful, why cannot I not see beauty in me? It was a sort of instant realisation that I would eventually learn to like my reflection again and feel ok about my hair loss. And so came the discovery of the many beautiful and amazing women on IG dealing with different types of hair loss and the redefining of my own beauty standards. Hundreds and hundreds of women out there who know exactly what the emotional implications of losing you hair feel like and are just a message away. Even though they are not physically here with me, I know they’re out there, just a message away and that just makes my “new reality” much easier to deal with.