Non-Fiction Highlight: “My Alopecia- Appreciate What You Have Now, You Might Lose It” by J. Smith

Hair loss is a natural part of aging, but losing hair as a teenager is terrifying. J. Smith relates her battle with the rare disorder known as Alopecia.

“My Alopecia- Appreciate What You Have Now, You Might Lose It”

by J. Smith

Rosie
“Rosie with a lollipop and polka-dot bandana”              Source: Wiki Commons
Everyone has their problems during their first couple teenage years. Some have too many pimples, and others have the occasional crush that causes them to fail a grade. Mine was a bit rarer. I had Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that misidentifies the hair as a foreign invader. Pretty much, your body thinks your hair is trying to attack you, so it attacks your hair follicles, making your hair fall out. My battle with Alopecia wasn’t necessarily inspiring or intriguing, but more of a series of awkward encounters.

Starting from the beginning…

On a regular day, I swam in the community pool. Irregularly, on the way home, my mom commented on a bald patch in my hair. She probably expected me to cry, because she told me she didn’t think anyone else noticed. I wasn’t really sure what to think or feel. That night, I did cry, just a tear or two, because I thought it was the right reaction. The next day, we went to the doctor. I begged my mom not to make me go, because even though the bald spot embarrassed me, I assumed it wasn’t important. She brought me anyways, and it was a good thing she did, because the doctor informed us it was Alopecia and recommended we see a dermatologist. The dermatologist had hardly treated Alopecia before, but he still wrote me a prescription for foam to lather on my head.

Apparently, most people diagnosed with Alopecia only lose a spot or two, but I was special: I lost every hair on my body in less than three months. At home, I took to wearing a bandana on my head, biker-style. At school, I wore a cap. The bandanas grew on me, though. Every time I went to Wal-Mart, I would ask about any new bandanas, and I’d ask my mom to purchase a new purple striped one, or one with leopard spots. Looking back, I understand she pitied me, or maybe even felt guilty, because Alopecia is genetic. I still have those bandanas, and they’re special to me. I just wish I had the courage to wear them in school all those years ago.

Of course, my Alopecia and school was a bit of a touchy subject for me. My lack of hair embarrassed me, and I was scared of losing my friends. Before school started, I went wig-shopping with my parents. We gave up after a few minutes of searching; every wig in the store was made for adults, and looked ridiculously large. They were also ridiculously expensive, and I definitely didn’t want to don an itchy $200 hair ball. I did buy a super soft blue bandana, but that couldn’t help me face school. Facing school turned out to be easier than I expected. I had about half of my hair on the first day, so I still looked pretty normal, I just happened to be wearing a hat. My friends didn’t tease me, people didn’t ask hundreds of questions, and I survived the first day of eighth grade, which I took as a sign that I could survive the rest. Somewhere along the line, I lost all my hair, and then a few people asked me questions. I tried to come up with a witty response (key word: tried), and the questions eventually stopped. After a few months, I finally told my friends why I wore a hat, and one of the best things about that time is they didn’t pity me. They simply said sorry about that, and continued joking about whatever they were talking about before. They even joked about my egg-shaped head, which I happily accepted in lieu of pity.

One day, my condition overwhelmed me, and when my mom asked me if I was ready to for school, I broke down in tears. After I calmed down, the day was pretty nice. My mom let me stay home from school, and we made the familiar trip to Wal-Mart, where I picked out a nice blue and yellow bandana, which is still my favorite one. I got over my mental breakdown before school resumed, where I walked in confidently, because I was wearing my new bandana under my hat. By the next summer, only one or two patches had grown back, which worried me, because I really loved swimming, and if I swam without anything on my head, I’d definitely get a serious sunburn on the top of my head. My mom had already thought of that, and so she bought a swimming cap. It was still translucent, causing two little girls across the pool to loudly notify their mom that I “forgot my hair.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mom look more humiliated.

The next school year was almost the same as the last, except this go round, not many people asked me about my hair, and I began growing some more hair back. The original spots refused to grow for a few more months, but I finally grew back enough to brave the outside without getting instant sunburn on my scalp. So when exactly did I go to school without wearing a hat? In all honesty, it was a total accident. The morning of that fateful day, I was getting ready for a field trip, and I hurried to make sure I didn’t forget anything important. In my rush, I forgot to put on my hat. I didn’t realize until I was on the bus, which explained why people shot me weird looks. I quietly slipped off my bandana after panicking a bit, and went on the field trip without a hat.

Possible takeaways from the experiences: my appearance doesn’t determine my identity, and stay positive in the worst of times and everything will be all right? No, but I learned:

  1. Even without hair, I could pull off looking cute when I smiled because I was talking to my friends
  2. People will judge you based on your appearance and you can’t stop it
  1. Alopecia is a part of me, just like my family and friends and childhood memories. Most of all, I learned the small things and important people make hard times bearable. My battle with Alopecia was less of a struggle simply because I had my family, my friends, my bandanas, even dumb jokes to help me. So if my Alopecia comes back, I’ll be ready to take it on.
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One thought on “Non-Fiction Highlight: “My Alopecia- Appreciate What You Have Now, You Might Lose It” by J. Smith

  1. I commend you for being so strong . As an alopecia areata patient myself, I know the feelings all too well. Mine starts when I was 11 and I’m in my fourties now. Ive only lost at the most 3 percent of my hair but it was every year or every other year, I would get another one while the others grew back. It was emotional . It was hard on me. I’ve been to dermatologists and the Mayo Clinic as well as support the Alopecia Areata Foundation. No one in my family and I have a big one , has alopecia . But they all have auto immune diseases , which Alopecia Areata is. What I was told when I was younger that Alopecia doesn’t not affect natural gray hairs when they come as you age. I didnt believe them at the time, but they were not lying ! If I get a spot now, it’s tiny and only the pigmented hairs are taken , so the spot only looks like a thinning! Age is not a bad thing with Alopecia! You are doing wonderful! I wish I had an ounce of positivity you had as a teenager , it would’ve helped. People truly need to know about this condition, keep your positivity flowing!

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