When I was in high school I watched the movie “The Craft” with some of my girl friends. There is one scene where one of the main characters is in the shower and somebody decided to play an evil joke on her by dumping out her shampoo and putting hair removal cream in the shampoo bottle in its place. She is standing there going through the motions of washing her hair, only pulling out clumps of hair every time she runs her hands through it instead of washing it. The scene ends with her standing in the shower holding a handful of hair and screaming. In 2013 that nightmare became my reality.
I guess I have had alopecia my whole life; it had just gone dormant for a very long time. When I was younger I used to lose little coin shaped patches of hair every year and they would grow back with no treatment and no explanation. We did so many blood tests but never found anything. It was a mystery at the time. My doctor said I was perfectly healthy and we chalked it up to allergies. My mom then ripped out all the carpeting in our house and it never happened again after that.
Fast forward 15 years and here I was again, this time the hair was falling out more rapidly. However, I thought it was just history repeating itself and figured a little bit would fall out and then just grow back but that was not the case. December that year I practically had to do a comb over on myself and hold it into place with bobby pins. I was in hardcore denial that anything was wrong. Finally one of my friends spoke up and told me that it was getting pretty noticeable and people were starting to wonder.
Accepting that something was wrong was really hard for me. Everything else in my life was going so well at that time. But I was freaking out inside, I was terrified. What was this? I had so many questions and didn’t know where to go to ask for advice and had never seen or heard of anything like this before. Finally that summer, after trying some treatments that didn’t work throughout the winter, I went to go see a dermatologist. I took Prednisone until the hair grew back then stopped. A month after I stopped taking it, my hair started to fall out again so around that circle I went again. This time I was halfway through the bottle when I went to my doctor for my annual physical and we were chatting about how everything was going when I told her that I was experiencing some major side effects from it. My hands were so stiff and sore that it hurt every time I picked up weights. As somebody who loves to workout and who works at a gym this was a major issue for me. My feet hurt to stand on in the morning, my skin felt thin and delicate, my blood pressure was spiking and my face would flush red so often that I got the nickname “ red face Anna” in a playful manor from some of my co-workers.
With the advice of my doctor I stopped taking the pills and with the support of my family and friends, I decided to shave off the rest of my hair. I went out and bought a wig that week and on Feb 4th 2015 I went home after work and cut off the tiny ponytail that I had left. That was a defining moment for me. That was the moment I claimed my life back.
The two years before that I spent so much time stressing, crying, saying terrible things to myself. I could barely look in the mirror without bursting into tears, and here I was, standing in my bathroom holding onto all that self hatred, and fear…in the form of a ponytail. I took it and flushed it down the toilet with great satisfaction.
As I looked in the mirror and felt my smooth bald head for the first time a big smile spread across my face. One of my favorite quotes is: When a girl is about to change her life…she will change her hair first. Very cliché, but I did just that. The next day when I came to work for the first time with my new look I was greeted with open arms. Two of the girls I worked with at the time snuck off on their lunch break and went and did side shaves to their hair. It was one of the most touching things I have ever experienced. They made me feel like I could just be myself.
That winter I became a spin instructor, something I have always thought was way out of my reach, and that fall I quit my job to go back to school and pursue my dream of becoming a massage therapist. Being front and center while teaching spin helped me to build my confidence. I am so thankful for that. After two years of feeling like I was hiding, and being ashamed of what I looked like, I got the opportunity to help others feel great about themselves again. How cool is that?
One of the biggest misconceptions about alopecia is that people think it is cancer. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder (I really don’t like the word disease) that causes one to lose a little or all of their hair depending on the type that you have. Other than losing your hair, your body is usually perfectly healthy. To this day, I still have many people ask me if I have cancer. Instead of being hurt by it, or feeling insecure and thinking that I look sick, as I did in the past, I have started to use those moments to educate people on what alopecia is.
Alopecia has changed my life. I would say that it has definitely changed it for the better. It has made me realize that I am much stronger than I ever knew I could be, and no matter how hard life gets sometimes to always look for that silver lining. It has allowed me to help others struggling with the same thing to not be afraid to just be themselves and it has brought some truly inspiring and remarkable people into my life.
I think in life we have two choices: We can chose to use these situations like a crutch, to hold us back and to have an excuse for why we can’t succeed or be happy. Or we can take things and situations like this and use them to help others feel more comfortable in their own skin. My goal in writing this is to do just that. Whether you have alopecia or maybe are just going through something in life to be patient with yourself and to stop and realize that you don’t need to be perfect, and that it’s okay to talk about the bad stuff too. In a world where we display only our best via social media, you never know who you may be inspiring from afar. So let your guard down every once in a while and don’t be afraid to let others see you struggle, because they just may be going through the same thing and you may be the one that will change their outlook on life.
By Anna Steen