Living With Alopecia
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Hello everyone, and welcome back! It's been a minute since I've written, so. I'm going to jump right in. Today I thought I would go into a little more detail about my life with Alopecia, as that is also part of my story that I discuss in my book, "Grateful: Faith, Healing and the Gift of Music." It is also something for which I advocate.
I have lived with Alopecia since the second grade. At that age, I began losing patches of hair (Alopecia Areata) and tried obsessively to cover them up so that my classmates would not see, but they did, and that caused much insecurity. This hereditary, autoimmune disease is usually triggered by stress. At that time, my teacher died unexpectedly. It confused and burdened me, as well as my classmates, as most of us had never experienced the death and sudden absence of someone we knew closely. I can still remember that day in detail. Our Principal, Mr. Coyne, came in to our classroom and told us that Mrs. Elzholse had passed away unexpectedly. His voice was soft, and compassionate as he gave us the news. The entire class began to cry. We found ourselves adjusting to the loss of our teacher, and getting used to a substitute whom we didn't know. It was a lot for second graders to take in, and the stress manifested in me with the onset of Alopecia Areata. Lucky for me, it was treatable...at the time. The successful treatment was the application of cortisone cream. With that, the hair grew back. However, bald patches returned throughout my young years, each time growing bigger. The treatment became more painful. By the time I was in high school, the disease was more severe and required shots of cortisone in my head. They were painful, but they worked. The hair grew back, but not before increasing stress and insecurity as I continued to try and cover them up with my existing hair. The patches were so big at this point, however, that was not always possible. People noticed, and it further chipped away at my self esteem. Then it got even worse. At age 26, I was dressing for a New Years Eve performance. My sister was helping me do my hair. She noticed six small bald patches at the crown of my head. They eventually grew into one large spot, and the shots no longer worked. I instead covered it with a fall that mixed with the hair that was left. Boy was that a pain to put on every day...Lol. A few weeks later, all of my hair was gone...eye lashes, eye brows, leg hair, nose hair...everything. I now had Alopecia Universalis, and I began wearing full wigs.
Coming to terms with this was a difficult journey, but the moment I put my first full wig on, the stress diminished tremendously. What also helped to keep it all in perspective, was my experience walking into that wig store for the first time. I will never forget it.
I was with my mom and my sister. My family was so supportive throughout the whole thing, but especially my mom and sister. While we were there looking for something that I would feel comfortable in, in walked another young woman who had lost all of her hair. She too was with her mom and her sister. She also had a double malady. She had Alopecia, and multiple sclerosis, the latter of which had her on disability. Her sister, like mine, was visibly upset to watch her only sister struggle with so much. Bipolar Disorder is brutal, but I was much more controlled at this point. My life was getting back on track where that was concerned. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for this young woman to live with MS.
I found a wig that I really liked. When my mom, my sister and I left and got in the car, we just looked at each other, commenting on the parallel situation we just witnessed...both that young woman and I were facing a kind of milestone in our lives, one to which we did not look forward, and we both went through it with our mother and our sister. It was parallel, except for the realization that her situation was truly more difficult than mine. My mother turned to me and said: "Someone always has it worse Maria. Just thank God honey, you're blessed!" Mom was right. Losing my hair was traumatic at first, but as with my life with Bipolar Disorder, I learned that God turns trials into testimonies. This is why my advocacy journey does not stop with those afflicted with Bipolar Disorder. It also extends to the alopecians of the world. We are immunocompromised, but whether we wear a wig, or don't wear a wig. Our disease is not life threatening, so there's nothing to fear here. Afterall, it's only hair!