Quick note: I wrote the article below in 2013, just after a trip to Bali. I was in the early stages of a travel blog… and I decided to bear my bare head to the few people who read it.
The response I got sparked the idea for Lady Alopecia. Because more than ‘a few’ people ended up reading it. And so many of them opened up in return – about their own hair loss, self-esteem issues, even battles with cancer – bravely sharing their tales, after I decided to share my own.
Turns out, everyone has something that they’re ashamed of, or afraid of. And even though the hair I grew back after writing this post didn’t last long, that feeling of solidarity and support has remained with me since. Hence my determination to share alopecia stories and tips today!
But for now, let me pass you over to the Lady Alopecia of yesteryear – when she was still a newbie baldie called Emma.
I really wasn’t sure if I’d be able to publish this post. But I feel like in order to continue this blog, I need to be honest, and to share the full story about my trip to Indonesia.
Because so much of it centred on the real reason I went there. And my most memorable experiences were the ones that made me stare that reason in the face.
I mentioned earlier that I went backpacking to get away from it all, and to see if I could do it myself. All true. But what I didn’t mention was what I needed to get away from.
Long story short(ish), I’ve suffered from alopecia on and off since a pretty difficult period in my childhood. A lot of people close to me know about this but a lot don’t – and may wonder why I seem so obsessed with headbands!
I’m sorry to the people reading this now whom I never told… it was just too hard to talk about. But thanks to my trip, and to the healing that came from it, I’m finding it much easier now.
After that, it returned during periods of stress in my life. The patches were bigger each time, but usually some treatment or another worked (including very painful and toxic cortisone injections into my scalp).
But for some reason, in my mid-twenties, the problem got worse. The patches grew so big that headbands couldn’t cover them, and I had to resort to wearing a headache-inducing wig. My curly auburn hair had always been my trademark, and to have only 20% of it left was pretty distressing, to say the least.
I’m sure that any woman (or man, for that matter), would feel like less of themselves if they were faced with this situation. I wasn’t truly comfortable in myself for years.
Because even when I was out having fun, and had made an effort to look nice, I was always aware of it. The wig would start digging in painfully or I’d worry that the patches would become visible – even when people complimented my hair, I’d feel guilty knowing that it wasn’t mine.
The more treatments I tried, and the more advice well-meaning people gave, the more self-conscious I became and the more hair fell out.
Over the last year, it became the worst it’s ever been and I couldn’t figure out why – especially at a time in my life when I was so settled and happy. I was living in Dublin, surrounded by family and friends, in a job I really enjoyed. My relationship with my boyfriend Andy was better than ever, I’d met some amazing new people through a choir that I loved and I really had no cause to worry.
So what was wrong with me? And how could I fix it?
These questions were what led me to Bali. I thought back to the last time when my hair had grown without having to boost it by medical means. It was 5 years ago, when I volunteered in Kenya for a few months.
The combination of sunshine, being amongst strangers and not worrying about my appearance (or even knowing what I looked like, with no mirrors around) did me a world of good. And I hoped that a trip by myself, away from the strains of work and city life, would do the trick again.
In our tiny kitchen, using a crappy clippers from Boots. Now that was a traumatic experience! Not only was I leaving him for 2 months, and travelling alone for the first time, I was going to do so completely bald (well, apart from the strange pattern on my head where the stubborn shadow of my existing hair remained).
But I figured that in order to heal, I’d need to throw myself in completely – and that’s the philosophy I maintained for the duration of my trip.
So a skinhead (and very bumpy-headed!) version of my former self arrived in Indonesia. And although I ended up wearing a headscarf most of the time, I quickly learned to be open about my alopecia. I had to be, considering that locals would demand whether I had any hair, some even boldly ripping off the scarf to see for themselves!
Before long, I began to feel more at ease… and soon I was bearing the baldness at a yoga workshop, on the beach, and in hostels. And you know what? It really was ok.
Sure, people stared… but then some locals would call out that they liked my style. Or my fellow backpackers would surprise me. I’d been nervous that I’d be dismissed as a freak, just like I’d been scared of the reactions I’d get at home.
But the travellers I came across weren’t repulsed, just curious – and I learnt to speak frankly about my problem without welling up. Some were completely indifferent and that was amazing! I could walk around without feeling self-conscious, even at times forgetting my condition.
I soon realised that I was not defined by my hair (or rather, my lack of it!) There was a lot more to me. And that’s when the impossible decided to do me a favour and become possible.
Because as I grew in confidence, for the first time in 3 years my hair began to grow, too!
And now I can tell you about the full breadth of my journey, knowing you know. Hopefully, it will inspire those experiencing similar problems to take control of their situation and find peace in finding themselves.
I’m not saying the answer is to go backpacking, as I know not all of us can or want to. But it’s what worked for me and some of the experiences I had in Bali only happened because I opened my mind to change.
I had lost hope, but even the act of doing something gave me some back. Now I can’t believe the difference in my hair – and in myself – over a couple of months.
My trip to Indonesia changed my life. And that’s the bald truth.
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Alopecian. Yoga Teacher. Copywriter. Here to share information, offer support and show people the adventures that can lie in hair loss. I’m proud to have alopecia and I want to help others embrace their baldness, too!
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