I'm used to answering questions on whether I’m undergoing chemotherapy, or responding to comments about how I’m bald. This is because I have a condition which causes hair loss, called alopecia areata. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.
It is not known precisely how many people in the UK suffer with alopecia areata but some studies show it to be somewhere in the region of two per cent of the population. This would equate to over one million people in the UK affected by alopecia areata at some point.
When I originally went to see my GP in 2007, I had two small bald patches about the size of a 50p. My GP told me immediately that it was alopecia areata, but advised me not to worry (easier said than done when your hair is falling out!) and explained that it was likely my hair would grow back.
My hair continued to fall out and I was referred to a dermatologist. By the time I received my appointment six weeks later, I had sustained hair loss of about 50 per cent. I was given a steroid cream and told to apply twice daily. But my dermatologist handed over the prescription with a warning that it was quite likely it would have no effect as my hair was falling out so rapidly. This was all that was offered to me. My dermatologist was the one to break the news that there is no known cure for alopecia areata.
A couple of months later I was completely bald. I found it really hard to adjust to my new appearance but the hammer-blow came a couple of weeks later when my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out too. Nothing can prepare you for sudden hair loss. I was absolutely devastated.
I experienced so many different emotions: grief over the loss of my hair and sense of identity; anger that this had happened to me; frustration that nothing could be done; sadness about being a bald woman and feeling like a freak. I became depressed.
It was many months later that I reached a turning point. I attended an exhibition by photographer Daniel Regan called “The Alopecia Project”, which was advertised and supported by the charity Alopecia UK. I found myself in a studio in London surrounded by other people with alopecia. I instantly felt better knowing I wasn’t the only bald woman in her twenties. Sharing experiences with others who had been through the same helped immensely.