My name is Michelle. I'm 34 years old and live in Dumbarton, Scotland. I have alopecia areata and was first diagnosed when I was 29.
I noticed a small bald patch about the size of a 5p piece and was told it was alopecia areata. Initially, I wasn't particularly bothered as it was easy to hide and it grew back. It was only in July 2015, when within a matter of weeks I lost 90% of my scalp hair plus lashes, brows & body hair, that it really impacted on me.
My GP was incredible. Initially I saw a locum and she was so kind and empathetic. She asked me to return in a month, at which point I was referred to dermatology. The head of the GP practice contacted dermatology two months later on my behalf to ask if they could speed up the process as I was so upset by the rapid loss. I was seen two weeks later.
I feel I was incredibly lucky with my dermatology experience. My dermatologist was very sensitive to my emotions. He was very honest with me about the unpredictable nature of the autoimmune response of alopecia areata. He discussed treatment (which I was already aware of) but also told me there is little evidence to support the efficacy of treatments. I was offered a prescription for 4 synthetic wigs which I left with that day. I decided that, for me, wigs were all the treatment I wanted. I felt i'd made an informed choice and my dermatologist was supportive of that. This felt like a big relief. I cried tears of joy as I left the appointment. He even told my little boy that it is a secret that the most special mums are bald! I was touched by his compassion.
I lost 90% of my scalp hair and the majority of my body hair within about 5-6 weeks. The scalp loss was lots of small patches which joined together to make a big bald area. After my first two large patches, I felt like I wanted to take control and shave my head. I got sponsored and managed to raise £1000 for Macmillan Cancer Support with their 'Brave the Shave' campaign. I knew nothing of Alopecia UK at that time - I wish I had.
Losing my hair was a total shock. It's not something you expect to happen. I already had my brows tattooed so for me that wasn't an issue. The loss of my eyelashes hit me the hardest. I felt like my whole face had changed. I asked my husband to take the mirror down from our bedroom as I hated seeing myself. I soon became obsessed with make up and finding ways to try to make myself feel better and look more like the face I recognised as 'me'.
I still have days when I just feel strange but a massive help has been the support I have received from others. My husband and family have been AMAZING. I was introduced to a lady called Amanda who runs a 'Wigbank' in Glasgow and also supplies NHS wigs near to me. She has had chemo-related hair loss herself and was the first person (after my husband) to see me bald. I left Wigbank smiling with a new wig and feeling beautiful inside and out. She introduced me to the Scottish Alopecia Support Group and to Alopecia UK.
Initially I hated having alopecia. But I have met some true friends and a whole world of good, kind, encouraging people. I feel as though the support I've received has really had a positive impact in my life. Alopecia is a part of me but i've learned to accept who I am. I am the same girl I always was, just a 'smoother' version!
The best advice I received was from a friend I met through Alopecia UK's Facebook group. Suz said to me: "It is ok to cry. You are allowed to grieve the loss of your hair. It's not 'just hair' when you don't have it". I guess I had been feeling guilty for being so down and these words really helped me.
Most recently I have had a scalp tattoo and am embracing the new me. It's likely I'll continue to have the occasional bad hair day or should that be no hair day(!) but knowing that I have the Glasgow Support Group and the online support from Alopecia UK's Facebook group gives me comfort that i'm not alone.