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A Journey of Maturity

A Journey of Maturity

I lost my innocence at the age of nine. Gone were the lazy summer days and cozy winter nights, not thinking past my next bath. I was no more the sunny child, content in my blissful oblivion of the world’s problems. Why? I lost my hair. With something so simple, my childhood purity came crashing down around me.

It was a scary experience, in the beginning. So many doctors told me so many different things. I was confused; my simple question of why did my hair fall out was evaded, circled around or outright ignored. I was told the name to my faceless disease, known as alopecia areata. I was also told that it may have been an autoimmune disorder, among other things. Maybe it was because I was low in iron. Or perhaps it was because I was stressed out. I scoffed at this, the incredulousness of being stressed at nine. No, there were no familial problems. No, I wasn’t in any sort of trouble at school. No. No. No.

My parents fought many battles in order to get a referral to the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto. After much vicious sparring with my family physician my parents won. I was a new patient with the Sick Kids dermatology department. “Maybe my questions could be answered then” was my response. And some of them were. But, like so many other times in life there are too few answers to make peace with the raging questions of a child. Increasingly, more hair was falling out and my questions became demands.

I was put into an intense trial clinic; six weeks with the topical cream, six weeks without. I was to go downtown too, to get a check up around the changes. The patterns of my growing baldness were traced and tracked. It reminded me of the documentaries on animals I’d seen, when the animals were tagged, always known to the scientists “helping” them. My mother tried to make these early trips more bearable with the promise of breakfast out, wherever I wanted. At least there was something to look forward to, right? This was around the time I began to see, really see the things that surrounded me. At the hospital, I saw so many haggard parents, tired and worn out, exhausted to the bone; and yet hope painting their faces, allowing the discomfort they went through to be a little bit more bearable. But what alarmed me the most were the children I saw there. Broken, perhaps unfixable, but they still managed to smile. It was when I was older that I realized their smiles were the sources for their parents hope. These children put my own lack of hair into perspective, making my problems a lot more bearable.

When I was twelve I began going to Sunnybrook Hospital. Each week I was to get synthetic poison ivy rubbed onto the bare skin, and every few weeks increasing in concentration. It began with an itch, and the occasional occurrence of flaky skin. And now? Now, I have to deal with the aching blisters along the back of my head. The fiery red spots that burn when I walk too fast. I have to deal with the wig covering up my blazing head, containing the fire but not the pain. A painless disorder with a brutal medication; ironic, no?

I got my first wig when I was fifteen. My parents were subtly pushing their point across, with quiet mentions of how my hairy areas were getting smaller, the bare ones larger. The final push: my mother found a wig shop with a sale. Who could resist a sale? The first time I wore the wig, I cried. It was a strange sight for me, seeing myself with hair again. I had spent six years trying to accommodate for my baldness, and then poof! I had hair. I was nervous too; I was scared that I would become dependent on the wig, refusing to even get the mail without it. But that thought at the back of my mind, the smiling voice of the optimist in me, long ago buried, rejoiced that I could be normal again. An internal war waged on, with my doubts and fears demanding to know why I wasn’t normal in the first place. Rationality stepped in; it was time for me to face the truth, that I was balding, yes. But I also had hair too, when I needed it. It was strange for me to accept that I wasn’t normal. It wasn’t as though I ignored my alopecia, but rather that I had lived with it for so long that it had become utterly natural to me. I began wearing it to family functions, slowly growing more accustomed to wearing it. It allowed my family too to get used to seeing me with hair again.

The wig was like a miracle for me. I began to leave the house, sure that I wouldn’t have those piercing, curious stares me. There’d be no more trailing whispers, not quite silent enough for them not to be heard. Those glances, those quiet conversations were the bane of my existence, since my entire ordeal with alopecia. At school, the following stares would haunt me, making me more self-conscious than I already was. More times than not, people, adults and children alike, would ask me why I lost me hair, if I had cancer, if I cut my hair for a sports team; the list of ignorant questions was near endless. Anxiously, I would explain the little that I understood, hoping people wouldn’t think I was contagious, someone to keep away from. Early were my mornings, waking up with the sun so my mother could fix my hair, to hide my bald spots, so I could have a peaceful day at school.

I’ve long ago learned that curiosity will always be a part of my life, as if to fill the space that innocence left. I’ve dealt with more inquisitive questions than the average child. I’ve come to accept myself, wig and all. I am… content. I’m happy with the arrangement, the balance I’ve found between the wig and alopecia. Dealing with the way people have always judged me, I’ve learnt to be open-minded and unprejudiced, because I’ve realized the tables can easily be turned. Alopecia has made my life accelerate in maturity, but I’ve come to realize this isn’t a loss to me.

 

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