How to Turn Alopecia Areata into a Positive
Introduction to the 2006 NAAF Conference
Good morning and welcome to the 21st Annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation International Conference. I’m Maureen McGettigan and I’m very excited to be here for a weekend of learning and celebrating and honored to return as your Mistress of Ceremonies for the weekend, so thank you for having me back. I’m also one of 5 million people who live with alopecia areata. For those of you with alopecia areata and for those of you who support us, thank you for being here. As you’ll find out, a NAAF conference can change your life. We all need each other, we need to learn and we need to grow and the only way to do that is to participate. Talk to those around you, sit next to a new person at each session and ask questions. Leave here with a pocketful of contacts and a head full of knowledge. The people that you will meet this weekend can become your lifelong friends and will love you for you regardless of your hair. Remember that this is your comfort zone, one in which you don’t need to hide so therefore I invite you to join me in your safe surroundings of your alopecia areata family.
I have lived with alopecia areata for 28 years and I’ve experienced the rollercoaster emotions associated with it. I’ve lost my hair four times and I’ve regrown it three times. Both the course of the condition and the associated emotions can be unpredictable and the lack of control of your own body is frightening and intimidating. I have found that others accept me with my alopecia areata but only after I have accepted myself first. That wasn’t easy as I had to learn to accept the new me. It’s easy to glue on your eyelashes, draw on your eyebrows and to tape on your wig, but it’s hard to mend your heart and your spirit. This can only be accomplished when you accept who you are and how you are. Only then can others help you. I’ve been fortunate to have a very loving family and a great support group of friends and they’ve helped me through the alopecia areata good times and the bad, the denial and the acceptance, the loss and the growth and the struggles and the successes.
The author C.S. Lewis said friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another what? You, too? Thought I was the only one. Although he never attends a NAAF conference since he died in 1963, he seemed to capture the spirit of the conference and this weekend. Thinking that you’re the only one hiding and suffering and then finding over 800 people here in this hotel living your same life is both amazing and now within your grasp. They will be here for you when you leave the conference and when you need a friend to count on months from now but only if you open up yourself to them.
I am fortunate to have friends from the first conference that I attended which was actually the Second International Conference as well as new friends from last year’s conference in Florida. Their friendship has shown me that I’m not the only one but I’m the lonely one if I don’t let them in. So please find your friends this weekend. They are gifts far more important than any hair on our heads. As Sandy mentioned, I recently joined the Board of Directors for NAAF and am truly honored to extend my relationship with NAAF via this position so I’d like to thank NAAF and the Board of Directors for my election and I hope that I can return the help and support that NAAF has provided to me.
NAAF has helped me throughout the years via support groups, newsletters, conferences and has extended my circle of friends and support. My parents always said that no one will help you if you don’t help yourself so we need to use this weekend with our new friends to help us understand what we are living with and how we can help ourselves. Meet others this weekend, take an email address, talk with a support group leader and introduce yourselves to us and to the NAAF staff. We’re here not only to help you but to help ourselves as well. The conference will help you to grow not just with your alopecia areata but with life.
Knowledge is power and it’s yours if you only ask. Alopecia areata can be discouraging but please don’t let the word ever be part of your vocabulary. Instead use your energy for helping versus hiding, for education versus ignorance, for answers versus questions. Alopecia areata should not be an unknown in your life and in the lives of those around you. Attend a support group or start one, make a phone call or coordinate an awareness event that raises funds for research. When you tell those around you and then they meet someone else who has a patch on their scalp, they’ll know that it’s just alopecia areata. Wouldn’t that have helped you when you were first diagnosed?
Regain your confidence by being in charge of your condition versus it controlling you. Of course we don’t ask for alopecia areata. Life with it is definitely an adventure, one that can be quite painful yet interestingly enough, rewarding. Because of alopecia areata I feel that I am a much stronger person. It took time but due to the people I met and the lessons I’ve learned, I’m able to understand what’s most important in life, the most important being people and how they can improve my life and how I can impact theirs. It can be through support, tears or laughter but it’s a connection that helps us overcome the challenges of alopecia areata. I truly believe that people come into our lives for a reason and I hope you learn that this weekend as well. It may take time for you to realize the reason why you met someone and his or her impact on your life so don’t lose the opportunity to let new people into your life this weekend. These people will inspire you to live, love and laugh.
The prep document you received from NAAF mentioned the word hope several times. We need to keep hope in our hearts when dealing with alopecia areata. We often feel as if it’s an end for us when in reality it’s the beginning. It’s the beginning of a new living and learning experience and one that highlights our values, our strengths and our persistence. I also love the expression that says dance as if no one is watching. We need to dance in our alopecia areata lives as if no one is watching. We cannot let alopecia areata stop us from enjoying life and all that it has to offer. Turn what looks like a loss in your life into a major achievement in your life. You don’t need to be the only one. Thank you.