It’s Only Hair!

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When I was about nine years old I was staying the weekend at my Grandma and Grandad’s house. I think they had ran out of things to do with me after leaving me for hours and hours to watch “The Mummy” on VHS over and over again. So when my cousin Ian came over to visit with his new girlfriend, Grandma seemed overly keen to ask him to take me to Blockbuster and get me another VHS. I was happy to go along, and we all trundled into Ian’s car and off we went. Ian is a lot older than I, and I remember trying to act cool in front of him and his new beau – however choosing “Matilda” at the Video Rental Store wasn’t my coolest moment. I remember looking at Ian and there was something different about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first and while wandering through the aisles of Video tapes I would try and catch glimpses of him, but still couldn’t quite figure out what was making him look odd.

It wasn’t until we were back at Grandma and Grandad’s house of fun that I realised Ian didn’t have any eyebrows. His forehead went straight from the top of his eyelids to his hairline. I didn’t want him to think I was staring or anything so I just ignored it and watched “Matilda” over and over for a few hours…

When I got home I said to my dad “Ian doesn’t have eyebrows” as if I had made some sort of magnificent discovery. However my dad said he knew, and it was because of a thing called alopecia. Ian had alopecia, which meant that all of his hair fell out. Apparently when he was younger he hadn’t a hair on his body. However thankfully most of it had grown back, apart from his eyebrows.

Three or four years ago I was trimming my beard when I noticed an odd circular white patch of skin on my neck under my chin. It was so odd and smooth and stuck out from the rest of my neck. At first I kind of jumped to the conclusion it was some sort of disease like the one Michael Jackson had. It stayed there for a while, but then I noticed another circular white patch of skin – but this time it had emerged right in the middle of my beard. And then another one… and another one… So my mum took me to the doctors and he told me what I had already kind of guessed – it was alopecia. But this wasn’t the major scary version of alopecia, like what Ian had had. This was alopecia areata – which was altogether just as devastating but it explained why it was merely patches of hair-loss and not complete total hair-loss. The doctor said there was nothing could be done, I could read up about it at home and try home remedies but nothing had been clinically proven to work.

And then one night I was having a shower and washing my hair and as I reached around the back of my head I felt this odd patch of skin. When I took my hand back and looked, there was hair in my hand. From then and for a few months, several more bald patches appeared in my hair and subsequently I went through several different haircuts to try and cover it up or go with it. That first night in the shower when I found the first bald patch in my head hair, I cried – sobbed – and I honestly don’t know why. It wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t a life threatening disease – it was just a shock and I guess I kind of thought to myself “why me?”.

The doctor had said there was really no cause for alopecia areata. It could happen to anyone and any moment anywhere. He said stress could be a factor but it wasn’t complete cause. It could be genetic, run in the family or it could just appear from nowhere. At the time I wasn’t exactly stressed, but I was fighting with myself on the inside. I was beginning to realise who I was, as a man, and it conflicted with who I could be in the real world (or so I thought). I stood in that shower, with a clump of my hair in my hand, and sobbed because I was already hiding my sexuality from the world, now I would have to hide my hair.

I had a good group of support from my parents, my friends and also my very own hairdresser – who revealed to me for the first time that she herself had complete alopecia and that the hair I saw her with every time I went to get my haircut was actually a wig. So she, more than anyone, knew what I was going through. I decided with her that I wanted to shave my head and that was the look I went for for a couple of years. Looking back on it, it was a very severe look and I don’t regret it but I can’t remember being so confident to try and get away with a look like that.

My hairdresser was a woman – and I truly believe this disease must have such a huge impact on women, moreso than it does on men. Hair for women is a big thing, it’s a big deal and as my hairdresser cut my hair short for that very first time I could see tears in her own eyes, probably at the thought of her own situation. People say they don’t notice it, or that it’s not THAT noticeable, but for me I knew that was all bull. I’ve seen other people with it and I know the reaction it gets. It stirs emotions in people where they think it’s some sort of disease or ugly. But it’s not contagious, it’s not as if we have rabies or anything.

During those two years I decided enough was enough and I revealed my sexuality to the world, I met a wonderful man who is my world and I have the job of my dreams. Any stress or worry or hidden anxiety was relieved and so to was I of my disease. My hair grew back (as I write this I am reminded of Morgan Freeman’s finale speech in “Deep Impact” when he says “…but the waters receeded… cities fall but they are rebuilt…“) and I got on with life and it was nothing to think about anymore.

Until today… When I woke up and found a patch of bald skin on the side of my head. And when I first felt it, I thought surely not… Surely this is not happening again. So when I went through to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw it, I cried, again! Why? It’s only hair! I think today I cried because it reminded me of who I was when it first happened, and how much has changed since then. It reminded me of that original moment when I sobbed in the shower holding my hair. Hair, and in particular hair-styling, is such an important and integral part of life nowadays. Just last week my other half went off and got his hair cut and his eyebrows done and he took a selfie of himself because he thought he looked the bees-knees – and he did! He looked magnificent because he had perfect hair and styled himself brilliantly. And now here I am, holding a stub of hair and staring at a bald patch at the side of my head worrying if there will come more patches, worrying how I’m going to hide this from the world again and thinking what it is that’s caused this again so suddenly.

Maybe this is just something I’ll have to go through in life now, like when people develop hay-fever. It’s just another thing to deal with. At the end of the day it’s only hair, and though as I type this there are tears in my eyes, I’m happy with my life and with how I live it and if it means another drastic haircut well then bring it on. Been there, done that and bought the razor.

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