Living in the tropics and coping with alopecia has been an interesting challenge for me.
I grew up in Indonesia practically on the equator. It was hot, sticky and 100% humidity. When I first got a wig I still had quite a lot of hair on my head— hair that I was not ready to give up on or shave off. I was thirteen and I didn’t want anyone to know I was going bald. I was so ashamed. So I wore my wig on top of my hair, sometimes even to bed. I broke out into heat rash on my head and my face. My skin was not happy and neither was I.
Later on in life when I was married and in my mid-twenties I moved back to the tropics. I lived in Papua New Guinea. My hair fell out again, this time it all went. At the same time I was a lot more confident and I had a husband who loved me no matter if I had hair or not. I decided that I would go wigless and instead wore colourful lightweight cotton scarves. They were a lot cooler on my head and my skin thanked me for it. No heat rashes, but I had to carry an umbrella with me where ever I went. Scarves to do not protect your skin from UV!
Ten years on and I now live in Cairns, once again in the tropics. I love the warmth and my sensitive eczema-prone skin adores the humidity that keeps my skin moist. My alopecia progressed to alopecia universalis and I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. I got eyebrow and eyeliner tattoos and learnt to do my makeup so I feel comfortable with how my eyes are framed. After much counselling and inner healing I am so thankful that I can now go bald on the hottest days. I wear a wig when I want to and the scarves and hats come out if I feel like a bit of colour.
We all know that most of our body heat escapes through our heads so wearing something hot like a wig can be incredibly taxing when our bodies need to let off steam. Even wearing a hat can be very hot. On the other hand being able to take something off your head can be one of the quickest ways to cool down. So when the heat is a bit unbearable a cool cloth on my head or a quick dunk under the tap is amazing!
I’ve also learnt that my head is incredibly sensitive to heat. I try not to go out into the blazing sun too much or I end up with a horrific headache. So, I try and be mindful of where I stand when I’m outside making sure I’ve got more to shelter me than just something extra on my head.
Living in the tropics can be unbearable at times and not just for me in a wig, for everyone. Maybe I’m the lucky one who can take off my wig/hat/scarf and just cool down extra fast.
I watched a really great documentary that encouraged me, it’s called ‘Embrace’ by Taryn Brumfitt. It reminded me that we are all different and unique. Everyone has something that they are dealing with, something that they might not like about themselves. It’s not easy to deal but we are not alone.