If you’d have asked me 5 years ago if I was embracing alopecia, I would have absolutely said yes.
How could I not be? I was a Youth Ambassador for AAAF, I did talks at schools informing kids about the condition, I wore scarves sometimes and no longer depended on my wig like I had when I was younger. I would have definitely said I was embracing.
But man, hindsight is 20/20.
In fairness to Me-from-5-years-ago, we had come an awful long way from Me-from-5-years-before-that.
Things didn’t go so well for us in early high school. A combination of factors – ranging from awful class placement, inconveniently timed fights between friends, and a lot of low-key bullying that went under the radar of school staff – meant that I didn’t have a lot of friends early on. I felt very isolated and blamed a lot of that on my alopecia. In reality, it was largely due to the fact that I was not a nice person. That’s an important factor which I’d like to mention up front: I was not a nice person then. At all.
I was angry a lot of the time, which was partly because of my AA, and I was very petty, which was entirely because I was a jerk. This was not a good foundation upon which to build friendships, so naturally, I built poor friendships. Recently I found an old schoolbook, which included some pages at the back of notes that I had written with a friend about a classmate. I won’t describe the contents to you, but… yikes. I put the entire book through the paper shredder.
I had also got my first wig not too long before this, and wore it any time I would be seen by anyone other than my immediate family. I refused to talk about my alopecia or acknowledge it at all. As you may guess, this was not ideal.
In contrast to this, Me-from-5-years-ago was doing much better. A job in a bakery and interest in martial arts had forced me to stop hiding my alopecia so militantly, which in turn provided the opportunity to actually talk about what I was going through and connect with some of my peers in a way that wasn’t so toxic. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and found a space that I felt comfortable in. The bullying throughout my year group also improved dramatically, as we all grew up a little and started to realise that other people were in fact people. By the time I moved to Melbourne for university, I was in a much better space.
But in hindsight, I don’t think I was really Embracing Alopecia.
Sure, I eventually grew comfortable enough to go out without any covering on my head, and would talk about my alopecia if someone brought it up.
But I never called it my alopecia.
I’m a word person. I learn by talking things over and I process my feelings that way too. So looking back, I’m really concerned about the words I used then to talk about what I was going through.
It was never called “my wig” – it was “my hair”. It wasn’t “my baldness” or “my alopecia” – it was “my head”. A subtle thing sure, but in retrospect, I think it was symptomatic of how I wasn’t really dealing with it. I spent a lot of my time feeling like it was happening to someone else. Sure, it was different from running to get my wig when the doorbell rang, but it was still a way of hiding. A way to pretend like this wasn’t happening to me.
I was doing okay – but I wasn’t embracing. I was deflecting. I didn’t joke about it like I do now. I certainly didn’t write about it like I do now. I was steadfast in believing this is something I have, not something I am.
I don’t see it that way now. I know many people do, and that’s okay. But I’ve had this for 20 years. I’ve lived with it for as long as I can remember and it has shaped so many of my experiences. I don’t know who I would be without it. It’s a part of me.
If you’d asked me 5 years ago if I was at the end of my emotional journey with alopecia, I probably would have said yes. In hindsight, I had barely begun. Since then I’ve started going without my wig full time. Even in the last six months, I’ve stopped drawing my eyebrows on. What used to feel empowering, taking control of my condition, started to feel like conforming to a beauty standard I don’t need.
Maybe we’re never near the end of the journey. Maybe there isn’t an end goal, no final stop, no point where we’re just finally, entirely, finished. Maybe we always just keep going, moving forward. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
But I guess that’s why it’s “Embrace Alopecia”. Present tense.