Christine’s Story (3 months check-in).

Since making exercise a priority I’ve noticed changes in my mental health. I try to exercise most days, and this helps me feel strong physically and mentally, it releases stress and produces endorphins leaving me feeling happier and giving me more energy. When I feel good mentally, I cope with my alopecia better. If I don’t exercise for a few days, I feel tired, flat, and have low self-esteem. Self-deprecating phrases and words enter my mind, and it is hard to ward them away. 

Since commencing regular exercise and making it a daily priority I’ve realised I enjoy a challenge. I often shied away from challenging feelings and circumstances, thinking if I didn’t face these things life might be easier. However, the more I exercise and the stronger I feel, I have greater clarity in my mind allowing me to reframe my thinking about challenges. 

Three months ago I was lucky to be awarded a sponsorship with the Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) and it has helped fund my training and given me an extra boost to dig deep with my commitment to exercise. As a result, two months ago I decided to sign up for my first annual challenge that Mum’s On A Mission (MOAM) hosts. I’ve been a member of MOAM for a few years now, attending their exercise classes regularly. However, I had never previously joined the annual challenges they host due to fear. Fear of failing, fear of letting people down, fear of letting myself down, fear of letting people in, fear of people learning I had alopecia and that they might see and think of me differently. The 8-week challenge this year was aptly named “The Breakthrough” and it certainly lived up to its name. It involved 8 weeks of education sessions on training styles, nutrition, heart rate zones, recovery, and facing your fears. We also had to complete weekly exercise challenges like stair climbs, bolt push-ups, inchworms, frog squats, planks, and splits. All of this is done in teams of 3 people. 

I dedicated the 8 weeks, alongside my teammates, to facing my fears. I faced each week’s challenges, digging deep to learn and understand why I had been fearful of certain things and what might happen if I decided to acknowledge these fears and stand up to them. I’ve cried, I’ve had injuries, I’ve had successes and failures. I made new friendships and I faced my fears. I feel proud and I feel good. Yes, I have alopecia, yes, I wear a wig when I train, yes, I feel self-conscious about it, but that is ok. Vulnerability is ok. And from consciously accepting vulnerability, awareness emerged. And from awareness, I was able to work on building strength and self-acceptance within myself.

I feel grateful to AAAF for providing me with this opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve pushed myself to train more, sign up for the 8-week challenge, and speak about my alopecia. I don’t shout it from the rooftops, but I don’t shy away from it anymore. I welcome questions people have about alopecia and questions about my experience with it. I use it as an opportunity to create awareness of the disease, provide information and clarity on what it means, and share my experience. I am not sick. I’m not sure if my hair will ever grow back. I am ok with having alopecia. Please don’t feel shy about asking me about it because I’m no longer shy about talking about it.

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