“When I went to university, I’d not long broken up with a boyfriend of three-and-a-half years. Then, when I met James* in the first few weeks of Freshers’, I fell for him quickly. We soon started a relationship and didn’t look back.
It was so nice to have someone there with me throughout my university experience; to share it all together. We cared about each other and about one another’s work, so when James suggested we should have a break after a year and a half together, I was gutted. He said he wasn’t sure how he was feeling anymore and that he wanted two weeks apart to work it out. When the break only lasted a week, I was relieved – he decided he’d made a big mistake and that he still wanted to be with me. In hindsight, though, that was obviously the start of him becoming much less invested in the relationship than I was.
One day, after having been back together for a while, I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “I think you might be the one.” Instead of saying it back, he just froze. When a few tense moments had passed and he said, “I’m not sure”, I realised the relationship was over. It was never going to go back to how it had been before.
James didn’t actually break up with me until some weeks later, when he’d left uni to go home for the summer. We spent an excruciatingly long three-hour phone conversation dodging the issue until I finally told him: “If you need to say something, just say it”. We were finished, and I was heartbroken.
For me, it was like the whole bubble of university had burst along with everything in it. I crashed; it completely knocked me. I’d fallen for James so fast and then all of a sudden I didn’t have him anymore. I felt so lost.
Just weeks after James and I broke up, I received a phone call from one of my university friends. A course-mate of ours, Fran*, had gone to Ireland with some other friends from university for the summer, and had been travelling in a car down a notoriously dangerous road when they had a head-on collision with another vehicle. Fran had died, and I didn’t know how to feel. I remember taking in the information but then instantly focusing on calming down my friend, who was in floods of tears by this point. Fran and I hadn’t been particularly close, but just before the summer break we’d worked on a dance group piece together for one of our modules, so we’d spent a lot of condensed time together. It was a horrible feeling to think that she wasn’t in the world anymore.
September came around, and after everything that had happened before and during the summer, I just wanted to put my head down and get through my final year at university. Things weren’t going to be the same and I felt down about it, but I’d got this far and I wasn’t going to quit now.
When I went home a few weeks into the term, however, my mum spotted that I had very little hair behind my ears. I hadn’t noticed it at all, but when I went back to uni I saw a doctor about it just in case. She told me it wasn’t severe enough to refer me to a dermatologist, so I went away and tried to forget about it.
Christmas came and went, but by this point it had become almost impossible not to notice I was losing my hair; by the time I went back to university in the January I had hardly any left, and a referral to the dermatologist revealed I had alopecia. I didn’t know much about it, and the information was very limited, but when they told me I’d lost too much hair to be eligible for any treatment, it was very hard to deal with. When doctors told me it was likely stress-related, that was even more difficult to process. I couldn’t help but feel like it was partly triggered by everything that had happened over the past year. I’d lost James, I’d lost Fran and now I had lost my hair, too.
When my hair got down to the last few wisps, I went to the hairdressers with a friend to get it shaved off. That in itself was a relief, but it was also a really sad moment because it made it all so definite. I remember thinking then that this was potentially what life was going to be like from now on, so I had to decide if I was going to hate every second of it or if I was going to try to embrace it as much as I could. I tried to embrace it, but it wasn’t easy at times.
Soon, it wasn’t just the hair on my head that had fallen out. My eyebrows had gone, along with my eyelashes, leg hair, arm hair, pubic hair, everywhere. I felt like I looked like an alien.
In the four years since my hair first fell out, I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad days. I had my eyebrows tattooed on, which made a massive difference, and I have an Intralace Free Wear System (similar to a wig, but different because it can be worn 24/7 and treated like completely normal hair) from Lucinda Ellery which is so good because you wouldn’t know it’s not my own hair. But on some days it feels like too much of an effort and I can’t be bothered with it; before, I had really long blonde hair and I didn’t really need to think about it much, but putting the free wear system on sometimes takes a lot of effort.
On those days, I don’t wear it and I’ve had all sorts of comments from people I don’t know; I’ve had some ask me whether I’ve got cancer, and others asking if it’s a fashion statement. I just tell them I’ve got alopecia and explain it’s the body rejecting the hairs because it thinks they’re foreign. Other times, I don’t feel strong enough to handle people staring at me, so I put my free wear system on.
Dating isn’t easy, either. I’ve tried out Tinder, and I try to be very honest so I put photos up of me with and without my false hair on, but I’ve had some dodgy comments from guys. One said to me, “I can’t imagine a girl with no hair giving me a blow job.” I was shocked and angry, so I just replied, “well, you’re never going to know.” Having hair is seen as a very feminine thing, it’s a very sexual thing, so I think it’s difficult for some men that I don’t have any. I can’t see a relationship happening any time soon. My confidence has been knocked a lot and there is that cliché that if you don’t love yourself, then how is anyone else going to love you?
About 8 months ago, my hair started to grow on my head again. It was looking quite hopeful and I was trying not to get excited, but then it all fell out again. Now, I actually think I would much prefer if my hair never grew back and I would just stay bald, because it’s heartbreaking for it to grow back and then to lose it again. I recently went to the Belgravia Centre in London where they told me the pattern my hair fell out in – starting behind my ears and then snaking across my head – indicates a very high possibility that the hair will never come back. It’s that uncertainty that’s the worst bit, so I’d rather just resign myself to it.
For me, losing my hair also feels like I’ve lost my identity. I’m still working through it now, and I’ve had therapy because my self-confidence did crash massively. It’s changed how I perceive myself and how I fit into this world. But maybe this new identity I’m discovering for myself is the identity I should have always had. Maybe me without hair is just honestly who I’m meant to be as a person.