Annie X first developed a bald patch in her hair when she was 11. She was prescribed a steroid ointment but prefers to use alternative therapies such as homeopathy. Annie X has struggled a great deal with the impact of alopecia on her self-esteem and confidence.
Annie X’s parents first noticed a bald patch in her hair on her scalp when she was 11. She was very upset and tearful, as the main association she had with going bald at that age was of cancer and chemotherapy. Annie X saw her GP who said that it was alopecia areata and prescribed a steroid ointment to put on her scalp. She was referred to a dermatologist and Annie X remembers missing school for the appointment, which suggested to her that it was quite a serious medical problem. The dermatologist said that the hair should grow back within a year and that Annie X should continue applying the steroid ointment. However, as time went on, the patch continued to get bigger and the steroids did not seem to help. Annie X wishes that the dermatologist hadn’t suggested a timeframe for her alopecia areata ending as she feels it gave her false hope and meant that she put her life on hold whilst waiting for the hair to return. Between the ages of 11 and 13, Annie X’s hair fell out rapidly and she developed more patches. She took to wearing a bandana to cover the hair loss and then a wig for around 3 months. Some of the pupils in other years at school thought that this was because she had cancer and Annie X experienced some name-calling. Because Annie X’s alopecia has affected different parts of her head at different times, she has had to change strategies for covering up bald patches depending on their locations. She found it both exciting to have a change in hairstyle or bandana colour but also very frightening because she didn’t want to draw attention from others.
It felt wrong to Annie X to be putting the steroids on her scalp and she worried that the chemicals might cause more damage. Annie X’s mum began researching alternative therapies for alopecia and Annie X has since tried laser therapy, homeopathy, health kinesiology and hypnosis. Annie X was unsure at first about some of these treatments but says that it has widened her knowledge and connections. She is willing to try treatments that are of low risk to her health and she trusts her mum to be in charge of making these decisions. Annie X’s mum also helps in other ways, such as blow-drying Annie X’s hair so that it covers any patches and allows her to keep track of any changes. Annie finds that the alternative therapies have been helpful to varying degrees. For example, she found hypnotherapy helped after an upsetting incident on the bus when two boys from another school pulled her bandana off and exposed the patches in her hair. This shook Annie X up so much that she was scared to get the bus on her own and would sometimes walk long distances to avoid it. Annie X appreciates that the alternative therapy practitioners talk with her at the appointments about how she’s feeling. She has also seen a counsellor to help with the emotional side of alopecia and the impacts on her self-esteem, such as anxiety about being in public and other people judging her.
Annie X thinks that stress and ill health triggered her alopecia initially. Prior to the first patch developing, she had been having panic attacks and was very worried about her grandfather’s health, all around the time that she was also moving in to secondary school. Annie X thinks that the combination of these things meant that stress built up and caused her immune system to turn against itself. She now tries to avoid unnecessary stress and monitor when things are becoming too much for her. She focuses on taking care of her inner health and does not feel the need to go back to the GP or dermatologist because she’s confident that they cannot help. She tries to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle by staying hydrated and avoiding sugary foods. Annie X is also careful about what she puts on her scalp and hair, using non-sulphate shampoos and mineral water for the final rinse of her hair when she’s washing it.
Alopecia has a huge impact emotionally and socially for Annie X. She gave up some hobbies that she used to enjoy, such as guitar and dance lessons, because her confidence was so low. Annie X finds it especially hard to be at an all-girls secondary school where there is a lot of pressure on physical appearance and with the other pupils always tossing their hair around. Annie X thinks that her generation can be particularly judgemental and that this can be fueled by online social media. She thinks that the impact on her self-esteem about her appearance has also played a part in potential relationships not working out. Annie X eventually closed down her Facebook as she felt that appearance pressures meant that she was constantly comparing herself to others in photographs. Since then, she has become more interested in finding her individual style and experimenting with creative make-up. Annie X has also started private one-to-one dance lessons so that she is able to enjoy this hobby without the anxiety of performing in front of other people.
Annie X is very grateful for her family’s support, including covering the costs of treatments and the research that her mum does on alternative therapies. She sometimes feels guilty at the impacts that her alopecia has had for her parents and sister, and hopes to be more financially independent with a part-time job after her GCSEs. Over time, Annie X has become more comfortable talking to others about alopecia and she now tries to spread awareness about it. She finds that most people don’t know what alopecia is or think that it only affects middle aged men. It’s important to Annie X that people realise that it is not a trivial issue of just’ losing hair but that it can affects the whole of a person’s life and how they feel about themselves.