“And it took cutting back the prettiest parts of myself to finally realize that this shell does not define me. For I am so much more than the flesh and bone that case the beautiful tragedies of my heart and mind.”-Becca Lee
Like a lot of people, I’ve always struggled to enjoy my appearance. However, I at least felt like I had control of it and could improve it with the help of a straightener and mascara. Midway through my freshmen year, this was no longer enough. The summer prior to college I discovered a few small bald spots on my scalp, but they were not noticeable and I told myself they’d solve themselves on their own. Although more spots formed over the following months, I continued to remain optimistic because I was able to cover them with a simple change in hairstyle.
In February 2015, I accepted defeat. My hair continued to fall out and hair alone could not cover it. I started seeing a dermatologist and wore a hairpiece as a safety net. My mental health was incredibly unstable. I have Anxiety, both over superficial stuff and deeper stuff, that worsened as I accepted defeat. I was hopeless, lost, depressed, and angry. At the time, I felt like I was being punished and my body was killing itself much like my brain was. I became the person I never wanted to be. I let my conditions foster hate within me and towards myself and push me to the bottom of rock bottom. I convinced myself that I was losing my hair as punishment for being an awful person, and thus accepted no sympathy. I spent nights staring blankly at the ceiling absolutely numb . I’ve never felt that numb before, and it’s really just indescribable. I had no hope for my future and was worried about what either I or life would do to myself. A year of college and I had no control of the wheel. I can honestly say this was probably the darkest time of my life.
The summer after freshmen year, I tried to take control. I spent a lot of time alone, recovering from the past 4 months of what felt like absolute hell. However, I still felt empty. I felt like an absolute waste of space. This feeling didn’t start going away until a few people realized I needed support and offered me some encouragement. I am forever thankful for those people almost two years later. Most of the hair I lost grew back and I was looking forward to a new start as a sophomore in college.
To my surprise, this new start was not what I hoped it to be. Within the first week of school, my hair started rapidly falling out. I’d spend every morning collecting piles of it and throwing it in the trash. I’d have to unclog the shower drain every time I showered. I’d wake up to it all over my pillow. I’d peel it off my neck at the end of the day. It got so bad that even just putting my hands through it would pull out a decent amount of hair. I felt disgusting. After all my progress, I lost control again, and was forced to watch the beautiful parts of me fall into my hands in less than a month.
My coping skill was repressing my emotions. I felt that this wasn’t as much of a problem as what other people around me were going through. I was ashamed and felt weak for being so upset about this, so I pretended it didn’t exist outside of the comforts of my dorm room. I carried the secret on my back and on top of it were piles of emotions I wouldn’t let myself feel. So I became numb to it, or at least, I told myself I was numb to it. If I walked outside to a blustery wind, I was worried that all I had lost would be visible. I would literally avoid my reflection in the mirror most days because I was always worried about what I could see.
I kept a brave face on for most people, but would go home and fall into a deep depression because I’d have time to think about the severity of my condition and the realities of it. Home was where I was forced to go when I couldn’t fight this battle alone, and thus all the repressed emotions would come back up quickly. I had to skip a few family get togethers because my anxiety about my appearance and ability to cope with possible comments was too much. I refused to let people help me, and kept my walls up.
I felt that I needed to deal with this on my own, and that I was a burden that didn’t deserve any help. If someone brought my walls down, I was honestly terrified to see them again because they had seen my vulnerability. I wouldn’t let anyone in because I was convinced they wouldn’t accept the real me. My wig and makeup became my mask that I desperately clung onto to protect my self esteem and keep my story hidden. I felt like my situation was not worth any worry considering all that was happening around me.
A part of my story that I don’t always realize is incredibly significant is that I’ve grown up with a twin sister with severe Autism. Most of my childhood was spent in waiting rooms with my mother for her various therapies and doctor’s appointments. Theoretically, I was the “healthy” child. The one who was in a regular classroom. The one who didn’t need much support. The caregiver. The one who was “okay.” That’s changed dramatically over the past few years. As a result, I struggle with the feeling of being a burden. I feel that this has caused my likelihood of putting my walls up and promising I’m okay rather than accepting help. I’m no longer a crier, which I think is unhealthy for myself as I bottle up my emotions rather than let them out.
Another semester ended, and although I was in a much better place socially, I carried a lot of regrets. Once again, I had time to dwell on everything going on in my life and all the mistakes I had made. I reached my breaking point during a visit on campus during Winter break, when I had one of the worst panic attacks I can remember. I didn’t sleep and felt like everything was flashing before my eyes. Every regret, every repressed emotion, every opportunity I didn’t take because I was constantly terrified; it came flooding back at once. The day following, if I thought about what triggered the panic attack it would nearly start again. I realized how fragile I was and realized I needed to get help. I changed my medications, which significantly lessened my fatigue to my surprise. I met with the counseling center weekly and tried to be more proactive in “healing.”
Shortly before returning to school for another semester, I suddenly felt the urge to share my story, so I did. I wrote a short article describing all I had been facing and put it on facebook. I worried I had made a mistake and that I looked like I was seeking pity. I now realize that this was not the case. I received a lot of praise for sharing my story, and even received a Facebook message from a girl I went to highschool with that also has alopecia. We check in with each other every once and awhile to see how things are going.
On what felt like a whim, I chose to own my story. A significant amount of weight was lifted off my shoulders, and progress was being made. Months later, I decided one night to let go of my crutch, my wig. As you can see, my hair is growing back thanks to the medication I am on. Letting go of my wig was not easy. I spent a few nights sleepless because I felt vulnerable. I struggled finding ways to feel attractive at first. Since most women my age do not have this kind of haircut, I feel as if I am a walking story. I have come very far, but I am not healed.
I’m forever paranoid about my appearance. My mom makes fun of me for using too many bobby pins to tame the mess that is this hair. I’m blessed with curls and healthy new hair, but it needs some work in the morning. That is what it is; but wind is still a trigger and I always have the anxiety in the back of my head that one day I’ll lose this hair again. However, I can look at myself in the mirror now, I no longer fear my appearance. I’ve learned to embrace myself, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever allowed myself to make. I still can convince myself that I’m too fragile, too broken, too much of a burden, and not deserving of love. Depressive disorder is now a part of my long list of medical complications in my doctor’s notes.
However, I watched the “beautiful” pieces of me literally fall into my hands as clumps of hair, and then used those same hands almost a year later to remove my wig for the last time. I’ve grown from someone that would avoid eye contact with the mirror into one who can walk to class without the fear that the wind would reveal all I had lost. I no longer fit the typical standard of beauty, and I never will, but I have never felt so at peace with myself as I do now. I want to share my story to remind anyone of the power of embracing our inner light and entering a life of self love. Our outer shells will never depict the beautiful minds we possess inside of ourselves. It will only be in using my story to heal others that I can come to the terms with what happened to me and how it ultimately changed me for the better, and I can fully accept a healing in myself.
The “spark” has become a symbol to me, similarly to how many people identify with the semi colon. When I was going through my darkest days, my mom always told me this was a transformation. I couldn’t believe her then, but as I watched my body destroy itself and then rebuild itself into something beautiful, I understood what she meant. To me, my inner self is my spark. It’s the part of me that has ignited into a light that I am finally ready to embrace. We all have that spark, we just have to believe that we have it.