It all started when I started losing chunks of hair in the winter of Class 6. My mother thought I was not using oil, or was using too much shampoo. I didn’t care much either, and I thought it was a pretty normal thing to undergo as an 11-year-old.
Later, my hair became thinner and thinner. I had no idea why. My thick black hair started falling out, and patches began to appear on my scalp. I thought it was stress – after all, I was a new kid in Delhi and was struggling to fit in. The school curriculum was vastly different from my previous school, and I had joined mid-summer. I missed my old school and friends. Life was so different here, and it was taking a while for me to adjust.
My mother took me to my uncle, a plastic surgeon who did hair transplants. He told us that I had ‘alopecia’, and suggested I visit a dermatologist.
I had no idea what that meant, and my Mom took me to a dermatologist who explained what it was. In medical terms, “Alopecia areata occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles and may be brought on by severe stress.”
He also told me, “Don’t worry. Things will be okay.”
The dermatologist prescribed some medication, which I had to take once a day. I was perplexed about everything, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I thought everything would be okay, and I would get my hair back eventually.
Little did I know what was in store for me.
I used to travel by bus. But I became more self-conscious after the patches started appearing. Students on the bus gave me weird stares and looks which made me feel uncomfortable. I used to huddle in a corner and keep the bag over my head in a feeble attempt to make myself ‘invisible’.
At home, my parents never made fun of me or made me feel alienated. Although my parents were worried, they tried to keep up a happy front and told me to hold my head high and not feel ashamed of who I was. However, at school, keeping my head high became difficult. I was an object of ridicule and mockery, and going to school became an everyday struggle. My peers would make fun of me, and my so-called friends deserted me. I had only one friend who stayed by my side the whole time.
A particular incident still unnerves me. I had gone to the computer lab and a girl who used to be my friend said, “Oh my god, your patches look so ugly, what happened to you?”
Many girls started giggling and looking at me. My cheeks turned bright red, and I felt so humiliated that I just wanted to quit school altogether.
But I had to keep battling the stares and weird looks. I stopped going to school by bus. But, the bullying and taunts continued. I cried many times when I was made fun of because of my hair. When I couldn’t take it in any longer, I asked my principal if I could wear a cap – which was a strict violation of school rules. She gave me permission to do so. A “friend” then asked me whether I had cancer or some terminal disease. I had to explain to her that I was suffering from Alopecia areata, which was not life-threatening.
I started losing all my hair along with my eyebrows and eyelashes. One day, I was standing at the front of my class and a boy snatched my cap and threw it on the floor. The incident reduced my self esteem, which was already pretty low. My Dad started taking me to Mumbai on trips, where I got injections to revive my hair. It worked for a while, and then I started losing my hair again.
I was a pretty good student, but everything started to take a toll on my mental health. I stopped studying and lost motivation. I cried myself to sleep quite often. I hated myself, and all I wanted was hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I hated the fact that my crush would never like me back. I hated the fact that I looked like a freak. I missed school, and instead watched anime and read manga – which became my route to escape reality.
Over time, I started to accept myself.
My parents bought a wig for me, which I wore to school. The wig had an elastic band and a sticker that would stick to my scalp, and it would take a lot of time to fix it properly and wear it; otherwise, it might just fly! Wearing a wig is not a very comfortable thing to do every day, especially in summer, but it did boost my confidence.
The first day I wore the wig, it was evident that I was wearing one (because my actual hair was short and the wig was quite long), and my classmates were giggling and whispering among themselves. But later, everything started to become better. I started to participate in school activities and stopped trying to be ‘invisible’. I started to care less about people’s opinions about my appearance. My friend, Q, was always there for me. She supported me, cheered for me and helped me get through challenging and lonely times.
In Class 9, a classmate came up to me and said, “Can I touch your hair?” I turned her down, and I felt strange about it. Then she ran to her group of friends, snickering about it. I realised that they were playing a game of ‘Truth and Dare’, and they were trying to verify whether I was wearing a wig. My friends stood up for me and told me not to bear such insults silently. The fact was that I was so used to such stuff that I was numb to it.
I started standing up for myself more often and speaking about it. In Class 10, I started getting back my natural hair and eyebrows. I did get a few patches again in Class 11, but right now my hair has become normal like it used to be. I have stopped stressing over things and try to maintain a healthy and positive outlook. Time has healed the wounds. I started studying consistently from Class 9 on and secured good grades in my Class 10 and Class 12 examinations.
Alopecia has changed my life and my perspective in various ways, and I am thankful for it. All the experiences have toughened me and made me who I am today. Nothing is permanent in life and we can never take anything for granted. I have learnt to be more compassionate and sensitive. I have learnt that being different from others doesn’t make you inferior in any way. I have stopped judging people based on their looks. I have learnt how bullying can negatively affect a person.
Most importantly, I have learnt to stand up for myself.
I will remain forever grateful to my parents, sister and friends who have supported me during this difficult time. Everywhere, girls are expected to have beautiful long hair and it is hard to keep up with those expectations. People who are bald or don’t have eyebrows and eyelashes or who look different due to disabilities can find it very difficult to fit in the mould that society has constructed.
To everyone who is reading this, hair or no hair – you are still you. And to anyone who’s having a bad hair day, don’t worry; it is just hair and will grow back.
To anyone who has Alopecia: Stay strong, and you aren’t alone on this journey. Always keep your head up high!
Dhriti Bhadra is a law student who likes cats and reading books on history. She enjoys watching ‘We Bare Bears’ and anime in her free time.