“I never thought there would ever be a time in my life where I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself. My hair was stringy and my head was covered with bald patches everywhere. I tried styling my hair to cover it up as much as I could. I’ve tried countless vitamins, hair loss shampoos, hair thickening powders/sprays, and hair extensions. It seemed like no one in the world knew what was wrong with me. It was as if the world grew tired of me and I began wasting away. I felt alone and ashamed of my appearance and all I wanted to do was hide.
At the age of 11, I was diagnosed with alopecia areata (which affects about 3% of the population, roughly 6.8 million people in the US). I woke up one morning with a golfball-sized bald patch in the back of my head. I went to the doctor with my mom, and he recommended Rogaine. Every night before bed, I would go into my mom’s bedroom and she would take a cotton swab, dip it into the bottle, and apply it to my head. I woke up every morning with my head feeling slightly sticky and I would run my fingers through my scalp to see if I could feel any hairs growing. This went on for months until the hair grew back.
I’ve had two other outbreaks in my life, and each time I would run out to Walgreens, grab a bottle of Rogaine, and continue the routine. I was strategic in how I styled my hair so no one could see my bald patches because I didn’t have to wear a wig. When I wasn’t sick, I had luscious, long, beautiful black hair. People used to stop me in public to ask me what kind of hair extensions I was wearing. I wore my mane loud and proud. My hair was my security blanket. It made me feel beautiful.
It wasn’t until 2016 through 2019 when I had my worst outbreaks. I was working like crazy. I had zero work/life balance. I was so stressed out. I wasn’t eating right or working out. My parents had gone through a bitter divorce. I went through a major breakup. My grandmother passed away. Then my grandpa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It felt like no matter what I did, life kept coming for me and there was nowhere to escape. I was struggling with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. I drank and went out as much as I possible so I could forget.
My life was spinning out of control. The more I tried to control it, the less control I actually had. My hair kept falling out until I realized I needed to do something more aggressive because the Rogaine was not helping. I had lost about 30% of my hair at this point. I went to multiple doctors and they all told me the same thing. The only thing they could do was cortisone steroid injections, because there’s not enough research to determine what causes alopecia, and it is incurable. Month after month, I would go get my injections all over my scalp.
There were no numbing creams or pain killers—just the feeling of this needle going in and out of my head. I hated removing my hair extensions and having to hold whatever hair was left on my head while they were doing the injections because it was humiliating. I never cried when I was at the doctor’s office. I wanted them to know I was strong and I could handle it. But I’ve broken down in my car all the way home more times than I can count. I kept asking, ‘Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?’ It was a painful reminder I was not okay.
The pain from the injections would travel from my head, neck, shoulders, and back. It caused migraines and body aches. As soon as I got home, I would lay down for hours because it was excruciating. There was a time where I covered all of the mirrors in my apartment and closed all of the blinds so no one could see me. I wouldn’t get the mail for weeks at a time and had my groceries delivered. I didn’t want to see my family or friends. I didn’t want to date. I didn’t want anyone to be near me. I was so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me at my lowest point.
Then one day, I decided I didn’t want to live this way anymore. I wanted the pain to stop. I didn’t want to accept this was my fate. I knew if I gave up, I would have to continue the injections for the rest of my life, and I didn’t want to accept this. So I did my research and called as many doctors as possible to see if they could help me. Eventually, I was able to find Dr. Whitney and Dr. Norris. They both specialized in alopecia and had great success with multiple patients. I was hopeful.
By the time I saw them, I only had about 50% of my hair left and I was desperate. They sat me down, took photos of my head, and ran through different options with me. First, I could try a medication usually given to patients going through chemotherapy and a hair growth foam. But if it worked, I would only have to do this until I recovered. Second, I could have my blood drawn, have the blood shaken up to separate the platelets from the blood cells, and then have the platelets injected into my head.
At this point, I had suffered through enough injections to last a lifetime, so this was a hard no for me. Third, I could try an immunosuppressant, but I would have to be on it for the rest of my life. I opted for the first option to see how it went. My body had a hard time processing the medication. I could barely walk my dog for more than 10 minutes or cook breakfast for myself without getting completely winded. I didn’t have the energy to work out. I remember always feeling exhausted. Doing any daily activity was hard. I tried it for a few more months to allow my body to adjust, but it never did.
Eventually, I went back and opted for the third option, which was taking the immunosuppressant. This medication gave me back my life! Prior to taking this medication, I made a promise to myself I would make some major lifestyle changes. Because, in order for my body to get better, I need to give it the tools it needs to do so. I quit drinking. I began working out on a daily basis and eating clean. I focused on doing things that made my body feel good and eliminated the things that didn’t. I also worked on my mental and emotional health through meditation, writing down affirmations and gratitude, and seeking therapy.
I made myself a priority and it felt amazing. It took my hair a whole year to grow back and I love every single strand. A few weeks ago, I walked into my hair stylist’s salon to cut my hair because I had so much re-growth I was ready to ditch the hair extensions. As soon as I walked in, her eyes got wide and she kept repeating, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe your hair is back!’ It was confirmation all of the hard work and dedication were well worth it.
I am currently celebrating my health because it took me years to finally get to this point. I feel so beautiful, confident, happy, and sexy! So, even though this may not be my forever look, I’m going to enjoy every single moment of it because I am proud. I’m proud of my ability to keep fighting. I’m proud of my doctors and their amazing teams. I’m proud of my body for being able to recover and to continue to get stronger every day. I’m also proud of this newfound love I have for myself. It feels so incredible because I’ve had so many doctors tell me ‘no’ and I have to live my life this way forever, but I didn’t give up. I decided I am worth fighting for.
There are so many lessons I’ve learned from this experience. I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to other people. I’ve learned self-love and self-care come from deep within, and I have to commit to it every single day. I’ve learned to empathize with myself and listen to what my body needs. I don’t push myself every day. If my body needs to rest, then I am going to rest. If I feel like my cup is empty, then it’s my job to fill it back up. I’ve learned there are no shortcuts or hacks, everything is a process and it takes time and dedication.
Most importantly, I don’t obsess over every single flaw in my body. It’s a part of me and I love every single bit of it. Since I have been able to do this for myself, I’m able to do this and spread love onto others. This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. But I know if I didn’t go through this, I would never be able to become the best version of myself. I am the happiest and the most grateful I’ve ever been in my life
I hope I can help more people who are struggling with the same condition and remind them not to give up. I am proof things will and can get better.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katrina Nguyen of Denver, Colorado. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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