What is it like to have alopecia?

When Chris Rock made fun of Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, the slap across Rock’s face took centre stage during the Oscars, alopecia was finally discussed in mainstream media. It was no laughing matter, and I wondered, did people make fun of me behind my back too? 

So before anyone said anything, I started to tell people I had alopecia as if it did no’t bother me, but deep inside, it did. I thought if I made a joke about it, it would spare me from other people’s jabs. 

It is the uncertainty of the condition that makes it so difficult to handle. I cannot even count the number of things I did for my hair to grow back. Doctor visits, hair products, hair growth oils and supplements.

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I saw a dermatologist, Anisha Joshi, who told me not to worry and alopecia affects many people. She treated me with intralesional steroids and gave me an ointment and said it “might” help, but there are no guarantees. 

“Treatments can help induce hair growth, but no treatment has been found to alter the course of the disease. However, certain topical medicine like Minoxidil may help,” she said.

After three months of that shiny, smooth patch on my head, tiny little hairs did grow back. It was not the same as before, it was thinner, but at least I had some hair. Nine months later, some of the hair has grown back, and it sticks out straight because it is much shorter than the rest of my hair. You can still see the scalp more clearly in that area than the rest. 

No amount of research and logic comforted me during my experience. Losing my hair affected my idea of who I was, and I did not know how to handle it with grace, especially coming from South Asia where women are admired for their luscious locks. I did not have the strength to shave my head and be proud of it. 

If you know someone struggling with alopecia, be kind. You have no idea what they are going through. No one wants to lose their hair, especially not so suddenly that it turns their life upside down and changes their perception of themselves. 

When I got alopecia, it took me time to accept it as my new reality. Though I am among those few whose hair did grow back, I fear that one day I will wake up and find another hairless patch staring back at me again. 

Anjana Rajbhandary writes this fortnightly Nepali Times column Life Time about mental health, physical health and socio-cultural issues. 

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