Dealing with alopecia: A JOE writer tells his story
Today, I’ve written about a sport I’ve never played, a movie I’ve never seen and even a food I’ve never tasted.
I write for a living. I love it. I’d do it for free. In fact, I have. Any notebook from when I was a kid is littered with half-hearted attempts at putting my angst and juvenile confusion onto a page.
A year ago I got alopecia. It’s affected my life in ways I barely understand.
There are days when I don’t know the person I’ve become, but this has less to do with a different reflection in the mirror than you would think.
It’s not the social anxiety, the complete inability to face my problems head-on or a crippling lack of self-confidence.
It’s the fact I haven’t been able to write about my problem. It’s been too big in my head to deconstruct to the point where it would hit the page. I haven’t been able to do the thing that makes me myself.
That is, until now.
Roughly a year ago, I got a bout of a mysterious illness, which one doctor reckoned was a severe chest infection and another claimed was an asthma attack.
This happened the night James Rodriguez scored his wonder goal for Colombia in the World Cup against Uruguay. Funnily enough, I’ve hated all things Colombian ever since.
My brief affair with Sofia Vergara had to end and I only buy Bolivian cocaine now. That’s obviously a joke… Sofia and I still hook up occasionally.
Approximately a week after that I found a bald patch at the back of my head. It was pretty darn big, about the size of the palm of your hand, but it was still easy to hide. I was calm about it. I assumed it was due to the prescription pills I’d taken for the illness.
Then, in September, I started a new job with JOE.ie as a writer. This was the perfect step for me and my career.
Three days into my new job, my brother went missing. It was on the national news. Fortunately, he was found alive and well several days later.
Three weeks later, I found another patch.
My best friend Shane was visiting and we were out drinking. While at the bar, I went to the bathroom to check whether my first bald patch was showing. Then I saw the second one.
I became obsessed with the spots. Every time I came home, I took a small mirror to the bathroom to check the back of my head. It became one of the only things I thought about.
I went to the doctor. He gave me a steroid cream that did nothing apart from irritate me. I could have easily nicknamed the cream Tim Lovejoy.
More patches appeared. I wore a hat to work every day, to meetings and everything. I was beginning to look like a mangy hyena.
It was leading up to my sister’s wedding. All that was going through my head was the mantra ‘keep your hair long enough for the wedding. Just keep it long enough for that.’
It was falling out too fast for me to do that. I shaved the scant remains off the morning of the wedding.
This was huge. My sister’s wedding was a fantastic event but a negative turning point for me personally. I became very, very depressed.
There were days when I came home from work at 6pm and went straight to bed. My relationships, work-life and personal state was deteriorating to the point where I could barely hold a conversation. I went one week without really talking to anyone.
Anyone who thinks it is just hair, doesn’t realise that my image for 27 years changed in a second.
I went to a friend’s house a few weeks later. After a fantastic evening where I was acting somewhat like my best self, I noticed something in my eye. It was a clump of eyelashes.
My words were gone. I knew what was coming.
I was becoming a ghost because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I was there, but I wasn’t. Within three weeks all of my eyelashes and eyebrows were gone. I also lost much of my body hair.
Christmas came and went. A couple of more months went by. I had my bloods done, I saw doctors, specialists and con-artists. They all gave me the same reply– ‘you might get better, you might not.’
I’m sick of wondering which side the coin will fall.
I have to create my own certainty. I’ll be fine if my hair doesn’t grow back and I’ll be fine if it does. I’m not completely OK now, but putting this on a page is a huge positive step.
This has been the hardest knock of my life and there are a couple of people who have helped me from crashing to the floor, sometimes literally. I owe it to them to be better.
Alopecia, you’ve taken the first few rounds, but I reckon I’ll win this one on points.
Cian wrote a light-hearted update six-months later. That's available here.