Wednesday, 15 August 2012


As Mum was plaiting my hair, an overwhelming instinct made me reach for the back of my head with my right hand. Maybe Mum didn't want to tell me... Not this again!

I was 10 years old and Mum had made me a Drs appointment, but I didn't know why. There we were sat in the waiting room, me aimlessly kicking the chair in front of me, bored, while Mum was fiddling with my hair. I had no idea why we were there, and quite frankly, I didn't care! I was loving that I had a morning off school... Maybe Mum would give me the whole day off!
As I stared at the huge fish tank, filled with murky green water, and barely visible goldfish, that was placed at the front of the room, my name was called. I trundled after Mum through the waiting room, dragging my feet clad with clumpy black school shoes, and skulked behind Mum as she knocked on the door to the Drs room.
We entered and I sat next to the Drs desk, my feet dangling from the chair, unable to touch the floor, and Mum pulled up a chair and sat beside me. The Dr asked, 'How can I help today?' I didn't have a clue, i was more bothered about whether my tamagotchi pet was still alive, as it lay in Mums bag. I looked at Mum and let her do he talking.
Mum explained to the Dr that I was developing little bald spots on the back of my head... This was news to me. The Dr stood up and I sat there, legs dangling, as both adults surrounded the back of my head. There was a lot of 'Hmm'ing' going on as I felt the Drs fingers examining my head. All the while I sat there just waiting to find out what exactly was going on with my hair!
The Dr sat back down in front of me and began to ask me questions, 'Do you have a habit of pulling at your hair?' No. 'Do you wear your ponytails too tight?' No. 'Have you banged your head?' No. 'Do you get worried and nervous at all?'...Well, sometimes... But doesn't every body?
The Dr explained to me and Mum that I had something called Alopecia Areata, or 'spot baldness'. I was losing hair in patches. The Dr said a ten year old shouldn't be stressed, and told my Mum to keep an eye on me. He said there was no cure for this, the hair would hopefully eventually just grow back, and I may just grow out of the condition all together.
How hadn't I noticed this? I suddenly became ever so conscious of my hair... Had people in school noticed? Were people making fun of me behind my back? This was so unfair!
After walking in to the Drs a somewhat carefree ten year old, I now walked out very self conscious, very aware of my appearance, knowing I was different to the other girls in my school, constantly reaching to feel that the bald spots on the back of my head were covered.
I went back to school that day a changed little girl. I had always had to contend with the whispers and giggles behind my back, when getting changed for PE, when the other children saw the massive scar on my back. But my scar could always be hidden by my clothes on any other occasion, so I only worried about it when it came to PE. But you can't hide your head. Every time the wind blew, my hands reached to grab my head. Every time I bent down to pick something up off the floor, one hand would be holding my hair in place. I never allowed other girls to play with my hair in the play ground, and I felt like I could have a panic attack if anyone came near my head.
I hoped, and prayed, and begged to God that I would grow out of the alopecia quickly, and when little sprouts of hair began to cover the bald spots on my head, the elation I felt reached such great enormity, and just in time before I started high school... But as soon as one bald patch grew back, another appeared, and another... and another.
Mum and Dad used to always try and reassure me that I was lucky that I had lots of thick dark hair, that could cover the bald patches easily, but as an adolescent, pubescent teenager, going through my first few years at high school, losing my hair seemed like the end of the world. I felt weird, and unusual, and was so scared that the bullies would spot my bald patches. I was never relaxed, never at peace and on top of that there was a hell of a lot more people at High School that I had to explain my scar to. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, bodies changing, hormones raging, boys becoming the centre of your world, and girls developing a bitchy bone. I just wanted to fit in, and blend in to the crowd... Being different was like hell on earth... But I was doing well at hiding my baldy's. Three years on and nobody had noticed yet, or if they had, they were kind enough not to point it out. Then I woke up one school day morning in year 9...
My bald patches had always been at the back or sides of my my head, and my hair was thick and heavy enough to fall over them, but as I looked in the bathroom mirror, I burst in to tears. I thought there had been a lot of hair on my pillow that morning when I woke up, and as always my hand instinctively reached for the place the hair had fallen from... I had a huge bald patch right at the front of my head on my hairline. I cried to my Mum and begged her to let me have the day of school, but she said I was going to have to go in sooner or later. She sat with me as I dragged the hair from the other side of my head (luckily, side partings were in,) and I fiercely gripped the hair in to place, spraying enough hair spray on my head to make me a hazard at a bonfire.
The weekend after I discovered the baldy at the front of my head, one also developed right in the middle at the top of my head. So Mum did some research and discovered a place about 30 minutes away from where I live, that specialise in wigs, extensions, and camouflage for bald spots.
Mum booked an appointment for me, and we made our way down there. The people there were so lovely, and sympathetic, and reassured me that there are lots of people out there with the same condition. They assessed the baldys and told me the best thing for mine would be a type of makeup for the head. The only way I can describe it is like a thick, brown, foundation.
I couldn't use it on the bald patch on the front of my head, but I could us it on the spot on the top of my head, and any that appear on the back. That way, if the wind blew, or my hair fell out of place there wouldn't be an obvious bright white patch of scalp showing.
The head makeup made me feel so much more relaxed, and confident, feelings that were quite alien to me.
Throughout the rest of my time at high school and college, I kept getting my little and big baldys, but the older I got the less embarrassed I was to reveal to people that I had alopecia. But I still hated it. Hair is so important to us girls, well it is to me. Every time one bald patch grew back a little bit of hope that it could be the last one was always distinguished by the appearance of a new one.
At the end of 2010 quite a big baldy had disappeared, and sprouts of light coloured hair were growing rapidly in its place... I waited for another one to appear. Yet for the first time, in a very long time, I had a full head of hair! I could style it however I wanted to, and styling my hair was something I had become very good at. Living with these bald patches had forced me in to understanding how to work with my hair, making it look good while hiding my baldy friends. I was so happy!

'Mum, my alopecia's back isn't it?'

Monday, 6 August 2012


An appointment was booked with the ward psychologist, and within hours there was a knock at my door and a fresh faced, young, blonde woman stood there waiting to be greeted. The woman with scattered piercings and tattoos creeping into vision from corners of her clothing, had a trusting smile and knowledgable eyes, and I instantly knew she was the person I had been waiting to see... The psychologist.
After brief introductions, and friendly handshakes, the psychologist said she would like to conduct this introductory session in her room, away from the bustling ward. For some reason a shockwave of panic rippled through my chest at the thought of going with her, alone... Was I ready to talk about this? Was I ready to face the facts?
I couldn't do it alone, I just couldn't. I needed my Mum, and i clung to her gaze, trying to tell her with my eyes not to leave me alone with this stranger, who was ready to delve deep in to my soul.
'Right Rebecca, shall we go?'

'I want my mum to come with us!'

The psychologist looked from me to my Mum, and back to me again. Wary of my sudden outburst and channeling in on my distress, I could see her already beginning to analyse me. Eventually she smiled warmly, relief spreading through my veins, and she agreed to allow my mum to be a spectator in my session.
The three of us ever so slowly made our way to a room I wasn't yet familiar with on the ward. It was a a long, thin room, with dull, beige walls, the odd poster scattered here and there, and a white board where I, straight away sieved through the scrawl, and spotted my name and the time of my appointment.
I was seated on a chair facing where the psychologist sat, with a desk next to her, where she casually rested her elbow, pen in hand. Mum was seated in the corner, not too far away from me, and I was comfortable in the knowledge that my peripheral vision always had her in its grasp.
The session began with the psychologist explaining to me what her job was and what the session plan was. I was fully aware of this, and had heard it all before from previous counsellors I had seen, but I politely let her continue, nodding at the right points, and convincing her that I understood with my well queued smiles.
Soon enough, too soon for my liking, the psychologist had ended her little speech, and the questions were about to begin. I felt so vulnerable and so out of my depth, because I didn't know how I felt. I hadn't even begun to accept what had happened to me, and in my own mind at that time, I wasn't ready to start accepting it.
The questioning started, and I answered truthfully, telling her all about the day of the stroke and what my time on the ward had been like. I went on to expose to her that I had already had counselling in the past, and explained why I had. I also told her that I was already on anti depressants, all the while the pen that had once lay limply in her hand, had now developed what seemed like a life of its own, and was dancing rapidly along a piece of paper, her fingers guiding its way.
I felt that up to this point the session was going smoothly, and I had definitely relaxed in her company, but I wasn't to get too complacent, as very quickly the conversation turned to questioning the present emotional state i was in.
I sat there for what seemed like and age, feeling her eyes burning deep in to my brain as she sat there silent, patient. I gazed down at my limp, left hand, and then my eyes glided down the left side of my body as it assessed its wellbeing. My jumbled thoughts seemed to be settling slightly, but i didn't like where they were finding their resting place. That oh so familiar burning feeling began the creep up my cheeks, and along the rims of my eyes, and my vision began to blur as pools of water, created by my tear-ducts quickly flooded my eye sockets and began to spill down my cheeks. I kept my head down, but the obvious water drop stains, creating a pattern on my pyjama bottoms, gave the game away. The psychologist allowed me to cry, and silently offered me a box of tissues, and as I took one I saw the box being offered over to the corner of the room, when I looked and saw tears stream down the face of my poor, devoted Mum.
I felt so let down, so angered and so betrayed by my own body. There was no one else to blame, no one to shout at, or be disappointed in, no one to take away the limelight and accept responsibility. It was my fault.
I was hurt.
My heart hurt.
My brain hurt.

I was exhausted.

The psychologist continued to talk at me, telling me what I was feeling was completely normal after what had happened to me. But my brain had transported itself in to its own little world of despair. I wasn't ready to accept this, not yet.
The session ended, though i don't quite remember how. I was in a complete daze.
I clung on to Mum as we made our way back to my room, not wanting to ever let go of her...Wanting her to make this all go away.

Then I slept...