Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the woman with alopecia embracing her true self

''With one hair-raising decision, I went back to my roots.''

By Brittany Smith

Sarah Hogan, 33, from Melbourne, Vic, shares her real life story;

Skipping through the park, I started playing with a group of girls who were three years old, like me.
When they saw me, their mouths opened in shock.
"Get away!" one screamed. "I don't want to catch what you have."
In tears, I ran to my mum, Susan, who hugged me and stroked my bald head.
"Looks don't define you," she soothed. "Your personality is what matters."
Feeling better, I continued playing in the park alone.
I knew I was different. I'd been diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, when I was 18 months old.
It caused my immune system to attack my hair like a virus.
Since then, I'd lost all my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes.
I was too young to understand the disease, but I hated the way other kids ran from me in fear and the pitying looks from adults.
As I grew older, my hair slowly returned. By high school it was so long it was down to my chest.
My memories of being bald had faded.
Then one afternoon at school, my friend Tegan was plaiting my hair when her fingers froze.
"You have a little bald patch," she whispered.
Me with my wonderful, supportive family. (Image: Supplied)
Mortified, I smoothed my hair down. My friends knew I had alopecia but, like me, thought I'd fully recovered.
That night I spoke to Mum and she found a coin-sized patch of bare scalp.
"It's only hair," she said. "We can make it healthier."
She took me to a naturopath who suggested yoga and meditation, and eating more fruit and veg.
Scared of being bald, I made all the changes she suggested and three months later, my hair started growing again.
But as that bald patch filled up, another developed.
I tried aromatherapy, massages, acupuncture and reiki, but every positive result was only temporary.
My hair loss only worsened as the years passed.
I saw a dermatologist who put me on immune suppressants, steroids and trial medications.
When they didn't work, I was given UV light therapy and cortisone injections.
By age 30, the drugs had wreaked havoc on my body.
Most nights I suffered feverish dreams and woke exhausted.
Me as a little girl - I was diagnosed young. (Image: Supplied)
Low on energy, I started fainting in the morning before I got to the office, where I worked as a lawyer.
On a bad day, I was an empty shell.
My hair kept falling out and by the time I'd lost 70 per cent of it, I'd had enough.
At home with my housemates Rhea and Marty, I realised I needed to shave my head.
I'd tried everything but weakened beyond belief, I had to admit, after 15 years of trying to avoid the worst case scenario, my alopecia had won.
"Will you shave my head?" I whispered to Rhea and Marty.
They understood how scared I was.
Marty brought out his clippers then held my hands as Rhea got to work.
I cried as my brown locks fell to the floor.
Once Rhea was finished, I ran into my room and looked in the mirror.
My round, white scalp was so shocking, I collapsed on the floor and curled into a ball in tears.
How could I face the world looking like this? For weeks I avoided mirrors and invested in wigs and beanies.
Most nights, I cried myself to sleep.
I've finally embraced who I am and I'm not afraid to bare all. (Image: Supplied)
I was free from all the medication and side effects I'd put my body through, but I couldn't focus on my new-found health.
All I could think about was what I'd lost.
My family were supportive as ever.
My dad, Kelvin, and my brother, Bernie, even offered to shave their heads in solidarity but, mortified, I begged them not to.
Instead, Bernie sent me flowers and a beautiful card.
Being bald makes you stronger, it read.
But I still couldn't accept myself.
Whenever I went out in public, my heart raced, certain everyone was staring. I suffered many panic attacks.
Three months later, I caught up with friends I'd met months earlier while skydiving and, although they'd never known I had alopecia, they weren't surprised or put off.
They love me for who I am, I realised. My appearance doesn't matter to them.
I slowly started feeling comfortable in my skin again. I had to embrace the new me.
It didn't happen overnight but slowly my confidence grew.
After so many years of heartache, I'm finally happy. (Image: Supplied)
Now, two years later, I love being bald.
My only regret is that I didn't shave my head sooner.
I get to play with wigs, changing my hair colour whenever I want, and never have to worry about suffering a bad hair day.
Maybe one day my locks will regrow but for now I'm happy.
I'm living my life carefree and hair-free.

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