People normally associate hair loss with balding, older men or cancer patients, but when I was 13, I learned a difficult truth: Massive Hair loss can affect healthy people of all ages—including me.
I first noticed that my hair was falling out when my mother would hug me or touch my head and she would back away with handfuls of my hair. By the time I started waking up with large clumps of brown hair on my pillow, I was scared out of my mind. I knew that I needed help, but I also feared the worst. Could I have cancer?
I went to see my dermatologist and was ultimately diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Alopecia Areata. I was certainly relieved to know that it wasn’t cancer, but there were still plenty of challenges to overcome. Not only did I not have any idea how I was going to get better, but I hadn’t ever even heard of Alopecia Areata.
With autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, tissues, and organs in a person’s body, causing everything from joint pain (rheumatoid arthritis) to skin rashes (psoriasis). In the case of Alopecia Areata, the body damages the hair follicles, causing hair loss from the scalp for some, or the loss of all body hair for others.
Sounds scary, right?!? Well, it is, and it’s impacting a TON of people. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation notes that approximately 6.8 million Americans have, or will develop, Alopecia Areata during their lifetime and 147 million people worldwide
As you can imagine, losing my hair as a 13-year-old was incredibly challenging and emotionally difficult. No matter how grounded and non-superficial you think you are, seeing your hair scattered all over your clothes, sheets, and bathroom floor—when it’s supposed to be on your head—is a real “come to Jesus” moment.
Like most teenagers, I like to try new makeup looks, and I LOVE high fashion (Proof: My trips to Fall 2018 NYFW). Still, I had never been that concerned about my appearance—at least not until I was faced with the reality that I might lose all of my hair, and that it might not ever grow back.
There is no cure for Alopecia Areata, but I have been able to manage the condition with medical treatments and lifestyle diet changes. The fact that I’ve been able to keep most of my hair is certainly a relief, but that’s not what I’ve been most excited about. For me, the last year-and-a-half of self-discovery, recovery, and renewed confidence has shown me that I am stronger and more courageous than I ever thought possible. In the end, having a full head of hair is virtually insignificant when compared to the real impact that I can have on the world around me.
Since my diagnosis, I have made it my mission to spread awareness and educate as many people as possible about Alopecia Areata.
According to the Children’s Alopecia Project, “We do not try to cure the Alopecia in the child, we want to cure the “child” living with Alopecia.”. Because of that, as well as my own personal experiences, I have committed to empowering other kids and teens—whether they are struggling with an autoimmune disease or are perfectly healthy—so that they, too, can understand their true worth.
The world of YouTube and social media is filled with people presenting near-perfect versions of their lives, and instead of inspiring other people, it actually makes them feel bad about themselves. That’s not the influence that I want to have.
As Mohandas Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” so I am sharing my story to remind everyone—including you—that no matter what you’re going through, it’s not the end of the world. Things will get better, and every challenge is just a test of your true strength.
So, my advice is this: One you see how strong you really are, don’t waste it. Channel that strength into a positive force of change that will impact someone who needs whatever you have to offer. In the process, you might just impact the world.