September is Alopecia Awareness month. People from all walks of life, regardless of age, class, gender, lose patches of their hair; it is an equal-opportunity disease. It can be moderate, or it can be total hair loss. It is autoimmune, where the body attacks its own immune system, causing the hair to thin out and fall. Causes are unknown, but some attribute stress and genetics. There is no cure, only treatments. Those struggling with the disease use September to educate, communicate, and share their journey with the world.
I have alopecia. I never thought I’d participate in an “awareness month”, but here I am. I have lost significant amounts of my hair. As a young woman, this has been heartbreaking, frightening, confusing…one second I’m appreciative that its only hair loss and the next I am crying my eyes out.
This is not the first time I’ve lost my hair. At 8 years old, I suffered a month-long, undiagnosed illness that made me shed layers and layers of my skin, along with my hair. I had an extremely high fever and was unable to walk for most of the time. I was pricked with needles from local clinics to UCLA Medical Center, but no doctor had neither a diagnosis or a cure. After drinking abeh Zam Zam, holy water, I was finally healthy again. But the illness took my hair with it, and so my long, dirty-blonde locks were cut into a sharp bob. My hair never went back to it’s full health again.
For much of college, I wore extensions. Then finally three years ago, I was confident enough to take my weave off. Upon removal, I was shocked to see my hair past my chest, almost reaching the end of my back – it had grown significantly. I finally had my hair back. I loved being able to swim without having my tracks show, I loved running my fingers through my hair and knowing it was all me.
I enjoyed my hair until this year, when it significantly thinned out. And now, its falling out again.
This disease ruins your self-esteem. I constantly check mirrors to make sure my patches don’t show. I’ve contemplated shaving it all off and getting wigs. I’m still able to cover the spots, but I don’t know how long this will last – I hope it does. But with every new spot, I feel exposed, I feel small. Being a woman, being in Los Angeles, being around my extremely beautiful friends who all have incredible hair, I feel inadequate.
But it’s just hair. I cannot and will not let it define me, or shake me so much to my core that I can’t go on. The “great” thing about being from one of the poorest nations on earth is having parents who constantly remind you how lucky you are; pity doesn’t come around easily in Afghan households. Don’t get me wrong, the support is there, but it is always accompanied with, “it could be worse”.
And that’s the truth. It could be worse. For the time being, I can cover my spots. And maybe one day, I won’t be able to. And I hope that on that day, I am strong enough to realize that I am not my hair, but that I am a child of God, an unconditional friend, with an unquestioning heart, and an indiscriminate embrace.