Hair; so many women (and men) use it as a defining focal point of their identity. But what happens when it is taken away from us without choice or without warning? This is a reality for women diagnosed with alopecia areata, and over 22 million women in the United States of America experience at least one of its many forms. September is Alopecia Awareness month, and our next #MySkyeBody Conversations interviewee, Supriya Surender, sheds some light on this condition. From the importance of therapy to learning self acceptance and inner peace to even wig wearing, no stone is left unturned!
SKYE: Tell us a bit about the timeline of your journey with this condition.
Supriya: It all started back in 2013 when I was in a Target dressing room. The double mirrors revealed a small bald spot on the back of my head that I had never seen before. My dermatologist confirmed that it was alopecia areata and treated it with corticosteroid injections. The spot filled back in with hair a few months later. I remained spot-free until early 2015. After a stressful start to the year, my spots returned, but that May, everything changed. I started losing my hair at a rapid rate. By the end of May, I had bald spots all over my head. My hair continued to fall out one handful after another. By August I was a bald woman. All it took was 3 months for my hair to totally disappear. One year later I lost my eyebrows, and the next year I lost my eyelashes. Somewhere in-between, I lost the rest of my body hair. I am now starting my 5th year as a bald woman and things have changed slightly. My eyelashes are back and I have a patch of hair on the back of my hair that continues to grow. I’m too nervous to get excited. My hair started to grow back once before, but after 4 months of regrowth it fell out in one week. Only time will tell!
SKYE: How do you reconcile how you looked then as opposed to how you look now?
Supriya: At first, it was a surreal, sad, wild, and confusing feeling losing all of my hair. Looking in the mirror and not seeing the same face I had seen for 30+ years was mind numbing. Especially because it happened so fast. Losing my eyebrows made it especially difficult. You never realize how much eyebrows impact your appearance until they are gone. I felt like a stranger to myself. Looking at old pictures made my stomach turn, because it was like looking at an old friend that I would never see again. A friend that I missed so dearly, but had completely lost.
Now it is a little different. It's been such a long time without hair, that I’m starting to forget what the old version of me looked like. That part is a little bit sad and a little bit comforting. Sad because I feel like a piece of me is forever gone. Comforting that I’ve become okay with this new normal. I’ve found peace with this version of myself. While physically I’m different, mentally I’ve become the strongest version of myself.
SKYE: What steps/mechanisms did you employ to embrace your baldness?
Supriya: Therapy! Should I say it louder for the people in the back? THERAPY! Gosh I can’t even explain how much it helped seeking out professional help. You see, I’ve spent so much of my adult life dealing with anxiety and depression. Alopecia just made those struggles a million times worse. As my hair disappeared, so did the little bit of happiness I still had. However, therapy helped me sort through my pain. It helped me find a light at the end of the tunnel. It helped give me the courage to start sharing my story publicly through my Baldie Boo page. The more I share, the more I’ve healed. The hair loss community is filled with amazing and inspiring humans. I’ve been able to connect with so many wonderful souls who help me heal more and more each day. They’ve given me the courage to step outside of my comfort zone and slowly but surely, begin to embrace my condition.
SKYE: Do you still struggle with this new, physical version of you? And if yes, how do you pull yourself out of it and move forward?
Supriya: For the most part, I no longer struggle with this version of myself. But like all things, I still have my good days and bad days.There are days where I feel like life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to wear wigs. There are days where I am frustrated having to wear wigs. I’m forever a work in progress, and the thought of stepping out in public bald is still so daunting. I’ve done it a couple times at work, but it still gives me knots in my stomach thinking about it. It's just such a vulnerable feeling letting the world see you at your most exposed. There are still some activities that I avoid because it's not ideal for a wig-wearer. One day I aspire to be a completely free bird who does not let her hair loss hold her back in any capacity. Until then, I’ll just keep taking these baby steps til I get there.
SKYE: How has social media affected your journey with this disease?
Supriya: Social media has been such a blessing for me. Early on, I was able to join an Alopecia Facebook support group. It helped me connect with others going through the same emotions I was. For the first time I felt truly understood by people who were walking in my same shoes.
When I started my Baldie Boo page, I was introduced to an overwhelming number of amazing, bad ass, hair-loss warriors. People who I’ve never met, but who I consider friends for life.Social media means alopecia will never make me feel alone again. I will always have a group out there who will support me through my dark days and cheer me on through my accomplishments. It is so comforting having friends who know what it's like to have your sunglasses wipe off your brows, or understand the glorious feeling of removing your wig at the end of a long day. I am so grateful to live in an age where I have an endless number of resources to help me through.
SKYE: How do you feel about women who wear wigs for fun as opposed to a self-imposed necessity?
Supriya: This may sound silly, but when I was sad and ashamed to be wearing wigs, I’d always remind myself that Kim Zolciak wears wigs and rocks them! She got me through so many of my hard wig days. I truly love that there are women who wear them for fun vs necessity, and I wish more and more would. The more normal it becomes, the less daunting it feels to have to wear one too. Wigs always made me feel like the odd ball out. Nobody else had to worry if their hairline was changing throughout the day lol! If all my friends were wig wearers, it would have been so much easier. Maybe I would have owned my alopecia from the jump, rather than keeping it a secret for so long. Either way, I truly hope that wig wearing becomes just as normal as going to the salon to get your haircut.
SKYE: Finish this sentence: “I feel my truest when I...”
Supriya: Am at home without my wigs, without my makeup, being a nerd who is dancing in the living room with her cat and boyfriend. Because my truest is also my happiest.
SKYE: What’s the best advice you can give someone who’s just beginning to experience life with this condition?
Supriya: Trust me, the beginning is hands down the hardest part. It's scary, devastating, and so emotional. Know that everybody’s journey is SO different from the next person. Just because I lost all of my hair does not mean you will too. Don’t bank on the worst case scenario, because I also know a lot of women who have grown their hair back! Also know that these sad feelings WILL get better. I promise you. It is okay and so healing to get help! Get therapy, talk to your family, talk to your friends. Sharing your struggles is how you get through them. Go on social media and connect with the hair loss community. Message me or any of the others out there sharing their journey. We understand you and we are here to help you. That is why we share our stories. We went through our dark times and made it out and hope that inspires you to find your light again too.