View this post on Instagram
As a young adult, I understood my identity through the lens of my alopecia.
It meant I was different and, at times, less because I didn’t have hair. The insecurity and social anxiety I lived with had kind of withered my real identity. I didn’t have clear dreams because I was always second guessing myself, not wanting to stand out too much, just in case people found out I was wearing a wig.
For a time, I did everything in my power not to be defined by my alopecia and the journey it had taken me on. I wanted to be “normal.”
Nevertheless, at some point, I understood that my life would always be colored by alopecia. It’s shaped important parts of my personality that I will always carry.
My identity in adulthood is shaped around that understanding and acceptance. I recognize that there are parts of my experience with alopecia that have had a positive outcome: it’s made me more empathetic, understanding, compassionate, kind, and giving. It has helped me see the bigger picture in all things. It has helped me understand the range of emotions we are capable of, and it has given me a unique way of understanding the world.
Something that yoga taught me during the process of shaping my identity was the value of being kind to yourself—only doing what feels good to you. Because my journey with alopecia started as a child, I was influenced by what my parents and family members thought was the best way of dealing with my experience.
Becoming an adult with alopecia meant that I had the opportunity, and challenge, of figuring out how to face my experience the way that resonated with me.
When my eyebrows and eyelashes started falling out—when the last strand of hair fell off my head—I got to reconsider what it meant, and how I was going to deal with it. One of the first little wins in this respect was when I saw a dermatologist about my eyelash loss, and it was nice to have it explained to me again as an adult. I was in the driver seat, and I was in the position to talk about it, to ask the questions that I had, and to approach any type of treatment I chose.
I was raised on a Catholic path, but I never felt connected to those teachings. When, in adulthood, I found Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, and concepts such as karma, dharma, atman and brahman, and metta, things began to make more sense to me.
I started feeling connected to my own spirituality, which in turn helped me understand my alopecia.
In finding my own spiritual path, I started making meaning out of my experience with alopecia and moving away from that constant sense of “why me?” I think the biggest way I’ve implemented spirituality toward this end has been learning to sit with and accept the uncertainty.
Living with alopecia might mean seeing a change in your circumstances, especially with hormones, life events, and other triggers. For me, a renewed sense of uncertainty has really come with starting to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as when the relationship between my hair, wig, and people’s perceptions of me changed. But my spirituality has given me resilience to accept the outcome and to have gratitude for all the things I do have.
At a certain point, I had to choose a career; for me, this meant pressure. There were too many options and too many possibilities and, like I’ve mentioned before, I felt like I had to have it all figured out on top of being particularly nervous about my hair, how I wouldn’t know what would happen in one year, if it would still be there.
I escaped this by completely avoiding making any career-related decisions for years. From about 20 to 25, I lived on autopilot, ignoring and suppressing all of those emotions by doing the bare minimum to get by.
I didn’t feel good about not living a public life that was honest about my hair, and I didn’t feel good about hiding it, and I didn’t want to be bald all the time.
My first job was okay with my hair. The boss made it a joke. I think he wanted me to feel better and to know it was okay. And, to be honest, it did feel better to a degree. But, it also reinforced those thoughts that I was different.
I still avoided jobs where I was expected to do my hair a certain way because my wig didn’t really allow it. I didn’t like the idea of spending so much time with so many people;—of having to go to a place where not only did I have to worry about doing my best and being professional and intelligent, but also how to explain my wig to them, how to wear my wig, and then, as time went on, what the hell was going on with my eyebrows. (Just a note that it would be hard for anybody to go to work with half an eyebrow because you feel you can’t call in sick and, in the one hour you had to get ready for work, you didn’t figure out how to put makeup on to cover it up.)
I really have considered all of my jobs according to if it would be comfortable for me—not having hair. But, somehow, losing my eyelashes and eyebrows felt like that last stop, so I never had to think about possibly losing them again. They are gone, and it’s calming to know that things won’t “get worse.” It feels safer.
On top of that, I feel blessed that everything is coming together. I’ve reached a place where I know that alopecia has happened to me for a reason, and part of that reason guides my career choice. I know that it’s made me kinder and humbler, and it helps me connect with others and help them.
I’ve always identified with healing, nurturing, and teaching people, but been confused about who needs those aspects of me the most. I thought for a while it would be school kids as a teacher, then I worked with nonprofits trying to figure that out, and now I know that this whole time I was preparing to help other people with hair loss. That thought lights me up and I know I am uniquely qualified to do so.
Self-worth, self-love, sense of self, and dating are all inextricably linked.
For example, the most common thing I’ve heard from women with alopecia is that they are concerned about being sexy for their partner. There is a very real fear that no one will love them or marry them because of their hair.
I myself have always been nervous about telling the people I’ve dated. I’ve had to approach that conversation with an awareness that, for some men, it could be a deal breaker. So, before I‘ve ever been able to entertain becoming emotionally intimate with a man, I know I have to have the “hair conversation.”
I will say this about it: it gets easier as you get more comfortable with yourself.
I want to acknowledge that I’ve been really lucky. In my relationships, I have only found love. In many different forms, but they’ve all had a lot of love and, honestly, my alopecia never defined them. But I think that many of us would find we have a similar reality if we stepped out of our own misguided thoughts for a moment and saw that no one cares about our alopecia more than we do.
That’s why, the first thing we need to do to develop strong romantic relationships is change how we think about ourselves, and how we approach ourselves with or without love.
For many years, I think my insecurity and social anxiety stopped me from looking for community, and finding the strength to search for it changed everything—the people surrounding you change everything.
As I mentioned before, so much of my relationship with myself as a child and young adult was shaped by the reflections of my parents and family. But, as an adult, you have an opportunity to really take control of your community.
It took me many years to do this, but eventually I looked for and found my community, and I noticed big changes in my life as a result. Surrounding yourself with people who are proud of you, who embrace you, who share their story, gives you a point of reference, a sense of belonging, and it opens your mind up to all the options that are available.
I’ve found a sense of identity that embraces, rather than ignores, my alopecia and the experiences I’ve had as a consequence of it. I’ve developed a strong sense of self and independence in the decisions I make, in my spirituality, in my relationships, and in my community.
I’ve found love—for myself and for my story.
But I didn’t wake up one morning with all of this joy and all of the tools I needed to face the uncertainty of the future. I worked at it.
Are you experiencing something similar?
Read about Sheridan’s childhood experiences with alopecia here: “I Lost my Hair when I was 7″—Growing up with Alopecia.