Spoiler alert: this isn’t an overwhelmingly fun post….
So when I was first diagnosed with alopecia I was pretty much told by everyone – my doctor, my hairdresser and the internet that it was probably caused by stress.
Now I was never a stressful person, like seriously, ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m pretty darn chilled out. My friend’s mum once described me as being ‘so laid-back she’s horizontal’… not quite sure if that was a compliment or not
Anyway, as you can imagine, this whole being told stress was the cause of alopecia pretty much pissed me off, because I knew I wasn’t and I also knew that my mum had alopecia too so the likelihood was that it was hereditary rather than stress-induced.
But hey ho, I just got on with my life, yet becomingly increasingly stressed due to my alopecia.
– A horribly vicious cycle – Alopecia causes me to stress and stress causes alpoecia… where is the justice??
I’ve always been quite a confident person and as I grew up with alopecia I never really had any anxiety issues and I didn’t particularly realise that many people who suffer from alopecia consequently struggle with anxiety.
I mean don’t get me wrong – I had serious down days where I would scream and cry at myself in the mirror, depressed at the reflection in front of me, but anxiety was never a factor.
This sadly changed throughout my time at university. I didn’t even realise it was happening but it seemed to creep up on me and before I knew it I was starting to dread the walk into university and sitting in lectures and seminars with my classmates. Thoughts of whether other people were aware of my wig and penciled in eyebrows were consuming my mind rather than reflecting on the text or discussion at hand. I wanted to divert attention away from me and desperately avoided answering any questions or making any points which would put me in the spotlight.
Even at this point I did not make the connection between this growing sense of anxiety and my alopecia – I thought it was just the way I was becoming – more anxious as I got older, as tasks became more difficult – presentations more demanding – and I was started to skip classes in order to avoid my sweaty palms, pounding heart and extreme shakes.
It wasn’t until I went to the doctors around Easter 2012 when it reached it’s peak and the relationship between anxiety and alopecia became clear to me.
I had been referred to my home doctor by my university doctor to seek consultation about steroid injections for my eyebrows. At this point the majority of my left eyebrow had come out and a little of my right too. The doctor at university wrote a letter to the hospital in Plymouth to try and get me an appointment, but also said it was worth trying back in London in case there was a shorter waiting list.
So I went to the doctors back at home and explained the situation. I never used to get nervous at the doctors, but talking about my alopecia and uncovering my patchy head to a stranger made me rather uncomfortable.
At first she didn’t seem to register my angst and I managed to keep myself relatively calm, but then she asked if there was anything else she could do for me, and I said I needed some more contraceptive pills. She said that she would need to take my blood pressure…
so what did my body do at this point?
Soared into a state of anxiety – increasing my blood pressure tenfold.
So then she told me that my blood pressure was worryingly high – which of course didn’t help matters – and then she asked me if I was anxious….
AND suddenly the floodgates opened, tears started streaming down my face as I realised what a shitty place I was at in my life. It was really very embarrassing. I’m not a very outwardly emotional person – which is probably why I had such a massive breakdown in front of a complete stranger but I was finally able to talk to someone about how I really felt.
It was a dejectedly low point in my life as I had allowed all these insecurities (mainly caused by my eyebrows falling out) to build up inside. Living at university in a house with 7 guys, I always had to do my make up before I could leave my room – even to make a cup of tea or have breakfast. I struggled to keep eye contact with people as I immediately assumed they were looking at my wonkily drawn on brows – and all in all I was just so frustrated with it all!
Anyhow, the doctor seemed pretty worried about me – understandably so as I had just descended into a blithering mess within seconds. She asked me if I had ever considered counselling… WHAT alarm bells going off in my head, shit am I going crazy?!
And then thinking actually maybe that is just what I need.
She said she could give me a contact but I assured her I would go to the university counselor after the Easter break.
(Okay.. I never went but I’ll explain why in a bit)
So after I semi-pulled myself together and cleaned up my mascara stained cheeks, I went home and told my mum what had happened. She said she had also noticed a change in my behaviour and had been worried about me – agreeing with the doc that perhaps counselling was the best step to take. I did some more sobbing on her shoulder and then went and hid under my duvet for a while.
Now, why I never went to a counselor… I had every intention of going, promise! But then I got a letter through from the hospital in Plymouth telling me I had an appointment for steroid injections in my eyebrows… ok I probably still should have gone to counselling but I thought if this treatment works my worries will be over!
And that is what I did… I got the injections and lo and behold after 4 weeks my bushy brows began to blossom once more. I mean it wasn’t overnight success, but it sorted me out and helped boost my self-esteem significantly.
I would love to say that those injections were the end of my anxiety, but that would be telling a huge lie. If anything my anxiety has gotten slightly worse.
My self-esteem is a lot higher (not to sound vain 😉 ) But actually my anxiety has worsened. And I honestly don’t know why. Maybe because I am more aware of it now?
I think about being anxious before it actually happens and then some completely psychological bullshit turns me into a quivering mess.
So that’s pretty shitty. But I went to my Plymouth nurse and told her that I was getting very anxious in class and was concerned that the physical symptoms of anxiety I experienced would really set me back at university in my final year regarding class participation and presentations.
She prescribed me some beta-blockers to take in particularly nerve-racking situations. I tried a couple out before a seminar and it was amazing. I felt like my old self again – able to join in discussions, answer questions and most of all concentrate on the subject of semiotics rather than the subject of my appearance.
Although this was a wonderful sensation, I knew this wasn’t a long-term solution and I didn’t want to rely on medication to get through daily life.
I did, however use the beta-blockers for particularly intimidating things such as presentations or class debates. It helped me to build up confidence, knowing that without the physical symptoms of anxiety, I was able to achieve so much.
I recently used my last trial beta-blockers to attend an interview (which was unsuccessful in terms of I-didn’t-get-the-job, but was successful in terms of I-presented-myself-rather-well-but-didn’t-actually-have-the-necessary-skills-for-the-job).
Unfortunately I don’t think I would have presented myself as well without those beta-blockers. I know I can’t rely on them and I also feel like a bit of a cheat for suppressing my nerves with drugs while everyone else has to maintain composure on their own.
I haven’t gone back to the doctor for another prescription, but I think I may have to for any future interviews/particularly nerve-racking circumstances.
I feel like I’ve definitely become more confident in myself and my anxiety has lessened somewhat, but I also know that it can surprise me without much of a warning!
Today, for example, I went to the family planning clinic to get some more contraceptive pills, and was absolutely fine until she asked to check my blood pressure. It seems that my brain has now made a connection with that medical pumpy thing and my body’s blood pressure and exactly when I need to be calm and placid my heart starts pounding and I become all flustered.
I explained to the consultant that I get a bit anxious in these situations and she was very nice about it, saying that I’m not alone and that a lot of people have the same problem.
She only allowed me to get 3 months worth because of my high blood pressure, but I was actually just happy that I was able to calm down a bit and explain to her that I do get anxious without just pretending I’m fine (like I usually do!)
So, here I am at this point in my life – still anxious but happier that I am making progress and becoming more confident in myself.
One step at a time.
I would be really interested to know if any of you have suffered with anxiety or know someone who has and how they cope(d) with it.
Peace out y’all
and I promise some more funny stories soon – but y’know it’s nice to share the serious stuff in life sometimes – a weight off one’s shoulders 🙂