Oct 15, 2020
On this past episode of List Rate Rank where we discussed “Top 5 Ways to Overcome Adversity,” my number one ranked selection was to “get over it.” I said to “accept it and move on” was the best way to defeat your obstacles. On the surface, one might interpret that as a simple or even a cold hearted viewpoint. And since I didn’t qualify this opinion during the episode, I wanted to expand on why it was my number one choice.
When faced with one of the biggest challenges of my life, I desperately tried every gimmick to defeat it. It wasn’t until I accepted my circumstances and moved on, that I was actually able to overcome it.
It was 2015. My world was changing and I was stressed. My wife and I had just been blessed with our first son, although it was a bit more life altering than I anticipated. I was having a hard time finding a balance with family and my creative ventures, and work was kicking my ass as I changed careers. Out of nowhere, my hair started falling out in clumps, the hair on my head and some in my beard. I lost pretty much everything on the back of my head from the above my ears down to my neck, and several large circles above my right eye. I had developed alopecia areata.
One of the main problems with alopecia (an auto-immune disease where your immune system attacks and destroys your hair follicles because it thinks they are invading your body) is that it’s still mysterious as to why it happens. It’s not certain if it’s genetic, caused by something environmental, or if it’s contagious. It affects anyone with no discrimination - no matter your race, national origin, ethnic background, age, or gender. Sometimes it’s permanent, but sometimes it can go away.
I was determined to fight, and for over two years I tried everything. I tried creams, oils, shampoos, and pills. (Didn’t work.) I joined FB support groups. (Kept me thinking about it all the time.) I went on weird diets. (Three months of the strict Autoimmune Paleo Diet. Lost tons of weight, grew no hair.) I underwent months of painful and expensive steroid injections. (Worked a little, but any new growth just fell out as soon as I stopped treatment.) I even went for one of those ‘hair restoration’ consultations. (They’re as shady as you’d think, btw. Their hook was if red light didn’t help you regrow hair, they’ll give you a discount on a wig.) NOTHING I tried worked to regrow my hair.
So I grew my beard and the hair that I had really long to hide the spots, which I often colored in with pens and makeup to camouflage. I wore hats. I changed my look so much that people who hadn't seen me in a while didn't recognize me. I tried to play it cool, but, in reality, I was HIDING. It was my secret that only a handful of people knew. I was so self conscious, I stopped performing comedy. It affected my job, since I hated making YouTube videos because of how I looked. We were getting TONS of views (#humblebrag) but people were often mentioning it in the comments section, like ‘what’s up with his hair’ and "you should make an effort to look more professional." I was ALWAYS thinking about it, worried about it. It consumed me and gave me the worst anxiety I’ve ever dealt with in my life.
Things didn’t change until I said, I’m tired of hiding. I’m over it. I left the long hair on the top as a kick-ass man bun and shaved the sides of my head. I didn't care anymore if people saw my spots, although I did try to minimize them. I got scalp micropigmentation to help blend, tattoos that at least made my super smooth skin look like it had stubble, like at least *I* made the decision to shave my head. I accepted the fact that I'd probably lose it all, and I was ok with it. And you know what? People made more jokes about my new man bun than they did for the spots. In fact, I don’t know if people even saw the spots. Pretty soon I stopped seeing them myself.
And then, within a couple months I really stopped seeing them because they weren’t there anymore. I wasn’t using any of the gimmicks anymore. None of the creams or shots or pills. I left the support groups on FB to stop constantly seeing the pictures of my fear. My hair just grew back when I stopped stressing about it, when I accepted it, got over it, moved on. I wore the man bun for a few years as a safety net in case the spots came back. I wanted to hold on to the long hair just in case I needed to hide again. I cut it only a few months ago, shortly after my second son was born, knowing that even if the spots returned I was confident enough to handle a second bout with alopecia.
DISCLAIMER: Every experience with alopecia is unique, which is what makes it even more frustrating and difficult to deal with. No two people have the same symptoms or react the same to treatment. One type was like mine, alopecia areata, where bald spots develop in your hair. Alopecia totalis is where men or women completely lose all the hair on their head, completely smooth bald. Then there is alopecia universalis, which is where someone loses all the hair on their entire body, eyebrows, eyelashes, body hair. Sometimes people have alopecia from birth, sometimes people develop it. Sometimes the hair grows back, oftentimes it is gone forever.
I was one of the lucky few who recovered. But I came out of the experience a better version of myself. It sounds cheesy, but I grew as a person and learned lessons about humility and vanity, empathy to others, what’s important in life, blah blah blah. Do I ever want to go through something like that again? Hell no. But am I stronger than ever for overcoming that adversity? Hell yes.
And that’s My Alopecia Story.