September : Alopecia Areata Awareness Month | Interview with Bontle

alopecia [ˌaləˈpiːʃə]
alopecia (noun)
the partial or complete absence of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows; baldness.

That’s the definition according to Google.

Alopecia Areata refers to a loss of hair from part of the head or body. It is a genetic condition that causes the hair follicles or even caused by the immune system attacking hair follicles.

September is Alopecia Areata Awareness Month

I had the opportunity to interview Bontle who has been diagnosed with Alopecia Areata for some years now and she shares her journey with us.

Bontle shares her story with us

How did you find out about your diagnosis?

I started realising that some parts of my head hair aren’t grow thicker and fuller than
other parts back in 2013. At that
time, I did not think of it as something as serious as Alopecia. I am not sure what I thought the issue might be since I rarely pulled my hair in tight protective styles or used chemicals to straighten my hair. What I remember was telling myself that it is just
a minor issue, that will be reversible soon. The next two years from then that’s when I realised that my hair is slow to grow in those areas. Naturally, though my hair never
grows long in length, so it was easy for me to brush this issue off.

When were you diagnosed with Alopecia?

I started seeking help in 2016 when I realised that bald patches have grown bigger and this could not be normal. When I went to see a dermatologist, I didn’t know what Alopecia is and how it will impact my life from then onwards. It was in 2016 when I got to learn about Alopecia, and this was from my own research. No one around me knew what I was going through is Alopecia. The Dermatologist would say it was mere
inflammation from pulling hair tight when doing protective styling as well as using
chemicals to relax my hair. I never got a clear explanation of what the problem is. It isn’t until I did my thorough research that I have come to realise that I have Alopecia.

How has the diagnosis changed your life?

The “ self diagnosis” has been a bittersweet experience. On one hand I am at ease knowing what the cause of my hair loss is. This has helped me to stop trying millions and millions of commercial products that would not help. On the other hand, there are times I feel sad for myself
when I miss having a head full of hair, hair I loved so much and wore with pride. Losing hair challenged my confidence and self esteem a great deal. For a long time, I went from being covered in a doek and now relying on wigs. This helped me avoid unwanted questions, unsolicited advice, and nasty stares. I worry sometimes wonder if people will accept me once, I take my wig off. I tried to go bald so
everyone can get used to see me bald headed, but it stinks so bad every time after a shave when hair grows back. I guess I am not doing that again. At least not anytime soon.

What lifestyle changes have you made since your diagnosis?

This is interesting because I started losing hair at the same time I began making lifestyle changes. For the first time in my life I was eating healthy, and exercising. Really taking care of my body. In recent years I would add supplements that help with hair loss. I also started treating my hair with better care. There isn’t any amount of eating healthy, exercise, and taking supplements that will make the problem disappear. It is far deeper than that. You are lucky if your hair ever grows at all without relying on modern technology such as hair transplants.

Bald patches on the head

Is Alopecia inheritable?

Oh yes. I believe I inherited it from both my mom and her twin sister. They both have
Alopecia. So, I most probably got it from my mommas, or at least I like to believe.

What physical changes has Alopecia caused you?

Interesting question, I don’t think there’s been any physical changes. Not that I have
seen any.

Can the disease have psychological causes?

Definitely, this is a disease that affects your emotions and the quality of your life. It will
drive you to depression and anxiety. For me it has always been social anxiety. Where I felt like I will be judged for not having a head full of hair. The social media bullying doesn’t help at all. You see people’s images being used as memes to crack jokes. This might cause others to be depressed seeing their disease being made fun of like that. And I get that, in some people’s cases they do not know, understanding how serious Alopecia is and how life altering it is. It is already difficult having to accept this disease, that your hair loss is permanent. Constantly receiving unsolicited advices and answering unwanted questions. Challenges your self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. If you can overcome the psychological part then you have overcome.

You can follow Bontle on Instagram

Just a young lady with big dreams. Love all things ART - writing, photography, painting, conversations and wine

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