Living with alopecia

Nell Bryden, 36, American singer-songwriter, talks about losing her hair - and living with alopecia totalis Losing my bouncy blonde hair was challenging. My whole identity was called into question and I felt incredibly vulnerable. But it proved one of the best things that ever happened.

The hair loss started in London in 2012. I’d had five years of stress, pushing myself hard and working with the wrong people. I fired them three months before my hair fell out. Around then, a hairdresser glued on hair extensions for a photo shoot. She had to tug them out and the next day I had a really sore scalp.

I first noticed a bald spot above one of my ears, and then that my hairline had started receding. I panicked but thought, ‘If it stops now it will be all right.’ But it didn’t. Within two weeks I had cut my hair short and started buying hats.

A trichologist diagnosed me with alopecia totalis, an autoimmune disorder [see]. He told me to prepare for total fallout. I started crying on the tube going home and went on crying for weeks.

I went back to my family in New York to figure out what had happened. When I saw myself in the mirror, my hair was so thin and sparse – my brows and lashes had practically gone – that I looked like a sick old woman. I hid under the duvet with the curtains drawn.

About a month later something changed in me. I thought, ‘This is an autoimmune condition that affects me cosmetically – I am not sick.’ I stopped crying and shaved my head.

As a musician I can put emotional roller coasters into songs, which helps me deal with the process. I didn’t know if I could bare my head publicly, so at first I wore a very realistic human-hair wig, but I never felt it looked like my hair. Ironically, I became more ashamed of people knowing I was wearing a wig than of being bald.

I went on a family vacation to a remote island and my mother said, ‘You should consider being who you are. You have a beautiful head – embrace what has happened because it is the graceful thing to do.’

When I walked around the village without my wig, I thought people would look at me as if I was a freak, but I found most didn’t care. So the next show I did in London, I went on stage bald. I said, ‘This is me’, and the audience stood up and started clapping.

I was scared about the prospect [of living bald], but I lost weight, got healthy and I looked better than I had in years.

I tried all sorts of treatments and at one point my hair started growing back, but then stopped. I accept there is a good chance it may never grow back.

But if my hair had not fallen out, I would never have got off the work treadmill, gone into therapy to see why I had got into such a stressful position or become open to meeting my husband [Alistair, who she married this summer], who says it’s wonderful to be with someone unique. I am now pregnant and the happiest I have ever been.

Nell’s latest album 'Wayfarer' is available now...



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