Georgia Gardner was three-years-old when her parents first noticed bald patches appearing on her scalp.
By aged five, she had no hair left.
"I don't remember that much about when it first appeared. For me, my path has not been about losing my hair, but about dealing with not having it," Gardner told The Huffington Post Australia.
Alopecia Areata is an auto-immune disease that causes disruption to the normal biology of the hair follicle and subsequent hair loss. From partial hair loss to total baldness, it carves out different paths for each of its sufferers.
Now aged 22, Gardner has experienced the condition in all of its forms.
It has allowed me to get used to the world being a little out of my control. But it takes a long time to really feel that.
"Within eighteen months of noticing my first patch, I had lost most of my eyebrows and eyelashes," she said. "My hair did grow back for a while when I was eight-years-old, and then when I went for my first haircut, they found another patch at the back.
"I lost all of the hair on my head at that time. That one I remember more clearly."
While the condition is often presented in children, it can occur at any age. Onset can be sudden, random or frequently reoccurring -- and whilst there have been recent treatment advancements, there is no prevention nor cure.
This can have a profound emotional impact on individuals as they manage the condition's unpredictable ebbs and flows.
"Throughout history, there has been a huge stigma associated with hair loss and baldness. It's not uncommon for people with Alopecia Areata to experience depression, anxiety and social phobias," President of Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) Chel Campbell said.
For Gardner, this began in primary school.
"I wore bandannas and hats to school and that immediately marked me as being different to the other kids. People tended to think that I was a boy, and that was really upsetting."
This became more prominent in her teenage years.
I tried to hide my alopecia.
"I got my first proper wig before I started high school and that was a good way to integrate myself," Gardener said. "But it started to become a safety blanket that made it harder to deal with my emotions and easier to ignore my condition. I became quite withdrawn and that really affected me."
Over the years, Gardner has learnt to accept and own her condition.
"In the long term, I think it has allowed me to get used to the world being a little out of my control. But it takes a long time to really feel that."
And her alopecia has continually resurfaced.
"Throughout high school, I had some patchy regrowth, but I had to shave that last bit of my hair off to continue wearing a wig. That was the alopecia having the last laugh," Gardner said.
"It's a real pain when it decides to change its mind!"
I have always been surprised by how many people have this condition but how few people know about it.
Working as an AAAF Youth Ambassador, she hopes to address misconceptions surrounding a condition that affects half a million Australians.
"I have always been surprised by how many people have this condition but how few people know about it," Gardner said.
"It's a difficult condition to explain at the best of times, but with more resources and growing awareness, I think we're getting there."
The Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that provides essential support for individuals and their families affected by Alopecia Areata. For support, or to learn more about the condition, visit the website.
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