I am Bianca, I am 42 and I have Alopecia Areata.
I first got Alopecia Areata 10 years ago after having viral meningitis. It was a huge shock.
My hair grew back but, unfortunately, Alopecia made a return a year later and left me with a patchy bald head. Soon after, I shaved my head and started living my life as a bald woman with Alopecia Areata.
The grieving that followed was indescribable.
I looked in the mirror and was mortified at what I saw looking back at me. I no longer knew who I was. The image I had known as 'me' for as long as I remember was gone. Something very different, something very confronting was staring back at me.
Every time I left the house, people stared at me. It crushed my soul.
As a single woman, I started to tell myself that I was doomed to be alone forever. Who could wake up beside a bald woman and think she was a catch? I didn't have any hair. My femininity had left the building. And just like that I was no longer soft. I felt flawed and undesirable.
After much misery, I realised I had two choices. I could crumble and never leave the house, become a mere shadow of who I once was. My other choice was to saddle up, after all this was who I was now and not a lot was going to change.
So, I decided to throw myself out into the online dating world and begin my journey as a woman with Alopecia Areata. It was uncomfortable and I risked a lot of painful rejection and judgment. I felt the fear but did it regardless.
I was honest and positive, and as I said the words over and over again, "I have Alopecia Areata", it started feeling like it was a part of me -- no longer foreign and surreal. In fact, my Tinder profile reads:
"All photos are recent. I shave my head, I don't have cancer, I have Alopecia. I am at peace with who I am if you aren't that's ok, keep swiping, thanks for stopping by."
It sparked lots of questions, but also took an interesting turn and taught me a lesson or two in self-love and expression.
Some men were completely turned off by me not having hair. Some were shallow, even rude and hurtful. But I was also complimented for my courage and bravery. Many people were empowered and inspired to talk to me, just to say hello. I ended up with friends and kind people to chat to and people who were genuinely interested in me in as a person. The rest just kept swiping by.
I am still single, so although my 'dating experiment' did not result in finding 'the one', I learnt to love myself again. It gave me the space to experiment being the new me and helped me come to peace with my Alopecia.
I hope that by sharing my story I can get people to appreciate what it is like living with Alopecia Areata. I don't think there is a woman alive who doesn't like to feel feminine and beautiful. When you take away a part of your gender make up that plays a huge part of who you are as a woman, it's heartbreaking.
I want people living with Alopecia to be classed as normal and to be accepted. People's reactions, comments and stares were one of the hardest things to deal with during the early part of my Alopecia journey. It was hard enough leaving the house each day without being the target for stares and disgust.
But most of all, I hope that my story will empower people in situations similar to me.
Today, I am proud to say that on pretty much a daily basis, I can wake up and look in the mirror and feel happy to be me. It is crazy to think I am at this stage, after all that I have been through. It has taken lots of mental strength and resilience but I couldn't be happier.
When life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right?
Next week is Alopecia Areata Awareness Week 12 - 19 November.