TGIN had the opportunity to have a virtual sit-down with Nicole Counts, a fellow naturalista battling against the autoimmune condition that causes hair loss, known as alopecia. Nicole is not alone in the struggle. After concerning images of model Naomi Campbell circulated the net showcasing the model’s receding hairline due to the same disease, it’s no wonder why so many hair-conscious folks are curious, concerned and in some cases, afraid of this mysterious condition that is more common than we may think. Hearing what medical professionals have to say about alopecia may be helpful, but hearing firsthand what Nicole has encountered along her hair journey while coping with hair loss is invaluable advice to any one of you who may be going through the same thing.
Sure, hair is just hair, but Nicole has been kind enough to share with us the ins and outs of everything beyond “just hair” that hair can be—and all the emotional tribulations and triumphs that come with rapidly losing it, from her condition known as alopecia:
For those of us who are unfamiliar, fill us in — what is alopecia?
Alopecia literally means hair loss—what I have is Alopecia Areata, which means it can cause patches of hair loss. It’s an auto-immune disease that about 1% of American’s have. Mine is entirely stress related (aren’t most auto-immune disease anyways? It’s said that 8% of disease are caused by stress).
Describe the moment you knew something was up–what was the biggest red flag?
I was in the bathroom washing my hair—and I had flipped it from one side to the other and noticed a huge bald spot and I knew that wasn’t normal—also I had never had hair loss. It was incredibly frightening.
Is this a condition that runs in your family or that you’ve heard of prior, or were you completely taken aback with the diagnosis? What was your reaction?
I was completely shocked. I had never heard of it. There are auto-immune diseases in my family but not alopecia. I just remember at first feeling sad, scared, and then numb. The thing is, it really wasn’t the diagnosis, it was more like the cherry on top of the cake at that point in my life. I was so tired—tired of ‘things’ happening and I think I realized then, so was my body—my body was tired and was rebelling against me for all the stress I put on it.
What were/are your treatment options?
The only way to treat alopecia is to get cortisone shots—or at least that’s what my doctor told me—in my fit of tears he had told me that they gave 5 shots in the bald spot (in my head) and I would have to come back and get these shots once a month for three months—it stimulated growth. I got the first 5 shots and never went back. I just knew it wasn’t for me—although I am not condemning this type of treatment, alopecia is hard, there aren’t any cures. I just knew mine wasn’t really about the bald spots—it was more about the way I was treating myself.
I had remembered a friend I had in high school, Danny, who had lost a lot of hair—eyebrows, leg hair, arm hair, etc—and had contacted him right away. I am forever grateful for Danny’s kindness in helping me through the rough parts and also for giving me the name of my current doctor– Dr. Peter J. Prociuk. Dr. P has given me numerous homeopathic medicines over the years that have gotten my hair to grow back substantially. As for the names of these medicines—you’d have to ask Dr. P! But the medicines aren’t only what helped, it was the way Dr. P got to know me—we’d sit and talk for an hour about me—my fears, my anxieties, my stress—we figured out why I actually had alopecia and then he treated me.
Outside of the physical symptoms of hair loss, has alopecia affected your lifestyle, social life, or relationships?
You know, it has. When I first got it, I was in a brand new relationship and it really tested us. It forced me to become open and be able to share my life with someone—fortunately enough, that same person is still my partner in everything today.
Alopecia often affects your thyroids (which later explained why I felt sick so much the summer I got the diagnosis). So I had to go to an endocrinologist and I believe because my body was going through so much it made me extremely tired for the first couple of months which effected how much I hung out with friends and completing homework/assignments (Which is not ideal for your last semester in college!). It’s much better now and I don’t feel as tired. When I first got on my homeopathic medicine I couldn’t drink coffee or have anything with mint—because it can undo the remedy. That was also harsh on energy levels! Some days, especially after long nights, my body feels sore—tenser then I’d say the average 22 year old. But I have learned in many ways how to deal with who I am now.
Do you think your recent experiences with alopecia have made you a stronger woman?
Yes I do—well I think it made me a more aware woman—a quieter woman. I think it is teaching me how sometimes in silence you can hear best.
For other women dealing with hair loss, what are your top three mantras to help keep calm, stay positive and get through this?
You are worthy. You are whole. You are okay.
If your hair had a personality, describe it in five words.
Ha! –independent, wise, kinky, free, and supportive.
What have you learned about your hair — and yourself — through the healing process?
That I needed to learn to cope with the stress before it killed me. And I’m still learning that.
What is your weekly hair regimen?
I always use tea tree oil on my hair and I always take Biotin. I do still sometimes straighten it (sometimes it hides the spots easier) but I try my hardest to not wear it up as much and let it just naturally be.
Do you feel that your hair in part defines who you are?
I’m not sure. I think everything that is a part of you, is a part of the definition of you. I just think it’s the way you spin it that matters—does that make sense? My hair in a lot of ways has altered me for the better.
What is your signature go-to and fuss-free hair style for unruly hair days?
The messy bun or a braid (I love a cute messy bun!)
Since the moment you heard the diagnosis, what has been the best hair + happiness advice anyone has ever given you?
When I first got the diagnosis I was terrified I was going to go completely bald—Ryan, my partner, and Kate one of my best friends, both offered to shave their entire heads, because after all ‘it’s just hair.’
What is your website, blog, or twitter handle (if you have them)?
You can read more of my story in the personal essay I wrote from homeslicemag.com here http://homeslicemag.com/losing-hair/
I just started using my twitter (because my sister always makes fun of me for not using it!) @NicoleCounts123
Instagram (my social media of choice): NicoleCounts
And keep a look out for a blog coming soon!
Dora Sobze is a PR executive, writer, and social media strategist by day — and freelance blogger by night. If you’re feeling crafty, hungry, stylish, or in need of natural hair tips, check out her blog latidoe.blogspot.com or spinachblog.com for her latest spinach recipes. She’d love to chat with you on twitter! Follow her @la_ti_doe.