After 20 years with alopecia, Fiona Claire has had her struggles with confidence, but in the past year things have changed. Opening up about her story, as well as getting to know others in the same situation has inspired her to tackle new challenges. Here she talks to Fashionabald about her experiences and how she conquered her own insecurity. Fashionabald: When did you first notice the change in your hair? Fiona: I first developed alopecia just after my 18th birthday. I had natural long and wavy blonde hair, which I was very proud of. The first signs was that my hair became very knotty and hard to brush, even my dad noticed. It then continued to shed from all over my head. There was hair on the floor, on my pillow and on my clothes. Understandably I was confused and devastated when the doctor diagnosed alopecia. I was unaware of this condition and was given oral steroids by the doctor, who could offer me no guarantees or answers. The medication did not help the hair loss and just made me feel very ill. My hair continued to shed day after day and eventually I had it cut short, which actually only seemed to highlight the problem. I then wore a scarf, refusing at first to get a wig. My boyfriend at the time tried to be supportive at first, but I was very emotional and he found it very hard to cope with. My friends were very supportive, but I was aware of other people at school whispering behind my back. It was very hard to deal with and I cried a lot. Do you remember how your family and friends responded? Slowly with the help of my friends and family I started to build up my confidence, and eventually agreed to get a wig. It was hard, because it made it real. I did not have any hair and it might never come back. Fortunately the wig I had was very similar to my own hair, and even though I was self conscious, it did give me a bit of confidence. With my false eyelashes and drawn on eyebrows, at least I felt I looked a little more normal again. I even had the odd compliment about how nice my hair was. It has taken years, but eventually last year I felt I was starting to accept it. I joined the Alopecia UK Facebook group, which was a great support system. Actually seeing people with alopecia every day almost made it feel a bit more normal. Before I would not want anybody to know, and would hide behind my wig. But one day I took a massive step and posted a picture on Facebook with out my wig on. I was incredibly scared, and even put on my status that ‘if you are not able to deal with it then please feel free to delete me, but don't write any nasty comments’. Thankfully the response I got was overwhelming, and amazingly supportive. Since then I have had a tattoo done on my head, and now have a selection of wigs that I change depending on my mood. I try to treat them more like a fashion accessory, and actually have fun with the different styles. Don't get me wrong, I still have times when this condition saps all of my confidence and I don't even want to leave the house, but I can now say that I have more good days than bad. I have a very supportive partner and my children, family and friends accept me for me. No one knows what the future holds, and if I had been warmed in advance about the condition I would probably not have thought I had been able to cope. However, it is amazing how you are able to summon up strength from within that you never knew you had. How did it affect you then compared to now? At first it was disbelief, devastation and hopelessness. After having it for over 20 years it is only within the last year that I have come to accept it a little. That it is part of me and if people can't cope with it then it is their problem. One could say that society has preconceptions about how we should look, have you been in situations where you have had to deal with that? Having no eyebrows or eyelashes, being so fair, made me feel like an alien. I was unrecognizable. I'd always been into fashion and makeup, and taken pride in my appearance. I tried to apply false eyelashes and draw on my eyebrows. Some people were very cruel, they would stare and point. I was out at a club and a group of lads made fun of me when I was on the dance floor as I had my scarf on my head. It had taken a lot of courage to even go out and this eroded the last shred of confidence I had. I have also experienced comments like .. "well its only hair"," it could be worse", "at least you are not really ill". Non of which helped and all, but actually made me feel guilty about being so sad. A bald women is not really seen as the norm nor very acceptable, and people seem to find it very difficult to cope with it. “I had the window wound down in the car and could feel the wind blowing through my hair. Something I would have before taken for granted, but at the moment it was such an amazing feeling, and I will never forget it.” My hair began to return at one point, but even then it was a viscous cycle of hair growing and falling out. I kept it very short, shaving it off so it was less obvious when it fell out again. I think one of the worst bits was seeing it fall out day by day, so shaving it brought back a little control. Sometimes, when I had enough growth I would let the front grow a little and bring it in to the front of my wig so it looked like a more natural hair line. That helped my confidence enormously. One of the best things to happen was when my eyebrows and eyelashes grew back. Something you once took for granted, like putting mascara on, was again possible. Eventually after six years of growing back and falling out, it grew enough for me to not wear a wig. I remember driving up to my friends wedding and although my hair was very short, I had the window wound down in the car and could feel the wind blowing through my hair. Something I would have before taken for granted, but at the moment was such an amazing feeling, I will never forget it. What is your idea of beauty? I would like to say that beauty is from within, I can often see the beauty in others and I believe that people become more or less attractive depending on their personality and attitude. What were your thoughts prior and during your photoshoot with Fashionabald? I was very nervous prior to the shoot, as I do not really like photographs of myself. It is very much out of my comfort zone. However, I could see that the website could make a difference to others and that motivated me to take part. I think I became more relaxed as the shoot progressed, at first I was very stilted and unsure. But in the end I actually quite enjoyed it and I actually like some of the pictures that were taken, which is very rare for me. In what way do you think alopecia have benefited your life? It has taught me not to take anything for granted and to enjoy the little things in life. As I have mentioned before, getting my eyelashes back was amazing and to this day I appreciate and am grateful that I can use mascara again. I also think it has taught me not to take people just at face value and appearance, but look within. "Remember you are stronger than you think and braver than you believe." What advice do you have for other people dealing with hair loss? If your hair becomes very thin the best advice is to take back some control and shave it off. Join the Alopecia UK Facebook group and other support groups. Chatting with people that really understand what you are going through is a great help. Go through the NHS to get a wig. They are not actually NHS wigs but you can choose any acrylic type/colour and only have to pay the prescription charge. Before I go out I always look at the trees in the garden to judge how windy it is. I then decide if I want to wear a headband on top of my wig, a scarf or a beanie. Remember you are stronger than you think and braver than you believe. Interview: Fiona Claire