Three years ago, as a 22 year old, college alum, I was a blondie blonde, who had a degree, and had the world at my fingertips. I had just graduated from Penn State University and was planning my next move. But little did I know then, that what you plan in life, doesn't always go as planned... So yeah, three years ago as of June 1st exactly, I was getting ready to go on vacation with my best friend and her family to celebrate her birthday but more importantly our college graduation, ay! I remember so vividly my mom dropping me off at her house because we were leaving the next morning at 5:00am and standing in their kitchen, I pointed out to my mom and my best friend, a tiny little patch of missing hair in the back of my part. I remember just thinking, “how weird, no clue what that is but I’m sure it’ll pass.” HA little did I know I’d be sitting here in a coffee shop, 2,300 miles away, three years later, typing out a play by play of that exact moment. It sure wasn’t just one little bald patch that “would go away.”
From that vacation, I had to skype into meetings in NYC to a dance program I had been accepted into, post graduation. The night I landed home from vacation, I was on a train at 6am the following day commuting three hours to New York City to “pursue my dream.” As the summer progressed, so did my hair loss. I remember having “mock auditions,” during the program where we were required to look our very best; hair and makeup done to perfection, no exceptions, and here I am with bald spots popping up right and left. This was no longer just a hobby, this is my career. I was subletting my friend’s apartment in New Jersey which was about a 2 hour commute to the studio and keep in mind we had to arrive before 8am most days, uh..yikes! But, you do what you gotta do because who has money for a nice apartment right out of college?! Not me. But I did what I could. Not only was the apartment a two hour commute, I slept on a futon that laid on the floor, totally caught an ant or seven crawling around in it, I was not working because I was in a full time dance program, in a not so healthy, long distance relationship and lastly....
I was going bald. WHAT! How did I get here? Throwback to 6 months prior, everything in my life was going exactly the way I wanted it to go, but hey when it rains, it pours and you gotta find your umbrella and trudge on through it.
Throughout this summer of 2016, bald spot after bald spot would pop up, day after day. But for some reason, I didn’t freak out, I didn’t cry, I didn’t lose my mind...just yet. There was something in me that believed that there was no chance in hell I would lose all of my hair. Everything in my life had been very even keel up to this point, I was blessed with countless things that brought me happiness, I just knew this was not going to “happen to me.”
During this program, I was under a lot of stress, from the commute to the lack of income, to my relationship, and of course my hair loss, I needed an answer. Day after day I would be calling my mom and dad for insurance information, (gratefully, I have them and health insurance) to find a dermatologist somewhere in New York City. I remember leaving class one day and going all the way across town, legit in 110 degree weather (and humid as hell because its NYC) to make it to this random derm we found online. On that day, she told me I had Alopecia Areata. Whatever the hell that means! All I knew was that my hair was falling out and I NEEDED it to come back NOW. My young, naive self was desperate, uneducated, lost, and heartbroken, so I was talked into receiving steroid shots all over my scalp. Uh what… you’re going to inject me with shots like 17 times all over my head (that's about how many bald spots I had at this point, mid summer). I would get the shots, rush to rehearsal, and continue on with my day. Every single day, amidst the stress and depression, I continued on.
Take a guess if the steroid shots worked!!! HA! Nope. Not one bit. I remember every waking moment that I had, I was on my phone, typing in the search engine, “cures to alopecia areata.” Steroid shots, topical cream, caster oil, a bunch of bull shit really. And then I found out about a company called Hair Club. Gratefully enough, my mom visited me in the city and we went to a wig store, worst feeling ever… like who do I think I am, I’m not wearing a wig!!!!!!!! That was my mentality at the time, denial of the reality that was becoming my life. So we rushed around the city and luckily found our way to Hair Club just to see what it was all about. Of course, we walked in and it was all older men with receding hairlines and I’m a 22 years old woman with patches taking over my head. We had a consultation, talked prices, and I remember sitting there and completely breaking down. I just let out tears that I was holding back, again stressed to the point that I can’t even put it into words, because I thought this would end before this. Our consultant, quickly left the room and gave my mom and I time. I remember looking at my mom and saying I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do, or how we will ever afford this. I was crushed. I was not making any money and my parents wanted to do anything they could to help me, but we could not afford to pay this amount of money at this point in life, just for hair.
One thing lead to another, and we talked the price down, worked out some sort of payment plan and off we were. My mom left town, I was back to the grind of the dance intensive, and I was starting treatments the following week. I just remember dreading going home after a long, sweaty day of dance and not wanting to shower. Because showering was the worst part of my day, everyday. I would wash my hair and just clumps and clumps of hair would fall. Every single day.
But throughout these last three years, there was one recurring belief I lived by, nothing would stop me. I said that then, and sitting here in my apartment in Los Angeles, right now, typing this out, with not one strand of hair coming from my head, I say it again and I truthfully mean it, NOTHING, NOTHING will stop me. So because I truly live by those words, I signed a year lease in August 2016 in New York City. I wanted to make my passion my career, regardless of what I was going through I just wanted to dance, it’s my constant escape.
Throughout the Fall of 2016, I was taking classes, serving at a restaurant, and auditioning at every second I could, hoping I would book something sooner than later, just like every dancer in this industry! On top of pursuing my career, watching my hair fall out, I was in a toxic, awful relationship that consumed me. So to be honest, things were pretty rocky for me and looking back now, I wish I had the willpower, courage, strength to live for ME and save myself from what was to come, but hey we all live and hopefully we learn.
I don’t like to open up about my personal life, clearly, that's why I'm sitting in a cafe right now, typing this to get it off my chest, for myself, and I don’t know if I’ll ever share this with anyone to be honest, but it feels good to get it out. I’m typing it to heal myself, to accept my reality and to embrace who I am, rather than ignoring it and pretending that the events leading up to this moment, didn’t happen. I also believe many people out there can relate to me, but not everyone talks about these sort of struggles, I'm totally here to bridge the gap, and to remind you... WE ALL HUMAN!
Sooo… flashback to December of 2015, when I was a senior in college, I found out my boyfriend, who I truly was looking forward to a forever kind of future with, was cheating on me. Young, dumb, unclear of my worth and blinded by love, I let him back in. For an entire year, I dealt with sleepless nights, like actually nights that I did not sleep for a second, anger, sadness, lots and lots of tears, anxiety, but the kind of anxiety that you feel a huge, thick knot in your stomach that no matter what you do, you can’t shake the feeling. I remember moments where I felt like my heart was paralyzed and there was nothing to take this pain away. If I left him, I felt like I would be equally just as crushed, if I stayed with him, there were good moments amidst the intense heartache. I was young, lost, and holding onto who he was when I first met him. Typing this out and reliving it through my words, brings extreme sadness to my heart. I really let myself down and looking back on it, I didn’t have the strength to walk away.
So back to living in NYC, November of 2016 comes around and my ex was still in college. He experienced a severe brain injury and was airlifted to a hospital in Pennsylvania and was in and out of the hospital for two weeks or so. So being the person I am, because when I love, I don’t just love... I adore and I put all of me into who and what I love. So I somehow found a bus from NYC, called out of work, missed dance classes, skipped auditions, to be with this guy, who would have never done the same for me. Yes our relationship was rocky, but we were still together and life is short and I wanted to be there for him because at the end of the day, I loved the kid. So yeah I missed like 8 days of work and stayed in a hotel with his dad and sister, at his parents' house while he was still in the hospital, sat at his hospital bed side with him, and rushed him to the hospital one night when he fainted. I was there for him at one of the lowest points in his life, amidst all I was going through, balding. He played football, and his career was on the line, his health was on the line, and I wanted to be his support through it all. So flash forward to about three weeks later, December 2016 I was back in NYC, he had healed but was still out of school for the rest of the semester. The football team had a championship game that weekend and ya know what happened... I found out he had spent the entire weekend in a hotel with the same girl he cheated on me with, a year prior. I don’t even think I can sit here and explain in words the kind of pain I felt that day. This was another extremely low moment for me. I had just facetimed him after taking a dance class, then received a phone call from a real one, about an hour later that took the life out of me. I remember so vividly laying on my New York City bedroom floor, screaming, but not just yelling like something had scared me, like actually belting from my gut, absolute and raw pain. And crying, holding my head, losing my breath, going into a complete anxiety attack. I was broken into a million pieces, all over again. To be so loving, caring, supportive, and LOYAL to someone who is doing the exact opposite, shatters your heart. It really didn’t just break my heart, it shattered my heart. Thinking back now, I truly didn’t know that he hadn’t cut it off with her for AN ENTIRE YEAR. I think I was trying to subconsciously protect my heart. Let’s just say, I was in utter shock and disbelief that day. I had been completely loyal to him and he had been lying to my face for an entire year. No wonder my hair was falling out!!!! When you invest so much of yourself into someone for three years, the least I thought I deserved was a conversation in person, and ya know what? He couldn’t even give me that. I ended it with him over facetime and asked him to never reach out to me again, and that was that. And slowly over time,a lot of time lol, I found it in my heart to forgive him. Now time to bring Christie back to life, because for too long I let someone else suck the life out of me and the hair off of my head...
From that day on, finally, thank God, I knew I was done. So I guess I wanted to type this out because personally addressing my emotions helps me heal and secondly, if I ever do share this, I hope it encourages one person to believe in your own power and worth and to not let another human control the direction of your life. You are you, and you have your life to design, don’t let someone else’s insecurity, weakness, pain, tear you down, damage you, like I unfortunately let happen.
Anyway, my journey with this stupid hair loss continues. During the time I was living in NYC, my hair started to grow back!!!!! The patches were filling in with brown, thick hair. I felt like I was in the clear and I was almost through this. Over my 23rd birthday, I had it all. I was on a trip of a lifetime with my two best friends from high school, my hair was growing in, and I was happily single!! I truly believed I was coming out alive from all of this and then because of what I had gone through again with my ex, in December, it caused my body a delayed reaction again. Right around March 2017, I saw two new patches on my head. I was relapsing. Yup stress will do it, stress sucks the life out of you.
I have a very vivid memory of when I was working at a bar in Manhattan and a young girl with no hair, little circular patches of short hairs, but a bald head was at my table with her family. And it hit me, I asked her dad if she had alopecia and he said "yes she does but she gave up wearing wigs because she just wants to be herself and embrace it." That little girl taught me so much that day. I went up to that 11 year old and told her she was so beautiful and her smile was so radiant. Because that's truly what I noticed, not her bald head. I told her I had alopecia as well, but I just had patches and was not completely bald, yet. I remember watching this little girl interact with her family and she just seemed SO not phased by her hair loss. The only true word that comes to my mind is CONFIDENCE. She just owned her look, who she was, and didn’t care of other people's’ opinions. That my friends, is my goal. The following day I called my mom and said, “...that better never happen to me, I should be so grateful I only have patches and not the whole scalp gone.” So weird how ironic life is, I met that little girl for a reason.
March 2017, my hair was falling but not as bad as it had in the past, I continued to hold on to hope that it wouldn’t all fall out and this was again going to pass sooner than later. So I continued to put my energy into moving forward in my dance career. I wanted to book a cruise gig SO bad! Growing up, my family would go on cruises and I remember sitting in the audience saying, "wow I really want to be a dancer on a cruise ship someday!" My senior year of college, I road tripped to NYC alone to a cruise audition because it was my dream at the time. I thought the job requirements and the environment matched up so well with my personality, aka performing all the time and being friendly to people, that is so me! So I felt very determined to achieve this goal. So there I was, gained my life back, single, focusing on me, working, dancing, auditioning and then…...... I booked a cruise job for seven months! I was ecstatic!!!!!! I remember that day so clearly. I was at Broadway Dance Center after taking a class, I got the email, and my whole energy shifted. This was one of my highest moments in the last three years of my life. I can't really put into words how I felt. After feeling extremely heartbroken, lost, and also hopeless about my hair loss, something so positive had just been presented to me at the moment that I needed it most. I thought it was all smooth sailing from here... haha but then I learned... without the low days, you cannot appreciate the high days.
That following day, I marched on into the bar I worked at and said, "I'M OUT!" Haha the best moment ever.... to not have to serve in a restaurant for the next seven months, lets gooooo. I truly had prayed for this moment for so long and one of my goals at the time, had come to life. I was on a high. I rehearsed for six weeks in New York, hopped on a plane and boarded a ship for six months, or so I thought…
I was determined to not let this stupid hair loss stop me from living my dream as a professional dancer. But ya know what… something better was waiting for me and it was not this “dream job,” on a cruise that I had always wanted. Within 6 weeks of being on board, I was told the day of by Human Resources that they were releasing me that night, sending me from from Victoria, Canada to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aka across the damn country. All because the entertainment director said I “stood out.” I bawled my eyes out and fought every single person who stood behind this evil man. Verbatim, from one of the men that worked under the Entertainment Director said to me, “I understand how you feel, I saw the show several times and thought you looked great!” Sooooooo…. Why is nobody standing up to this asshole except me and my cast? Why does one man’s opinion determine someone else’s career? AN OPINION. Corporate America is wack and I hope someday I will be in a position of power to change peoples’ lives for the BETTER. Scratch that...I KNOW I will be in a power position someday.
After being warned by my friend, the company manager in my cast, I had a meeting scheduled the next morning for Human Resources to officially tell me I was fired. She told me they had a flight booked that evening for me. I was in utter disbelief. So 1. My hair is falling out due to stress. 2. I have no apartment anymore, I moved out of it for this job. 3. I have no job. And 4. My little, gentle heart was shattered, again. On that Friday on the ship, I fought with everything I had. Employee after employee, agreed that this was unjust and understood where I was coming from, but not one person with authority would stand up and fight for what they knew was right. So I took it upon myself to find this man’s phone number. I wasn’t going down without a fight, obviously, do you know me!!!! I called that day and he answered and lied to me that it was his assistant and he wasn’t available. We all recognized his voice. This monster could not face me because he did not have a legitimate reason to release me other than… my hair loss. Might I mention they had ordered me a wig one week prior, meaning they were aware of my health condition and doing what they could to help the situation. I begged his “assistant” on the phone to have him call me back and take a wild guess if he ever did. I emailed him as well, do you think he answered that email? HAH. I packed up my life, 5 huge bags, ubered to a breakfast place with my cast, couldn’t eat a single bite because of that giant knot, the one I already explained, was back in my stomach, again. Then I watched all of my friends get back in an uber, back to the ship, and I sat there in tears with five bags by my side, sitting on a hill, watching them drive away,and I was alone and about 3,000 miles from home. And somehow I got myself up from that hill, got in a taxi, made it to the airport and on that flight... alone, upset, broken, hopeless, angry, and dead inside.
I remember so specifically another really low moment in these past two years. In that airport, I sat on the ground waiting to check in with all five of my bags and I just completely broke down. Sitting on the airport floor with my head in my bag, sobbing. Nobody should ever feel this kind of rejection, loneliness, pain, unworthiness. NO ONE. I sat on that over night flight with my head on my tray table and just cried, tears would not stop running down my face. And there I landed back in Philly as one lost pup with no direction of what way my life was to go next. At this point, I was home for about a week, and had not heard a single thing from either company. So I was hired by a company in NYC who had an agreement with the cruise line (I won't name drop because we all know what happens then...), but neither company had reached out to me at all. I was removed from the shows, discharged form the ship, flown across the country, and you know when the NYC Company finalllllyyyyyyyy contacted me? When I name dropped them and shared my story on facebook on June 29, 2017... two hours after posting this the NYC company called me, of course my naive and innocent heart thought they were calling to discuss the actions that were taken, but, they were calling to threaten me to remove my post, or they would take legal action. I'm over here like, yayyyyy no job, no hair and now they want to take this to court, and all I did was my damn job! What a great company!!!!!!!
So about two months have gone by and I'm still in limbo of what to do next, and at this point all of my hair has fallen out, I've never seen my body change so much as it did in these 7 weeks. After being fired, my hair was falling like nothing I've ever seen before. It was so heartbreaking.
AND THEN… my favorite part of my story happens. My heart was shouting at me to go to LA, go to LA, go to LA. But, I had no job, no hair, no car, no apartment. So I felt stuck… Should I try to stay with friends in NYC and waitress to save up? Should I live at home for a few months, borrow my parents’ car, waitress to save up? Should I go down to Florida and waitress down there while staying at my grandparents? I remember waking up every morning with zero agenda and that was killing me inside. My poor hair was 95% gone from my head sooo..... I got a wig glued on and booked a one way flight to Los Angeles. HOLY SHIT, WHAT! And two years later, I'm editing this website in my North Hollywood apartment, and couldn't feel more at home. Side note, do you know how much I have spent monthly on wigs? Just so I can have hair on my head, that most of the rest of the world has for free.... I used to spend about $400 a month on wigs. Including the products, the hair itself, etc... four hundo... Granted, that's the program I was initially on, but to buy a new wig that should last longer than my current wigs, it is about $1000. But they have allowed me to get where I'm at today. So if you have long hair, think about donating your locks because these human hair wigs, changed my life, in the most beautifully, positive way possible.
Although, I shared the extremely hard times that have brought me to this point in my life, through it all, I am forever grateful I can still dance, I can still walk, I can still live the life I want to live. I really never want to forget to show gratitude where it is so rightfully due. I am thankful for my body, yes I work hard for it, but I'm grateful I have the opportunity to work hard for it. Ironically enough my senior year quote was, "You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses." It is all about perspective.
I hate even calling this hair loss thing alopecia, because it makes it sound like I'm stuck with it for forever, but I believe I will beat this (in one way or another--again perspective) and never ever have to say the damn word again. But for more understanding of this autoimmune disease, there are several different types. I started out with just alopeica areata, which was small, circular patches all over my scalp. And then, post cruise firing, it turned into totalis, meaning all the hair on my scalp was totally gone. And then, it turned into universalis meaning I lost all of my body hair as well. Yes, my eyebrows are completly gone as well...
Honestly, since June 1, 2016, not one single day has gone by that I haven't thought about my hair. Some days are better and some days are worse. I can distinctly remember crying myself to sleep multiple nights, praying and praying and begging for my hair to grow. And to be completely vulnerable right now, I still have nights like that, more than I would like to admit. But on the same token, I also have nights where I take my wig off, look in the mirror, and say to myself, "Damn Christie, you're a fuckin boss." Because I am, and alopecia is definitely not going to win this one!!!!
To put something in perspective for anyone reading this, I remember back in college, I would complain that my real hair (because I still had hair then) was so thin and not as long and voluptuous as my friends' hair and wishing for the next best thing. And now, I would do absolutely anything in this world to have my hair back, thin, short, black, white, curly, straight, any sort of hair I would absolutely love. So the next time I complain about something I am going to remind myself that there is someone else in the world that is staying up at night, losing sleep, crying, and praying for the same exact thing I am complaining about. Gratuity can go a long way.
I think recently, I've learned to love myself and open up about being bald because I recognize my strength. I don't know exactly how to explain it. I always said, I will never tell anyone that I am bald and once I started to open up to the people in my life that genuinely care about me, the way they reacted and what they said about my character will forever stick with me. So to all the real ones in my life who have been here for me on this journey of accepting myself, I will forever thank you for seeing me for me. Find your squad, because friends and family are sometimes the best medicine during a hard time. They encouraged me to fall in love with this independent, strong, but still so full of life girl who has a lot more to her than just some hair loss. WOW is this experience teaching me SO much about life. I also really believe in my own power, this might be my favorite saying right now, but I truly believe with my whole heart and soul in the power I have, that all of you have as well, it's just a matter of believing it. I am currently on this new journey to love my bald look and to put less energy into just wanting my hair back. I want to normalize blad women and have the world see it as a LOOK and not an "autoimmune disease."
Lastly, never give up on what you want in life and join me today, wherever you're at, in being BOLD.
My first ever bald photo shoot.