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““I made a promise that I would never get married or have a baby, because I would never get married wearing a wig and I would never go to a labour ward and have to take off my wig”
Chloe Sheehan was just 22 years old when her gorgeous mane of glossy brown hair began to inexplicably fall out in clumps.
Diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles, which causes circular bald patches to form, the once bubbly and outgoing Corkonian was faced with one of the most difficult periods of her life.
Now hoping to raise awareness of the life-altering condition, the 29-year-old, who is due to tie the knot in nine months time, says there is always light even in the darkest moments.
“When I was really battling with my mental health, I was on sick leave from work and not seeing anyone and I made some promises to myself. The first promise was that I would leave my boyfriend, Declan. I just thought he shouldn’t have to live through this and have to see me depressed in bed,” reveals the mental health advocate.
“I made a promise that I would never get married or have a baby, because I would never get married wearing a wig and I would never go to a labour ward and have to take off my wig.
“It got so dark that I told myself, ‘If this doesn’t get better in six months I will have to kill myself’.
“Looking back they were such stupid promises that I made to myself and now I live such a happy life.
“I have the most amazing parents who paid for any treatment I needed and the most loving partner, so it scares me to think about the girl that doesn’t have the support and love of her partner and parents.”
Chloe first began experiencing symptoms in 2017 when she discovered bald spots on her head. By December of that year, she had lost around 80pc of her hair.
Sharing her story on her Instagram page, @Chloeshairaffair, the social media influencer has become a poster girl for the hair loss condition with fellow sufferers taking courage from her honest and uplifting posts.
“I get voice notes from women crying and I know how they feel. Talking is the best therapy,” says Chloe.
“When it comes to hair loss you are dealing with grief and identity issues, self-esteem and anger, confusion and overwhelming feelings of guilt.
“I have hundreds of conversations with people who say, ‘You give me such hope’. That’s why I run the page. If I could go back to that girl who couldn’t get out of bed and who had all her mirrors covered and just say, ‘It is going to be OK’. I just wish I could go back and give myself a hug. I know if I had spoken to someone who had lived through this, it would have made such a difference.”
The former dental nurse who now works in engineering procurement is hoping to break down the stigma surrounding hair loss and redefine beauty standards.
“I still have active alopecia. But the hair I have now is lovely and new, it’s almost like baby hair,” she explains.
“I am so grateful for it but I am in such an accepting phase and now my hair doesn’t make up my entire worth.
“I still wear wigs but I haven’t worn a wig to work since February, whereas I once couldn’t leave my house without the security of a wig.
“My new normal to me is looking in the mirror without the wig and that hasn’t been the case since 2017.”
Counting down the days to her dream day, Chloe says she doesn’t need hair to celebrate love or enjoy life.
“I could probably get away without a wig when I get married, but I am nine months out from the wedding and I don’t know whether I will relapse between now and then.
“I really wanted to wear my natural hair with my wedding dress, but what will be will be.”
September is Alopecia Awareness Month, which aims to get people talking about the condition.
“I set up my Instagram page in May 2020 and it’s the best thing I could have done. I meet incredible people daily and we can help and support each other,” adds Chloe.
“Society is wrong in what it has taught us — being different does not make you ugly, it makes you beautiful in your own right because the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same.”
If you have been affected by this story, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org