Overcoming body consciousness to swim the channel
Sarah overcame her fears and swum the English channel.
Date: 9 December 2020 Author: Energise Me
Octavia sees herself as many things. She’s a sporty get up and go person, a Pilates instructor and a physiotherapist. A mother, a wife and a friend. She has many defining factors but her alopecia is not one of them.
Octavia shares how being active enabled her to shift her focus and grow comfortable not wearing a wig.
I’ve had alopecia since I was 12. My hair came and went up until the age of 16 when it all fell out. At 16 I started wearing a wig. As I got older, I went through stages of my hair coming and going again.
At 24 it all went. My eyebrows, eyelashes, everything. Since then it’s never grown back. I’ve tried lots of different treatments. Having 300 steroid injections in my head worked for a while but they aren’t fun and eventually these stopped having an effect. I then tried oral steroids but as soon as I stopped taking them, I’d be back to square one with no hair.
It was when I was travelling with my now-husband that I started to accept that this was just something I was going to have to live with. I was happy, in love and not stressed at all. All of these signs pointed to the alopecia being a long-term condition rather than stress-induced. This was just me and I started to accept it.
I always used to wear wigs all the time. I had all sorts of different styles and colours but at the end of the night my hair would come off. Around my friends, in the privacy of my home, I was confident. But I would rarely go out in public without a wig or hat on.
The only time I would go without a wig was on holiday, when it was too hot and uncomfortable to wear one, or at the gym. Even just popping to Tesco, down the road, I would put a hat on.
You’re running and hot and sweating; your mind travels and you realise all the things you were thinking that might happen aren't happening.
At the gym I would go into the changing rooms, take off my wig and go to the treadmill. I would feel self-conscious for a moment, but once I started running, I was focused on that. It was awkward but I could just about cope with it. It was a process of getting through those first uncomfortable minutes and then I would be fine.
I have learnt that it was an internalised worry; nothing was going to happen to me if I went to the gym without a wig on. I was anxious about what other people were saying and thinking. But when you concentrate on something else, you stop worrying about that. You’re running and hot and sweating; your mind travels and you realise all the things you were thinking that might happen aren’t happening.
It became part of my identity to be an instructor and as an instructor, I didn’t wear a wig
Not wearing a wig at all really started when I first became a Pilates instructor. I tried to do a training course wearing a wig and it just wasn’t doable. Every time I laid down, I was worried my wig would come off. It just didn’t feel right.
I didn’t know what to do so I called a friend who told me “just don’t wear it”. So I didn’t. It was the first time I had gone out somewhere without my wig on in the daytime. I thought to myself “ it will be fine, I won’t see anyone I know”.
I was wrong. Before the course, I went to grab a coffee and I bumped into a really good-looking guy I knew. He was shocked and asked what happened to my hair (the wig I had been wearing at the time was a super long brown do). I explained I had alopecia and he told me I looked great.
As I started teaching Pilates more, I spent more time not wearing a wig. It became normal. It became part of my identity to be an instructor and as an instructor, I didn’t wear a wig. As I was building a business it became a larger part of my life so more of my life was without a wig on.
The people in the class met me without a wig on and that’s how they know me.
After I had a baby, I joined a buggy workout class and went without a wig on. This marked a moment in my life for me. The people in the class met me without a wig on and that’s how they know me.
There is always an element of worry of what people will think. But that’s not my defining factor. In the classes, I asked straight away how I could become more involved and whether my physio background could help other mums in the class. The people in the class didn’t associate me as a shy and retiring character and therefore wouldn’t be thinking about my hair or lack thereof, I was Ocee; confident, bubbly me.
After I had my second child and went back to work for the NHS. I stopped wearing wigs altogether. It had always been uncomfortable at work; it’s too hot for a wig in the hospital.
Its been so liberating taking the wig off and confidently going about my everyday life. Wigs have always been a bit of a faff. As someone who has never really had hair, it took a long time to learn how to style them and I don’t tend to account for time doing it when I am getting ready. I often don’t wear my wigs on a night out now but I must say it’s fun to have options.
Sports are a big part of my life and not having hair wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I love.
I don’t think as myself as someone without hair. I know I am bald, but I don’t think of myself as someone with alopecia. It’s not something that I see as defining me and I would be pretty annoyed if someone else referred to be as Ocee the bald girl. There are a lot of other things to describe me as instead.
I think I might be a bit unusual. I am quite a get and go, person. Alopecia won’t stand in my way of doing anything.
I’m not saying it’s been easy. I went through hell when I was younger. As my hair came back and went again, I had to shave my head a lot and that was upsetting. But I have such amazing family and friends around me.
My mum once told me to stop being so vain. At the time I thought it was a bit harsh but then I realised what she meant was that no one was looking at me. And she was right. Everyone else is busy thinking about themselves.
Hold your head high. Whatever it is that is holding you back, It’s never as bad as you’ve built it up to be. Sometimes you just have to put yourself through a bit of uncomfortableness to get to where you want to be. You will realise there was nothing to worry about in the first place.
As the years go on, I‘ve realised more that it doesn’t matter, it’s just me. I have always been sporty. Sports are a big part of my life and not having hair wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I love.
Sarah overcame her fears and swum the English channel.
Charlotte shares how insecurities stopped her being active.