I stared at the reflection in the mirror and sobbed, the last traces of my hair now scattered at my feet. I was officially a bald 35 year old woman. I’d lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes but more than that, I’d lost my femininity. I had no idea how I was ever going to love myself again.
I’d suffered with Alopecia since I was 9 years old. I remember my hair falling out in patches and the doctor telling my parents I had Alopecia; an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles, possibly triggered by the stress of an earlier house move.
It was a very difficult time. I was teased by my classmates and even though my hair grew back in time for high school, the cracks to my self-esteem remained. As a result, I struggled setting boundaries throughout my adult life. I gave away my power in both personal and work relationships, marrying and divorcing twice and becoming a single parent by the time I was thirty.
It was just after my second marriage had ended that I finally hit rock bottom. I found myself single again but this time I was bald. I’d lost my hair during the stresses of my relationships and my mental health and well-being were in tatters. I felt utterly lost.
It was then that I realised how much my lack of self-love had negatively impacted my entire life. So I made the decision there and then to take back control by focusing on the positives of my condition, to celebrate who I was, to remind myself of my strengths and give myself a dose of well over-due self-love.
It was like a light going on, my life immediately began to change for the better. The more I focused on my qualities and strengths instead of the things I didn’t like about myself or the many mistakes I had made, the happier and more confident I became.
I started an illustration business in 2017 and found that being creative had huge benefits to my mental health and well-being which soon gave me the idea for my second business. I began running well-being art workshops inspiring the practice of self-love, positivity and creativity; the very same components that had helped me on my own mental health and well-being journey.
If there is one thing I have learnt from living with Alopecia, it’s that self-love is key to a happy and successful life however we don’t always prioritise our own self-love. Here are the five self-love steps that helped to change my life;
Forgiveness – forgive yourself for your mistakes.
This was a huge part of my journey and one I constantly revisit. As a people pleaser and high achiever, I saw divorce as failure and struggled to get past this for a long time. Now I realise that failure is the most important part of life. We learn everything there is to know by spectacularly failing and grow as a person because of it.
Celebrate your strengths – reflect on your strengths and qualities and celebrate them!
What makes you ‘you’? Are you funny? Are you kind? Are you a tech geek? Are you determined or loyal? Or you an amazing dancer? What qualities are you most proud of? Wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and tell yourself how wonderful you really are.
Set boundaries – setting healthy boundaries is a huge part of practicing self-love.
If you are a people pleaser like me, you may find it hard to say no for fear of disappointing people or letting others down. Saying ‘no’ is not selfish if you are protecting your health and well-being. Learn to say it more often and don’t feel bad about it.
Letting go of ‘Perfect’ – You do not need to be perfect at everything.
I grew up thinking I needed to be perfect all the time; the perfect student, perfect daughter, perfect mother. I now know that being brave is far more important than being perfect. My life has been far from perfect but I look back now with pride not sadness, because the non-perfect part of my life has given me such strength and bravery.
Find the joy – what fills your heart with joy?
Finding creativity again was like a light going on in my life. It gave me purpose and brought me peace and happiness. Exercise and nature are two other elements that I can’t live without. Find your joyful activities and love yourself enough to make the time to do them as often as possible.
Learning to love ourselves for our flaws and failures as well as our strengths and successes is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.