Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has more than 100 mastheads across Australia. Today's is written by Mandurah Mail journalist Samantha Ferguson.
I still remember the first day I noticed a change - I'd just hopped into the driver's seat of my car when I caught a glimpse of my face in the rearview mirror... and my hairline.
"Hey, do you think my hair looks a little sparse at the top of my head?," I asked my passenger.
"I don't think so," they replied.
Then I started to notice the hair - my hair - all around my house, in the bathroom, kitchen, on all of the soft furnishings.
"I think I'm going to go see a doctor," I told my boyfriend, who said it would be a good idea if it could give me some peace of mind.
In the days leading up to my appointment, the patches of skin on my head became more and more obvious, so much so that I went to Kmart and stocked up on headbands - convincing myself it was for the Gossip Girl vibes, not to cover a receding hairline.
I'd still managed to live somewhat in a state of denial until the day before my appointment when I was in the shower and I ran my hands lightly through my hair to rinse out a spot of shampoo and a huge clump of hair came out.
My doctor tested me for a plethora of things, including lupus and thyroid dysfunction. All of them came back clear.
A few weeks later, a dermatologist conducted a biopsy of my scalp, it was confirmed that I had an extremely rare auto-immune disease called lichen planopilarus.
I started immediately on a treatment, with my dermatologist's words firmly in my mind - 'once lost this hair will very rarely ever grow back'.
My parents ordered me a beautiful wig in a similar style to my own, and my boyfriend told me that if I lost my hair, he would shave off his own.
"I don't love you for your hair," he'd said over and over as I sobbed about what it would mean for me to lose it all.
I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous, there were people with real problems - with illnesses that could take their lives. This was purely aesthetic.
"No, it's totally valid - I would absolutely lose it if that was me," well-meaning friends said when I lamented my vanity. And I was losing it.
I realised that so much of my worth as a woman and as a person was tied to my hair and the way I was physically perceived by others.
I worked hard with my therapist, who told me that yes, it was (in his words) a "sh*tty situation", but I could let it take over my life and mourn the loss of all my hair before it had even happened, or I could try and get on with it. So I did.
To my surprise the hair loss didn't just slow down, it stopped - and some of the follicles that scarred over had... grown back?
It was then that my doctor said in extremely rare cases the malaria pill I was taking could lead to regrowth - but he hadn't wanted me to get my hopes up - and I was grateful for that.
While my hair has grown back now, hopefully I've learned that my hair and appearance isn't my self worth - and that's a powerful thing.
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