After the birth of her second child, Maria Hocking lost all of her hair - and herself. But everything changed when she realised what she had to be grateful for. She not only survived the storm, but learned to thrive as a result
"Your hair may grow back, or you may remain bald forever.”
The consultant seemed unaware of the emotional pain that ripped through me. He wrote me a prescription – for a wig. I collapsed to the floor sobbing; I couldn’t believe that it was possible to lose so much in such a short space of time: my hair, my confidence, and my identity. I prayed to disappear.
My journey to rock bottom began a few weeks earlier, after the birth of my second child. While looking in the bathroom mirror one morning, I discovered a bald patch on my scalp. Concerned, I went to my GP, who told me not to worry. “It’s normal for women to lose hair after childbirth,” he said. When I woke the next day and discovered another bald patch, I knew something was wrong.
Over the next few days, more bald patches appeared and, to my horror, started joining together. My morning showers filled me with dread. I would watch what should have been part of me, slither down the plughole. With every clump of hair that disappeared, I felt I’d lost part of me, too.
I tried to continue with my daily routine, but parents who’d always spoken to me in the playground turned their backs to me. Others would speak to me, but would keep glancing at my scalp mid-conversation.
Not being able to cope with the outside world, I became a recluse. I quit my job as a waitress, believing that no one would want to eat any food served by me.
With every clump of hair that disappeared, I felt I’d lost part of me, too
The rest of my hair decided it had better places to go, and took along my eyebrows and eyelashes for the ride. The change in my physical appearance was devastating, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional impact. I felt that my soul had disappeared, leaving nothing but darkness and despair. I felt not only physically, but emotionally naked. Crying became part of my daily routine, as did desperately checking in the mirror for signs of re-growth.
Following the appointment with the consultant, my husband dragged me to my first wig fitting. I was advised to choose one that felt “just like me”. I didn’t know who I was anymore, so how could I possibly know which wig felt like me? I gave up trying to figure it out, and settled for a light brown, shoulder length head of hair.
The next day, wearing the wig, I stared into the bathroom mirror desperately looking for a clue as to who I was. The answers never came. The only thing I was certain about was the feeling of emptiness that fuelled my daily torrents of tears.
Wallowing in self pity became quite a talent, and negative thoughts dominated my mind. Then, one day it changed. I’d been crying all morning when I caught sight of my three-year-old daughter playing with her baby brother. I saw their smiles and heard their beautiful giggles; the sounds penetrated my heart and soul. In that very moment, I realised I’d been so busy focusing on what I’d lost, that I’d forgotten what I had. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the answer came. I couldn’t change the fact that I had alopecia, but I could change me.
Knowing I needed something to focus on other than myself, I called a local college and, through sobs, informed them of my situation. As I’d always loved sport, the receptionist guided me towards a fitness instructor course. I ended the call and felt overwhelming relief.
As I drove to the college a few weeks later, relief was soon replaced with fear. What if my wig fell off? What if people laughed at me? Knowing that going home would be returning to misery and stagnation, I pushed through the fear.
Arriving at the college, I attempted to stand tall and stomped into the building. I loudly announced: “Hi, my name is Maria Hocking. I have alopecia and I wear a wig.” The truth had been delivered. I refused to hide anymore.
After an awkward silence, there were a few giggles. I quickly realised they weren’t laughing at me, but along with me and my stupendous entrance. In that moment, I learnt an important lesson: when we face our fear, it disappears, instantly and without trace. People didn’t shun me, or laugh at me. Instead, they showed interest and asked questions. Being the queen of hair loss research, I had all the answers.
The course progressed and the emptiness inside began to fill with feelings of happiness, and joy. Looking in the mirror, I began to see the “real me”. I wasn’t returning to who I used to be, but creating a happier, more fulfilled “me”. A new confidence filled my mind, and after 12 weeks I started my own business in the fitness industry – I even used my wig as a branding tool.
I consider my 14 years without hair to be a beautiful gift that taught me much about myself, and life. Alopecia was the first of many challenges I’ve experienced, but with each challenge I looked for the gifts, and grew stronger. The biggest gift of all has been the knowledge gained not only surviving, but thriving through adversity.
This knowledge gave me the ability to pursue a career that I’ve found to be my dream job. Working as a life coach, motivational speaker and author, I now help others through personal challenges. My message to the world is, and will always be: “What happens to you, does not define you, but helps to find you.”
We will all experience emotional nakedness throughout our lives, but it’s only when we’ve been stripped of who we thought we were that we find who we were really meant to be. We need to get naked to get changed. Only when we’ve felt nothing, can we become everything.
Maria has written a book on her experiences: ‘Strip Naked & Re-Dress With Happiness, How To Survive & Thrive Through Personal Challenge’, Practical Inspirations £10.99. Visit mariahocking.com for more.
Many people in Maria’s position, be it through alopecia or illness, feel like their identity is being stripped from them in a very public way. It can feel lonely and incredibly disempowering. But Maria realised that her value didn’t lie in her hair, but within her. It can’t have been easy taking those first steps into a new world, but it transformed Maria’s life, setting her on a path of discovery and self-fulfilment.