For our third Q&A session, we had the pleasure of interviewing Trisha Repp Benzing. Please take a moment to read Trisha’s courageous journey with alopecia.
Q. When were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed at 19. My hairdresser found a small spot on the back of my head. I went to my dr who referred me to a dermatologist. Within 30 days half of my hair was gone. I think the stress of the diagnosis increased the speed of the hair loss. I was devastated. At that age, appearance is very important. I had severe depression for a while, which didn’t help either. My friends and husband eventually helped me realize I was beautiful with or without my hair, but it was a rough time for me.
Q. Did you/are you receiving any kind of treatment for your Alopecia?
I tried it all over the years. I began the injections in my scalp, but those never seemed to help. After a while I started the cortisone shots, which stopped it from falling out, but didn’t help it grow back. But you can’t get a lot of those due to the long term effects. Most of the hair on my head was gone, and I was still getting the injections in my scalp. The last time I got them my head was bleeding so bad and it hurt so much I broke down. The treatments didn’t work for me, and it wasn’t worth the pain and stress. So I decided to stop the treatments. I realized that I needed to learn to deal with the hair loss.
Q. How has Alopecia changed you as a person?
It has made me more accepting and humble. You never know what people are going through – what may be hidden beneath the surface. It has also made me more confident. It has toughened my shell – when I was 19 I was so scared people would realize my condition. My husband was the first man to accept my condition. He was a big factor helping me coming to terms with it and realizing that I am beautiful with or without hair. Now I walk around bald with my head held high and a smile on my face. When people stare, I smile. If they smile, I smile back bigger. When little kids ask their parents why that lady is bald, I laugh and smile at the mortified parents and tell them it’s okay. It has also helped me weed out toxic people in my life. When I was dating, if a guy couldn’t handle it, they didn’t deserve me! I think overall it has made me a better person.
Q. How did you handle your Alopecia in the workplace?
I hid behind a wig for many years. Select people I work with knew about it but I always wore a wig. This year I decided it was more important to be me and be comfortable and I was ready to stop hiding. The response was wonderful. Everyone was very supportive. I work at a college so I was mostly concerned how the students would react but they’ve been wonderful as well! I think our fears are almost always much worse than reality.
Q. What advice would you give to someone that’s newly diagnosed?
Get help. Talk to someone. If I had spoke to someone I think I would have came to terms with it much sooner. And be open with it as much as you are comfortable. I have had alopecia for 20 years now. The first 10 years most of my stress was worrying that other people would find out. True friends will support you and it won’t matter to them. If someone can’t handle it, it’s most likely due to their insecurities. Surround yourself with positive people. Do other things to make you feel better. I started working out and that helped me a lot. Don’t let people rush you into revealing it. Do it when you’re ready. Wear a wig, shave your head, wear caps, wear scarves, whatever YOU are comfortable with. You will know when you’re ready.
Q. How did your Alopecia awareness photo shoot come about?
My husband is actually the one that went public with my condition without thinking. I had started going out without a wig or hat occasionally. We went to the movies, and took a picture. He posted the picture to Facebook. All of a sudden both of our pages and phones went crazy. People messaging both of us asking how long I’ve had cancer. A friend of my husbands is a professional photographer. She asked if she could do an alopecia photo shoot with me. I took a few months, but I finally agreed. It was a wonderful experience. She helped me embrace it. And the support was astounding. It inspired her to do a series of photo shoots with people with different “hidden” diseases. She wanted to show different people with different conditions and highlight that you don’t always know what people are going through.
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