Mansfield native authors book on hair-loss ailment

By LISA MILLER
News Journal

Julia CrittendonMANSFIELD -- Julia Crittendon has taken the old saying about making lemonade out of lemons to heart. Or rather she's taken it to her head, choosing to use the condition that caused her hair to fall out as an avenue to help others.

The former Mansfield resident recently self published "Metamorphosis: Inspirational Stories of Women Living with Alopecia." The book charts the experiences of 22 women as they dealt with hair loss and what it's like to be a bald woman.

"People are still hiding from it," Crittendon said, noting when she was diagnosed she found no literature or any support other than from her family.

"These women are standing up to what was meant to destroy and depress them and are turning it into positive productive energy so that the next woman who loses her 'crown and glory' won't fall victim to what society deems as 'normal.' "

Two of the women explained their own feelings about living with alopecia to the News Journal via e-mail.

"I feel honored to have contributed to a book that may inspire and help all who are lucky enough to come across it," Jenn Pendergrast said. "I am totally bald and have finally accepted it."

A Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident, she was diagnosed in March 2006.

She said the book provided a kind of therapy for her.

"It was actually the first time I put my story into words and I cried the entire time I was writing," Pendergrast, 31, said. "When I was done writing, I felt so good. It felt awesome to put all that had happened into words for others to read."

A resident of the Netherlands, Tamara Cramer Bornemann also contributed to the book .

"I am 31-years-old and was diagnosed with alopecia when I was 5-years-old," she said. "My parents always did their best to find a cure for me and took me to many hospitals and other specialist each in their own profession. I only wore a wig once -- when I was about 7-years-old -- and I didn't feel to good about it. So from that moment, I went through life without a wig.

"The teenage years were pretty difficult because I wanted to be normal. In my 20s I felt in bloom and enjoyed my life. I got married after years of living together with my boyfriend. Now I am divorced and single. I am a teacher at a school for teenagers who are dealing with learning difficulties.

"I had a look on Julia's Web site, but I met her on www. alopeciaworld.com. When she gave me the opportunity of writing my story about alopecia, I started to write my story down on paper, with the key points she gave me. I saw this opportunity as a chance to inspire other people who are dealing with alopecia and to support them with my side of the story alopecia. I didn't want to inspire only the people who have alopecia, but also parents, family and friends of people who are dealing with alopecia."

Crittendon hopes "Metamorphosis," which she hopes to support with a tour, will help her fulfill a desire to become a self esteem coach and motivational speaker.

"It's amazing how everything comes full circle," she said.

She is employed with an e-commerce company in Louisville. The Mansfield Senior High School graduate has her own experiences with the condition. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, more than 5 million people in the United States have the affliction.

"The affected hair follicles are mistakenly attacked by a person's own immune system (white blood cells), resulting in the arrest of the hair growth stage," according to the foundation. "Alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth bald patches on the scalp and can progress to total scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or complete body hair loss (alopecia universalis)."

Crittendon started losing her hair in 2002, six months after giving birth to her daughter, Scotlyn. That started the then-28-year-old on a round of tests, a diagnosis, depression and treatment including painful cortisone shots to her scalp every four weeks.

The impact of alopecia can't be written off as mere vanity.

Dr. Patricia Tucker of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, earlier this month released a study, "Bald is beautiful?: The psychosocial impact of alopecia areata." It reviewed 19 previous studies representing 1,271 participants from nine countries.

Tucker's study found that the condition causes dramatic and devastating emotions in patients, which can negatively affect their self-esteem, body image, and self-confidence. That impact can be heightened in women and girls because of social pressures on them to be attractive. The study's conclusion suggested treatment for alopecia patients should offer psychological support to foster increased self-esteem and adaptation to their disorder.

Crittendon credits her mother, Linda Johnson, and husband, Dwayne Crittendon, with helping her get through her depression.

Still, she said it took five years before she went bald in public.

At one point she tried wearing a $3,000 wig.

"It was awesome," Crittendon said, but these days she shaves her head every other day. She recalled telling herself before that first outing sans wig or head wrap, "This is me, take me as I am."

From there. Crittendon started the Web site bbibby.org, which stands for Bold Beauty is Being Beautifully You.

Also a mom to Kya and Alex, Crittendon has tried to instill mer mantra in her daughter, Scotlyn, who also has the condition. Since she was a baby, Scotlyn has had small spots on her head, then the hair grows back. Last spring, the largest spot was the size of a half-dollar, which also grew back. So far she hasn't lost a lot of hair.

"She sees how I handle it," Crittendon said of her 7-year-old, who also has a part in the book. "She will still keep her head up."

Crittendon, 35, originally planned on creating a documentary on alopecia. When funding from the Kentucky Foundation for Women didn't work out, she decided she stilled "needed to do something with this."

The book, her back-up plan, is available online.

"The number one comment that I get is 'My hair is not coming out' or 'I don't know anyone to give this to.' This book is about hair loss, yes, but most importantly is about accepting change. The only thing constant in all of our lives will always be 'change.' This book is showing others how to embrace change no matter how bad it may seem. Life's too short. Where there is awareness and education, there is understanding."

Additional Facts

Buy the Book

"METAMORPHOSIS: INSPIRATIONAL STORIES OF WOMEN LIVING WITH ALOPECIA"

# On the Web: http://lulu.com/content/5361121.

# Details: For information on the book or on alopecia, go to Julia Crittendon's Web site, www.bbibby.org.

News Journal staff report

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