This past weekend, I attended the NAAF Conference in Washington, DC. It was my first conference as an ‘adult.’ I have been to about 10 other conferences since 1994, but I was always in the kids’ camp. I loved every minute of that camp: I met a ton of people and was able to hang out with all of the friends I have made over the years. This year was different, though. I was able to go to meetings and talk about how having alopecia affects me. That was a rude awakening in itself. It was so nice to be reminded that “I’m not the only one.” Everyone has their own struggles that they are dealing with. It was amazing to listen to everyone’s stories and share some of my own. Many people had great advice to share, and I appreciated everyone’s input.
Although that was all fabulous, I heard the most impactful statement as I was getting ready to get in my car and go home. I was standing in front of the hotel with my luggage, waiting for the valet to bring my car around. I was caught up in trying to make sure I repacked everything and worrying about all of the traffic I was probably going to be sitting in for the next few hours. (If anyone is unfamiliar, the traffic on I-95 on a Sunday can be brutal!!!) Then an adorable little bald girl, probably about 4 or 5 years old, walked past me with her parents. I didn’t pay too much attention to them since I was so preoccupied. Right as they walked past me, I heard her say, “I’m gonna miss this place.” My heart sank. All of a sudden, I found myself standing in front of this hotel with my hands full crying uncontrollably. I still am not sure why. A part of me was thinking that she must have had an awesome weekend at the camp and didn’t want to go home, like many children who were at a camp with their friends. On the other hand, I was so upset. Although I’m sure she was not feeling like this, I thought that it is so sad that she is leaving a place where everyone else looked like her to go back home, where she is probably the only girl without hair. It broke my heart into a million pieces.
I can honestly say that I felt the exact same way. I’m going to miss that place, too! It’s amazing there! I can walk around without a wig (which I normally do anyway) and not have people stare at me because I am different. They know that I have alopecia and that’s it. I don’t have to deal with people assuming that I’m sick, and I don’t have to explain my situation to everyone I meet.
I guess the point of this story is that it’s so amazing how I tried to talk to people my own age all weekend to get some empathy, when all I had to do was listen to her five simple words. “I’m gonna miss this place.” It’s amazing how kids can sometimes say exactly what you’re feeling.