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The Long, Brave Journey From Alopecia To Acceptance

"We hear a lot about what makes a woman – her thick hair, brown eyes or curvy body… But I think a woman is so much more than that."

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Yesterday, a Humans Of Bombay post featuring Mumbai resident Ankita Wadekar went hugely viral. In 24 hours, it's been shared over 18,000 times. In the post, Ankita opened up about growing up with alopecia.

Ankita is a Mumbai-based social media professional. She was diagnosed with alopecia when she was in the 7th grade.

Alopecia is an autoimmune and hormonal condition. "Your body starts attacking your hair follicles, considering them a harmful and external element. And a person starts losing their hair," Ankita told BuzzFeed. Her mother saw a small thinning spot on her head and took her to a doctor.

For years, her life was defined by the ups and downs of the condition. "In six months I had lost 95% of my hair. I wanted to be invisible," she said on Humans Of Bombay. "While the other girls at school were flirting with boys… I was busy hiding."

Doctors put her on steroids, amongst other medications. Out of a genuine desperation for normalcy, Ankita complied, withstanding processes as painful as scalp injections. The side-effects ranged from increased facial hair to swelling .

The treatment worked, briefly. Ankita grew hair down to her waist in the 11th standard. She began planning her life around the development. "I was all set to take new leap in my life, a job. I had plans, I had expectations in my life."

Still, through the optimism, she was wrecked by the fear of her condition returning.

And in the last year of her graduation, it did.

"I couldn't keep my shit together. I was broken."

Ankita locked herself in her home and would spend entire days watching TV and movies. "For a whole year, I would only step out of the house to visit the doctor."

"During this period, I changed myself drastically," she said. "I would talk, walk and dress like a boy, so no one looked at me. I became a socially awkward person and I still am."

Five-and-a-half years ago, Ankita started wearing a wig. A year and a half after that, she began a career in digital marketing. With the wig providing equal doses of confidence and invisibility, she began a life she was happy to live.

Some days, Ankita considered getting rid of the wig. "[My mother] openly supported it, but I could never gather the courage to implement it."

One day, on her morning commute, someone pulled at her hair. Her wig came off.

"For a few second, I was numb. Tears rolled down my cheek. I picked that wig up, turned around, and went back home."

She texted her colleagues that she wouldn't be making it to the office, and felt herself sinking into a depression.

Two days later, she pulled herself out.

"I needed that kick. This was it."

Two days after her wig had been pulled off her head, Ankita walked out of her home without it. She paired her confidence with a floral dress.

"I no longer wanted to be invisible. I didn't want people to ignore me thinking I am a boy. That day my biggest achievement was that I wasn't looking down, I was making eye contact after a long time," she said.

"I have come to believe that everything that happens, happens for good," Ankita told BuzzFeed. "Because of my condition, I experienced fear, I learned to fight my fear, I learned about patience and I learned before everybody else that MY acceptance was more important. I had to accept myself as I am."