My long, dark locks were my best feature. I loved experimenting with styles, and I looked after my hair using the best products.
In the past, hairdressers had even used me as a model. And friends always admired my mane. But, one day in May 2014, I was combing conditioner through my hair in the shower when I noticed I’d shed more strands than usual.
“Everyone moults a bit,” my pal said when I confided in her. But, putting my hair up a few days on, I touched what felt like bare scalp. Using two mirrors, I saw a bald patch the size of a 20p piece at the back of my head. In tears, I showed my partner Stephen, 42.
“I can’t lose my hair,” I cried.
“It won’t come to that,” he said.
My GP diagnosed alopecia areata, where hair loss occurs in small patches on the head. It happens when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles. The cause is unknown, but stress can be a trigger, and I’d been stressed at work.
Over the next few weeks, my hair came out in clumps. My scalp was so itchy and sore, some nights I couldn’t even put my head on the pillow. I went to hair-loss specialists in London and Newcastle, but nothing helped.
Three months on, I was completely bald, and then my body hair fell out, too – eyelashes, eyebrows, the lot. I’d got alopecia universalis, which is the rarest, most severe form of the condition.
I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I went off sick from my civil-service job, and hit at home. Some days I was so low, I just stayed in bed.
My first wig was so ugly and uncomfortable, I hated it.
But then I thought about my wonderful mum Brenda, who’d died when I was just 21 after a four-year battle with breast cancer. Throughout her illness, she was always smiling, never complained. And her strength inspired me.
I went back to my GP, who prescribed antidepressants. I also researched wigs online, and found a long, dark one made of human hair. It cost £600, but it was worth it. There wasn’t anywhere near where I live offering support with hair loss, and supplying good quality wigs. So I decided to start my own business - Glamorous Butterfly – doing just that.
Now I’m the supplier for the NHS locally, and I have private clients, too. One lady who’d worn the same poor-quality wig for 30 years said she felt like a new woman when she left me.
So, while losing my hair was devastating, I used it to help others turn that dark time into something positive. I still love experimenting with my hair – I just do it with wigs!
Plus: Vanessa’s business is an approved supplier for the NHS wig voucher scheme, a registered stylist, cutting service and wig supplier for Trevor Sorbie’s MyNewHair, and a Little Princess Trust official salon. For more info, see www.glamorousbutterfly.co.uk.