WAKING up from a drunken night out with half an eyebrow missing can be expected, right? Phil Stocks, a 24-year-old from Cleethorpes, awoke to the sound of a Snapchat alert coming from his phone. As he turned the front lens of his camera, a realisation slowly sank in. Unknowingly to Phil, he had just witnessed his first symptom of Alopecia.
Phil is one of the millions of people who suffer with Alopecia, which literally translates to meaning ‘hair loss’. The condition can affect men, women and children, manifesting itself in small areas of baldness, and in some cases, a total loss of hair across the body.
A young, confident and energetic individual, with bags of ambition and potential, Alopecia came as a shock to Phil. “I got out of the bath one day. I went to dry my hair and then I noticed a big bald spot in the mirror, right at the front of my head. After that, the alopecia got worse and more spots started appearing.”
Although Alopecia is not fatal, it does, however, affect a large amount of sufferers’ self-esteem, and can largely fall into a mental health related issue rather than physical. During the early stages of his first symptoms, Phil says he became a completely different person.
“It knocked my confidence for a good while. The early stages were really hard for me. People at work just thought I’d shaved my eyebrow on a night out. It became a joke around the place for the first six months.”
It is no secret that men often struggle to express their emotions and how they are truly feeling, most of all when an asset of your everyday appearance performs a disappearing act. Alopecia UK works towards helping and supporting victims of the condition by holding local support groups. This is a safe haven where people can talk about how it affects their everyday life with other people who know what they are going through. It is because of this very reason that Phil says the people around him remaining supportive played a large role in his recovery and pushed him towards achieving something much greater.
It was November last year when Phil says he was at his all time low. Detailing of how dark his life became, he reveals how his world began to crumble around him. “I was just so depressed” he says. “It caused my relationship to break down as I was bringing them down as I got worse, alcohol helped me to cope a lot”. When Alopecia first came into his life, Phil was in a relationship with a mother of an infant daughter. Just as he was adapting to family life, he speaks of how his depression was affecting his relationship, which ultimately ended. “Now I’m dubious about getting involved with anyone in case it goes full circle again”. Now both mentally and physically scarred, Phil shows a newly discovered scepticism in romance, out of fear that he will bring others down when he is feeling low.
Struggling to come to terms with the sudden change in both appearance and his personality, Phil says that after his initial visit to the GP, it took a long and torturing four months for a medical diagnosis to confirm what he had feared for a while. Phil’s specific form of Alopecia is medically named ‘Alopecia Areata, a form of the illness which forms round coin-like shapes of baldness on the scalp.
“It creeped me out at first because the results kept saying that there was nothing wrong. I knew it had to be something because more hair was falling out”
According to leading charity, Alopecia UK, the condition is commonly overlooked and is largely under researched. Amy Johnson, a representative for the group, says: “There is a perception that it is tougher for women dealing with Alopecia as this is ’not the norm’. However, we often find it is the bald men who find it the hardest”. Imagine being a confidant 20-year-old to then have something as simple as hair, something we all take for granted and have a special fondness of, suddenly stop you dead in your tracks and reconsider your entire life.
As both gender of sufferers may feel outsiders to society, high profile figures such as last year’s Celebrity Big Brother contestant, Gail Porter, demonstrated one of the first highly publicised showings of Alopecia to a wider audience. Live on air in the hit TV series, fellow contestant Austin Armocost shaved his head bald, in a brave and touching tribute to Porter, telling her “It’s just hair, you are beautiful human being”. Public acts like this works towards an encouragement towards a wider acceptance of the illness, whilst also showing people that hair really does not matter. It’s the person.
As things looked to be at its worst for Phil, something struck a chord as he turned towards music as a way to combat his emotions. After months of battling depressing thoughts and emotions of sadness, Phil found that writing music and lyrics associated with how he was feeling lifted a huge weight from his shoulders. In the past, he has played various shows around his local area and began to play the new songs to his circle of artists and friends. “Music has always been a large part of my life, it just made sense that this would be my way out,” says Phil.
With the help and support of his family and friends, Phil’s confidence was finally returning. As more shows were played around the district, he had finally come to terms with his day-to-day torments. “After a while I just thought I had to buckle down and get on with it. It got to a point where I just decided I can still do things that I want to do.” It is from this that he had the idea to form his own music production company ‘Avenue 44’. Utilising his usage of local artists and using them to his advantage, Phil began touring around the country hosting festivals.
In the summer of 2015, the first evening of music Phil organised managed to raise over £800 in the name of Alopecia UK. A figure that inspired Phil to continue raising awareness and funds for the charity. Phil also found that with each show that Avenue 44 hosted, he was gradually becoming more accepting of his condition. He also found that people were showing an increasing amount of support towards him, which helped him grow in confidence.
With a newfound hunger for his fight against Alopecia, a boost of confidence and new sense of pride and achievement added also, Phil finally began to feel like his old self again. After a few more months of preparation and promoting of the new company, Avenue 44 hosted its biggest calendar event of the year. A full afternoon at his workplace, and local favourite restaurant and bar, seemed a fitting venue for Phil to embrace his noble adventure to those closest to him. The day saw over 15 different artists coming together and performing a variety of genres to audiences young and old. The day began early in the afternoon and by the time the show came to a close later that evening – Avenue 44 had raised over £1,000. All in the name of Alopecia UK.
“Me and my family counted it up after and I had to lay down. I was amazed at what we all managed to achieve in the name of charity.”
In his own words, Phil thinks that he has in fact been somewhat lucky in his condition. Looking back in retrospect, the barman from Cleethorpes speaks of a newfound understanding that there are people who struggle with more severe cases of Alopecia, and indulges in a new quest to help those people who need support. “I use it as a probe for me to do better and go further. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m stronger now.”
Armed with his new outlook on life plus a greater understanding of who is as a human being, Phil now continues to tour the country playing festivals with his production company, Avenue 44. So far he has raised almost £2,000 for Alopecia UK as he constantly looks to continue with his charitable donations. He reveals through a cheeky smile of proudness that the majority of his hair is in fact slowly growing back.
Apart from half of his eyebrow, that still remains nowhere to be seen.