Emma Sothern

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32, Founder @ Lady Alopecia

Tell us about a time you felt cared for?

It was nearly 5 years ago, when my boyfriend Andy shaved my head. I had been struggling with alopecia on and off for 20 years at that stage. Had been wearing headbands for most of my early twenties, then a wig for the past year. I asked him to do it because I didn’t want to hide anymore. To keep enduring the headaches (and the guilt of feeling like a fraud) that the wig caused me .

It was a leap of faith – in how I’d see myself and in how he’d see me. Watching all my remaining hair pool around my feet wasn’t easy. Nor was seeing my bumpy bald head staring back at me from the mirror. But Andy looked at me then with such genuine love in his eyes.

And in the years since, as I’ve gone on to share my condition with the world, it’s like he loves me even more because of it. I felt cared for then, that evening when he shaved my head, and I still feel cared for every day. I’m incredibly lucky.

How do you provide care for others?

For my friends and family? I listen, I hug and I smile. For the students I lead in yoga and meditation (here in my current home of Hoi An, Vietnam), I give them the time and the space they need to care for themselves. Simple cues like reminding them to relax their jaw, or to breathe slowly, or to be kind to themselves… they make a big difference.

And it’s not me making the difference – it’s all them. Because we can all care for ourselves; sometimes we just need to be given permission.

My goal with Lady Alopecia is to provide care and support for those going through the condition. It can be a scary and extremely isolating thing – and I want to show people that they’re not alone.

(I care for Andy mainly with food. And in allowing him to laugh at my silly fluffy mohawk when he needs to.)

Favorite self-care ritual?

Connecting with my inner resource. (It sounds very airy fairy but bear with me!) I’ve practised meditation for quite some time but only recently got into something called iRest – which is like a modern form of Yoga Nidra.

It involves connecting with this inner resource – a felt state of peace and calm – throughout the day. So whenever I feel stressed or low, I call to mind a time when I felt completely at ease. This usually reminds me how lucky I am to be alive and stops the spiral of negativity in its tracks.

So now, when I’m out enjoying nature or time to myself, I’ll actively call to mind that inner resource, which helps me to savour the moment even more and allows that peaceful feeling to last.

(Oh, and I also love going for a massage. Pretty much my favourite thing to do in Vietnam and definitely in the self-care category!)

What would you like to see more of in wellness?

Less of a push towards people needing to buy a dream product or to follow a specific program in order to be well/happy… and more of a drive towards letting them know that everything they need is already contained within. Just remembering to breathe, slowly and mindfully, can be far more valuable than any fancy retreat – and it’s something that’s available to all of us, at any time.

So, I think it’s important that we don’t rely on external factors. That we practice self-reflection instead. I guess because self-reflection can lead to self-care. And when we care more for ourselves, we can care more for our community.

Who is a hero of yours?

My mum. She had Lupus (another autoimmune condition) for most of her life but I only remember her as incredibly brave, unfailingly cheerful and the most caring person I ever knew. I lost her when I was 10 but she’s still my hero… along with my dad, who raised 5 teenagers after she passed. It still astounds me how he managed to do that. And he’s a great example of self-care – without fail, he gets out for a long walk every day and probably looks/acts 20 years younger because of it!

Catherine Spence