If you are watching or listening to this, and you are very sensitive to hearing about suicide or bullying or any acts of violence, this might not be episode for you to watch. So I just want to let you all know that I will be going into some pretty deep stuff, that way you have the chance to opt out if you don’t feel comfortable listening.

So what this recording is about is about a little girl named Rio who’s 12 years old and she’s from Indiana and she took her own life last week. And the reason why she took her own life is because she was severely bullied at school. She was bullied to the point where she no longer felt comfortable living with herself anymore. Unfortunately, the school system did not handle it very well, obviously. I mean, she’s no longer here with us and that to me is very, very troubling, that bullying is such a problem in school, that kids are taking their lives as young as 12 years old. 12 years old is so young. My son is only 11 and he’s in the sixth grade. Oh my gosh, the thought of these kids and the torture that they’re going through is terrible.

So Rio, I read her story and what she was going through and it’s so sad. I hope I don’t get too emotional on this video, because it’s real and it’s sad. She was tormented at school. Kids would bully her and rip her wig off of her head while she’s in school. I just can’t even imagine kids being that cruel. It’s mind boggling to me.

I’m sitting here with alopecia as a 40 year old woman. I’m sitting here dealing with it in my own way and trying to bring awareness to alopecia and it’s hard for me some days. I’m sitting here as a fairly confident 40 year old woman dealing with alopecia and I have a very strong network of support. But when I see children going through alopecia, it really pulls at my heart because I understand what children are going through at school with societal pressures. I see my kids dealing with society pressures and just friendships and all sorts of things and they’re not going through alopecia, thank goodness. But to think about children who are dealing with hair loss, going to school every day and having to face their peers knowing that they’re not confident in themselves is so sad to me.

I want to be of some sort of help to these kids and I don’t don’t even know where to start. I guess this is where I’m starting is I’m starting on social media and I’m starting in the networks that I know I have access to try to bring awareness to alopecia.

Now, one of the things that really bothered me with Rio’s story is I looked up a little bit more to find out more about her last night. One of the things that I found was a post from her school district on telling the community about Rio and how she passed away. One of the things that bothered me the most about that post is that they posted a picture of her, it looked like probably a yearbook picture, of her bald. Okay. I don’t have a problem with that picture. I think that picture is amazing, I think she’s adorable, she’s such an adorable little girl. But what they didn’t mention in that post is that she passed away due to suicide and they didn’t mention anything about her having alopecia. When you see someone that is bald, especially a child that’s bald, what’s the first thing that you think? You think that they have cancer, right? If someone sees me out in public, bald, and they don’t know what I’m going through, I’m immediately presumed to have cancer.

Well, that’s exactly what happened with this Facebook post from Rio’s school system. The people who didn’t know her and know her condition, there were a lot of comments saying, “Oh gosh, this poor little girl, she passed away due to cancer,” because that’s what they immediately assume. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with people making that assumption. Of course, it’s just a natural thing to assume. But I think that by neglecting to say what her condition was, that it was alopecia and that it wasn’t cancer, it kind of took away from her story and what they were trying to convey in posting about her passing away.

I feel like one of the bigger underlying problems with school systems in general is that they try to sugarcoat things. I’ve noticed this with our own school system where we live. There have been bullying issues at our middle school and as much as I appreciate our teachers and our administrators and our school board members, I truly believe that sugarcoating bullying and downplaying what’s going on does not help a thing. I’m not saying that you need to be all dramatic about it and make a big stink about things but by sugarcoating things and saying, “Ah, kids’ll be kids. It’s just boys just being boys,” I feel like it’s doing more harm than good.

I think that we need to really take a look at bullying and see it for the problem that it really is. It’s a very complicated problem. Bullies, you just never know what’s going through a bully’s mind. You don’t. It could be home issues that they’re taking out on their peers. It could be just hormones that are out of control and they don’t know how to handle it. There’s so many things that go into a bully mentality, but we can’t just sit back and just say that it’s kids being kids and just kind of try to sweep it under the rug and just try to ignore it. You can’t. You can’t. You have to address it and you have to address it as soon as it happens.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in our school system, and I can’t speak to Rio’s school system because I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know specifically anything about her school, what was going on, how the teachers were handling it. I can just speak to what I’ve seen in our school is that a lot of times it takes longer than I feel like it should to address bullying. I feel like they take longer to investigate bullying and separating the children that are bullied and the aggressor. It causes so many problems for kids because kids at this age, in middle school, they don’t want to tell on each other. There is a very strong snitches get stitches mentality when you are in middle school. Kids are so afraid of the backlash of telling on this kid that sits next to them in class and that’s constantly picking on them because they don’t want to be known as that kid who’s tattletelling. That’s a big problem.

Now, one of the things that our school has recently done to try to mitigate this is they have implemented a way for kids to submit complaints online so that it’s not obvious that they’re going to a teacher and that they’re able to report things almost anonymously and they can report them anonymously if they want to. I think that’s a step in the right direction, but I feel like we need to do more because what happens after they report that? Well, they’re still in the same classroom with this kid who’s torturing them and they still have to just wait and see what happens. Sometimes it’s dealt with really quickly and the problem is addressed and then other times it’s not really addressed at all. You have to take into account, are parents being notified of this?

I don’t know about you all, but in middle school, parental communication is pretty sparse. In middle school, they are really leaving it to the kids to kind of work their own stuff out and that’s really putting a lot of pressure on kids, I feel like because at that age they don’t really know what to do. So I firmly believe that we need better guidance counseling. These kids need workshops to understand how to deal with certain situations. Role playing, as cheesy as that sounds, just some way to kind of like train these kids how to handle things. They need strong mentors in the school. That’s not necessarily the principal because when you’re in school, the principal isn’t exactly your favorite person in the world, right? The principal is the person that you go to when you’re in trouble. I feel like kids need more mentors in their schools to look up to so that they have something like that, so that they have something positive in their lives.

For our school in particular, I would love to see our high school principal, our high school SRO officer come over to the middle school and get the kids excited about high school and get them excited about the expectations because I feel like having the communities work together is the best way to go because you have to set kids’ expectations and meet them where they are. When the kids are getting ready for high school, middle school is only three years, but it’s very critical three years, and getting them in that mentality to get ready for high school and get excited about something I think would be a big help.

Alopecia and suicide. It’s a big problem. It’s something that’s not talked about a lot. I think one of the biggest problems with alopecia is that it’s a very isolating condition. The reason why I say it’s a very isolating condition is because people are afraid to go up to each other and support each other and ask each other what they’re going through.

One example I can tell you about is last week, I was at Universal Studios in Florida and I saw a little girl in line with us just a few people away who was clearly bald, had no lashes or anything like that. I so badly, oh, I so badly wanted to go talk to her and her parents. I wish I could have and I wish I did. I just couldn’t find the words to go up to them. The reason for this is because when you see someone in public that’s bald, you don’t want to presume that they have alopecia and you also don’t want to presume that they have cancer so you’re stuck in this, “Do I say something? Do I not? Am I going to offend someone? Do they even want to talk about it?”

So you just don’t, you just freeze, and you don’t talk to anyone about it when you could be making these friendships and making these support systems. But instead we freeze up and we’re like, “Oh hi.” For me, I think I would’ve been more comfortable going up to this family and talking to them, had I not been wearing a wig. Had I been at Universal and been bald myself, I probably would have felt more comfortable going up to them and smiling at the little girl and kind of at least giving her that, “Hey, look, I’m like you,” sort of thing. But since I was wearing a wig and hiding my baldness, I couldn’t bring myself to go up to. I hate that I didn’t, I really do because I wish I knew what that little girl was going through.

That to me is what makes alopecia so isolating is the fear of talking to other people who you think might have alopecia because you just don’t want to make any assumptions. Some people just don’t want to talk about it and that’s totally understandable. You don’t want to be your condition or your disease or you don’t want that to be your sole identity. Yeah, I have alopecia, but I’m not alopecia. That is not my identity. I’m still Cyndi. I’m still a mom, a wife, a business owner. Alopecia is not my sole identity. I think it can get exhausting to go out in public bald and always feel like you’re a step away from having to explain your story time and time again. But at the same time, telling your story brings awareness to alopecia because the truth is not many people know that alopecia is even a thing. Not many people know what it is. I know I didn’t know what alopecia was until I started going through it myself.

A year into going through alopecia, I’m still finding my way through it and becoming more comfortable about talking about it publicly and going out in public bald. 95% of the time I go out in public, I’m in a wig so it is what it is. Partially for safety reasons, I don’t want to get this shiny head sunburnt, but a lot of it is just because it’s exhausting to try to explain myself and worry that I’m worrying people when they see me bald. That’s alopecia for you. It’s exhausting and it’s just a thing. It’s an autoimmune condition that we still know very little about. It’s just our immune system going crazy and attacking our hair follicles. Yay.

I am going to, in this podcast here, this is a much longer podcast than I normally like to do, but I felt like it was a really important one to do because of what happened with Rio. It’s just so sad. So, so sad. Here’s what I want you all to do. I want you all, if you have kids teach them kindness and compassion. Teach them not to stare at someone who looks different from them, teach them to just be kind. I know that seems like such a simple thing, but truly it’s the easiest thing that we could do to try to prevent situations like this. If you’re going through alopecia or if you have a child that’s going through alopecia, find support networks. There are a lot of support groups on Facebook, just search for alopecia support groups on Facebook, and I’ll leave some links to support groups in the comments. Search for support groups, because they really are truly helpful.

When you find those support groups, talk about what you’re going through. For me, it helps to talk through it and to talk through the pain and the happy moments, the successes, the losses, it just helps to talk through it. Find someone that you feel comfortable talking to about it and talk to them. If you don’t have someone that you feel comfortable talking to, my inbox is always open.

That’s it for this podcast. I wish you all the best and just remember to see the beauty and kindness in the world that’s there. Bye.

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