Brooke Brakeman is a 25-year-old woman who works in a bakery. She loves animals—her hedgehog, Hazel, in particular—has amazing tattoos and her favorite band ever is All Time Low.

Brakeman is also diagnosed with alopecia areata. It’s an autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss on the scalp, face and other parts of the body. You might not have heard of it before, but according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, it affects almost 7 million people in the United States.

 

Mommas little stinker:)

A photo posted by brookebrakeman (@brookebrakeman) on

Many, especially friends on her social media, weren’t aware of Brakeman’s condition until recently. About a week ago, Brooke posted a brave photo with a lengthy statement, addressing her experience with the disease and the peace she has made with it.

“I used to cry every time at the sight of myself. I let myself miss out on things that I wanted to do,” she says in the post. “I'm here to say from this point forward alopecia and anxiety will no longer stop me from being who I am and doing what I want to do. It's okay to be you and you have to deal with what you were given. Embrace it.”

 

A lot of you don't know that I have alopecia areata. But this is me. All natural no hair no makeup. This is what I look like. I used to cry every time at the sight of myself. I let myself miss out on things that I wanted to do. I didn't go to kalahari this past summer because I was too embarrassed I let my appearance consume me and overwhelm me and ruin some friendships because of insecurities and anxiety consumed my life. I know this is Facebook and it doesn't matter but I'm here to say from is point forward alopecia and anxiety will no longer stop me from being who I am and doing what I want to do. It's okay to be you and you have to deal with what you were given. Embrace it. People will still love you and if they don't you don't need them. You can beat anxiety and insecurities I'm learning that. Don't let anything stop you from living your life.

A photo posted by brookebrakeman (@brookebrakeman) on

Brooke was diagnosed at 14 years old.

“That was middle school, which was absolute hell,” she says. “Kids are not nice, as well as adults.”

She continues: “When you first get it, you don’t really know what’s happening to you, like, ‘Why is my hair falling out?’

“You feel a little bit lost.”

However, in 2017, Brakeman is the opposite of lost. In fact, she’s probably one of the most optimistic and level-headed people you can find.

 

A photo posted by brookebrakeman (@brookebrakeman) on

“You have to look on the bright side of it. I can put a wig on; I can wear any hair color that I want, whenever I want to,” she says. “The only thing that gets hard [is] finding a wig that is comfortable, and the wigs that I have to buy are about $700. Every time I need a new wig, I have to dish out $700—just to have hair, to feel like I fit in.

“The second you learn to let go and embrace it is the second you’ll feel beautiful in your own skin.”

“But, recently, I just don’t care anymore. You have to deal with what you’re dealt. And that’s what you have, so just embrace it. The second you learn to let go and embrace it is the second you’ll feel beautiful in your own skin.”

 

A photo posted by brookebrakeman (@brookebrakeman) on

“Now that everybody knows, it’s not really a big deal anymore,” she says. “You realize people aren’t as bad as you think they are. I mean, of course there’s bad people out there, but most people are really accepting of it now.”

Through grade school and over time, Brakeman surrounded herself with positive people.

“I let all the negative people who had issues with it go,” she shares. “The second you experience your life and realize that appearance doesn’t matter is—it honestly doesn’t matter.

“Never let somebody tell you how you feel.”

Music also is an important part of Brakeman’s life. Alongside All Time Low, her favorite bands are Blink-182 and, most recently, Broadside.

“I can’t get enough of Broadside. From the second I heard ‘Storyteller’—what was that, three years ago?—I’ve been hooked,” she says.

But it definitely seems that her true loves are All Time Low. So much so that she has two ATL tattoos.

Both are lyric tattoos. One says, “Love yourself, so no one has to,” which is from Nothing Personal’s “Therapy.” The other says, “Dreams only last for a night,” which is from So Wrong, It’s Right’s “Stay Awake (Dreams Only Last For A Night).”

“If I can help even just one person out of any of this, it would mean the world to me.”

A few people have accused Brakeman of posting the photo for attention, but she wants to make it clear that was not her motive.

“I just want everyone to know that you don’t have to be afraid to be you. I feel like if people learned how to be themselves, then they would just be much happier,” she says. “If I can help even just one person from any of this, it would mean the world to me.”

The biggest piece of advice Brakeman could give is to not compare yourself to anyone else because “that will be how you lose yourself—that will be how you lose other people and push them away.”

On that, she says: “Just because some girl has a better arch in her eyebrow or straighter winged liner doesn’t make her better than you at all. You just need to embrace what you have, experience life, treat people well—that’s what’s going to make you happy. Not if your hair is straight that day or what you wore.

“I want everyone to realize: You are you for a reason. Just embrace what you have.”