The Story of How It Started
My first dance with trichotillomania (trich) began when I was age 7. My family and I all traveled to Nigeria on vacation to visit our maternal grandparents. My cousins were running around playing games while I was by myself, in my own little world, daydreaming as I usually did.
By the time I realized what I was doing, a handful of my hair was scattered across my grandmother’s bed.
I had twisted out my hair without realizing it, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why I did it. From that day forward, trich became a painful and complicated part of my life.
Putting a Name to the Disorder
The Mayo Clinic defines trichotillomania as a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop.
It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized there was a name for the disorder that had plagued my life for nearly a decade. I was 17, and my trich was at its worst. I had so many bald patches it became impossible to hide. I became terrified and hopeless in a world that was particularly unkind to people who suffered from mental health disorders. Not being able to explain my disorder made it more frightening.
I googled hair pulling and stumbled across Beckie Jane Brown’s Youtube channel. Her Trichotillomania video was my re-introduction to a disorder I had no name for. She became my inspiration, and although I didn’t know her personally, she gave me a glimpse into a life that nearly mirrored mine.
Growing up, my family didn’t know what trich was and assumed my disorder was simply an attempt at getting attention. In hindsight, I don’t blame them. There wasn’t a ton of information on the web and it certainly wasn’t something people were openly speaking about.
As a young girl at an impressionable age where kids were particularly cruel, not being able to explain why I had bald patches destroyed any resemblance of confidence I had in myself. The bullying I experienced as a result, made my disorder worse.
I’ve come to find that stress and anxiety are my biggest triggers. It usually starts with anxiety which almost always leads to stress. There have been times where I’ve gone months without pulling and thought I was in the clear. It only takes one really stressful situation to trigger me and once I start pulling, I’m unable to stop until I shave off my hair.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for the better part of my childhood and adult life. Trichotillomania is a direct result of having anxiety. Some people deal with anxiety and stress in other ways and trich looks different from person to person.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Why can’t you just stop pulling?” followed by a look of shock, disgust, pity and confusion that is painted on the faces of the people I tell.
Asking a person who suffers from a compulsive disorder why they just can’t stop is insensitive. It’s like asking someone who suffers from bulimia why they just can’t just eat more food. Trich is complex, extremely difficult to treat and even more difficult to explain to people who don’t experience it.
Coming to Terms With My Disorder
Now as a 27-year-old woman, I look back and wish someone had realized my hair pulling wasn’t a cry for attention but a disorder that needed proper attention, empathy, and kindness.
Every Thursday at 7 pm I go to therapy and pour out my feelings. I find it’s easier to speak to a stranger about my disorder than those who are closest to me. I guess knowing that a mental health professional’s job is to listen without judging makes it easier for me to share.
Through years of therapy and self-reflection, I’ve come to accept that trichotillomania isn’t who I am, it’s just something I live with. I can choose to let it further destroy my confidence or I can share my experience with others and remind myself daily that it’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it because asking for help is the ultimate act of strength.
Coming to terms with my disorder also meant finding a judgment-free community of people who understood what I was going through. A few years ago, I stumbled across a support group on Facebook. Having a support system both on and offline has given me the space to begin healing.
Take A Deep Breath – You’ll Be Okay
As someone who has suffered for most of my life, I can tell you that it gets better. If you stumbled across this post because you, like me, have a hair pulling disorder, please know you’re not alone. If you don’t have trich but know someone who does, please be kind, and most importantly, don’t become a trigger.
Her Soul Heals