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I Have Trichotillomania

We all have our struggles and this one’s mine.

When people bring up mental health and mental illness, we might only think of the major ones: depression, anxiety, OCD, and personality disorders.

To most, they will probably never experience or develop trichotillomania, as it mainly affects females and according to Mental Health America, only 1 to 2% of people will suffer from it.

Bfrb.org defines trich as a: Hair Pulling Disorder, which is characterized by the repetitive pulling out of one’s hair. Trichotillomania is one of a group of behaviors known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), self-grooming behaviors in which individuals pull, pick, scrape, or bite their hair, skin, or nails, resulting in damage to the body.

For me, my trich has manifested as hair pulling from my scalp. For as long as I can remember, I have had some sort of body-focused repetitive “quirk”. When I was in kindergarten, I was afraid my finger tips would flatten out so every time I touched something, I felt the need to ‘squeeze’ them back into a ‘perky’ shape. When I got older, I started to pinch and push my nose, hoping it would grow into a more defined, sharp shape. Then, I started to pick at my scalp (gross warning), which was perpetually oily and would lead to pieces of dandruff and nuggets of white bumps I could pick out. One day, I felt a piece of hair that was coarse, bumpy, and thick — a black sheep in my mane of thin, fine hair. It felt satisfying to pull out the anomaly, and I’d examine the deviant in my hands afterwards, enthralled by the weird texture of it.

Slowly, I began to notice more ‘weird’ pieces of hair — slightly bumpy in texture, damaged from years of heat — and continued to pull them out. When I got into my second year of university, my level of stress had increased tenfold and I found myself reaching up to my head, pulling out as much hair as I could to ease the anxiety. My dorm floor was littered with balls of hair that had accumulated. I should’ve felt disgusted enough to stop, but seeing the amount on the floor and being able to collect the clumps was also satisfying in itself.

I couldn’t stop. I still can’t stop. Sometimes I’ll be using two hands to rip the coarse part from the smooth part to prevent myself from removing the entire piece of hair from the scalp. But usually, I’ll be mindlessly pulling while doing my work which leads to me fully pulling out my hair. When I got a bad haircut, I tried to fix it with a pair of shears and ended up making it worse. It made me keep reaching towards my hair and caused my trich to become worse.

At first, the damage isn’t noticeable, which snowballs you into more hair pulling because it doesn’t seem too bad. The shorter pieces could almost blend in as baby hairs. But then the more chunks of shorter hair I got, the more noticeable it became and the more annoyed I got, which led to further pulling. I now have noticeable bald spots on either side of my head.

Now that it’s thinned out, I have to use clips to strategically place the remaining shorter pieces away from my face when my hair is tied up, and to also hide the spots that are balding. I used to love putting my hair up. Now I loathe it. I’ve begun to notice how much we place the importance of beauty in the way our hair looks. The desire to get myself a haircut that would possibly reduce the amount of pulling was thwarted because I was scared of how unattractive I would look.

I know it’s hard to understand. “Why can’t you just….not pull? Why not preoccupy yourself with something so your mind is off of it? Why not get a fidget spinner (my dad sincerely offered this solution) or a stress ball?” I’ve tried. Honestly, I’ve tried. Seeing the part of me that I once loved so much become the one thing I despise, and wish could grow back into what it once was, is hard. It should make me want to stop, but something inside me just won’t let me. I don’t really know how to explain it because something that so stupid and so damaging to my self-esteem also simultaneously gives me joy in the act of it.

I’ve read on forums and websites that stopping is extremely difficult unless you get help from a therapist. Some say the solution is cognitive behaviour therapy. Despite the immense amount of shame and ever so present bald spots to show for my bad habit, I still continue to do it. When I’m bored, I pull. When I’m stressed, I pull. When I’m anxious, I pull. When I’m working, I pull. My hands will subconsciously reach for my head, yearning for something to hold, for something to keep me preoccupied. Even as I type this now, my left hand is reaching up.

My friends have mentioned that they notice my hand in my hair during class, and the weird little tug motion I do to break off a weak piece of hair. My dad will nag me to stop, even though he has the same issue. My mother will tell me to not be so anxious, to focus my attention on something else, or that the noise of it is stressing her out.

The worst part is when you’re looking for someone who can empathize with you. Who has been through it or is going through it and can really offer me help. It’s easy to get sympathy and genuine care when I talk about everything from boys, careers, life, and such, but when it comes to mental health, the lack of knowledge and the fear of speaking up about it is frustrating.

I don’t really know what the solution is. When I talk about it out loud, it seems trivial — stupid even. I think, ‘It’s going to go away eventually’, and it never does. My hair probably won’t grow back if I keep this up, and despite knowing this, I still continue to pull. In a way, trich has been something I do to cope with my feelings, my stress, and my anxiety. It’s unfortunate that it has manifested into this thing that nobody really understands. I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t know how to keep myself preoccupied and to learn how to stop.

I’m afraid to ask for professional help. After going to my dermatologist and telling her about the bald spots and what caused them, she told me that no normal person pulls out there hair (ha! tell me about it) and handed me a generic solution (Rogaine) before sending me off. In a way, I was expecting her to tell me to get real help, from a psychiatrist or therapist. In a way, I wanted her to tell me, so that I know it’s okay to ask for help. So that my problem becomes validated and I know it’s real.

I’m afraid to get help, because I feel like I don’t deserve it for something that seems trivial, compared to other mental illnesses. It just seems silly, knowing deep down that I’m seeing a “shrink” because I’m pulling my hair out. I want to stop, I want to fix this, but above all, I just want to be heard and I want to be understood.