I have a beautiful mind. A brilliant, creative, and uniquely sensitive mind. But somewhere along the way, some circuits misfired. For my brilliantly beautiful mind is also wounded and prone to malfunction. My greatest treasure is as fragile as a porcelain antique.
I once asked myself, in the verses of a poem that I was writing, if it was possible for one’s greatest asset to also be her greatest vice? I’m a person of faith and I’ve heard it said that “…some thorns God allows us to carry.”
I believe both things to be true.
There’s a picture of me in second grade with two thickly braided pigtails on either side of my head. However, there’s a stark contrast between the two braids: on the right side, my long, dark hair is neat. On the opposing side, the messily braided hair has a barrette dangling from it — evidence that a second grader tried her best to make a last-minute repair on picture day.
I can practically hear my mother’s voice from that day, warning me to keep my hands “out of my hair” for the class picture. But, the damage was done, and the picture serves as my hand stuck in the proverbial cookie jar until the end of time.
It seemed that I always had a knack for playing in hair. I just couldn’t keep my hands out of my own hair. I’d rub it, touch it, scratch it, pull my barrettes out, tug at my beads, you name it. Once, to my poor mother’s dismay, a kind-hearted grandmother at our church gently offered to help my mother by “fixing my hair. What the woman didn’t know was that my mother was quite adept at doing hair. But by the time we’d arrive at church, I’d already pulled, tugged, and yanked at it — thus creating the disaster that she and the rest of the congregation saw.
My behavior, which was a mild nuisance then, only took a turn for the…strange.
It can best be described as an itch. An itch that begged to be scratched, that cried for relief over and over, and was never sufficed. When I got the itch, I could focus on nothing else, and immediately sought to relieve it. Sometimes I focused on relieving it, without even realizing that I had been itching in the first place.
I was 8 years old when I first got the itch. I remember having the peculiar urge, as I played with one of my long braided pigtails, to pull a strand of my hair out. So I did. I pulled the hair out, and felt a great sensation of relief flood through me. It felt like I had scratched an itch that I didn’t even know I had.
I wanted to feel the feeling again, so I pulled out another strand of hair. And then another. Some strands had the thick, white bulb of the hair’s root at the end. Those were odd treasures to me. I was compelled to chew the ends of the root. It began to feel like I’d somehow found a cool secret. This pulling out and examining of my own hair brought both relief and wonder to me. So, I did it over and over and over again.
When I looked down, I was surprised to find that there was a pool of my own hair on the floor. Suddenly nervous and ashamed, I swept up the ball of hair and threw it in the garbage. Almost immediately, my hand flew to the area around my pigtail where I’d been pulling, the scene of the crime. It was almost bare, a circular spot the size of a nickel had formed where there was no hair. Immediately, I was afraid of what my mother would say when she saw it.
What I didn’t know was that things would get much worse. At 8 years old, my struggle with trichotillomania had only just begun.
This is part 1 of an ongoing series.
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