My Trichotillomania Journey (So Far)

Me with my beautiful mom.   (Look at all the HAIR I used to have!)

Trichotillomania is a huge and scary-sounding word that basically just means I pull my hair out.  It’s actually a type of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  The few of us who are cool enough to have this disorder (that was definitely a joke!) refer to it as ‘Trich’ because, let’s face it, that’s a much less intimidating word.

I started pulling my hair out when I was in kindergarten.  I can remember sitting on my cot during nap time at school, not being sleepy, and pulling my eyelashes out one by one and lining them up on my pillow like little black trophies.  Pulling my eyelashes out stung just a little bit but, weirdly, I liked the sensation.  It was a good pain…like popping a pimple.  Oddly satisfying.  And being in kindergarten, I didn’t really miss them either.  It’s not like I was remotely interested in boys or cared at all what I looked like.  They were just weird hairs growing on my eyelids – I didn’t need them.

Fast forward to middle school.  That was a rough time for me.  (Yeah…’rough’ – it was more like slow and painful torture.)  I’d moved from Virginia to Alaska and simultaneously gone through puberty, so not only had I lost all my friends during the transition, I’d also acquired a depressing amount of big red zits all over my face.  My hair was curly and I didn’t know what to do with it, and I’d also started developing my bosoms.  I developed earlier than everyone else my age, so while all the other girls were still flat-chested, I was already having to go on the awkward bra-shopping trips with my mom and buy these horrible things called pads for ‘that time of the month.’  I felt like my body hated me, and not having any friends at my new school made it feel like the rest of the world hated me too.

These problems only made my Trich worse.  I started pulling my eyebrows out along with my eyelashes, and I also began wearing makeup in an effort to appear normal.  I wore heavy black eyeliner to cover up the fact that I had no eyelashes, and then I drew a thin brown line over each eye to stand place for my eyebrows.  It was horrible – I still can’t look at my middle school pictures without grimacing!  (I keep telling myself I’ll get to the point where I can laugh about it but that hasn’t happened yet!)

After countless nights spent crying and wishing I looked different, I finally made it through middle school and then high school.  I’d managed to tame my hair-pulling tendencies so they weren’t very noticeable, and I actually had some eyelashes to put mascara on.  (And my mom had forced me to grow my eyebrows out again…for which I am very thankful.)  I went to college with basically everything in tact.

College was stressful.  It was fun – a lot of fun! – but stressful.  My senior year was when I finally had my breakdown.  There was too much to worry about between classes, future careers, finals, graduation, whether or not to get married immediately or hold off for a year or two, etc.  I couldn’t take it, and one night when I was supposed to be studying I just starting pulling out hair from my head.  Hair after hair, handful after handful, until my fingers hurt from yanking hair and my scalp was raw and bleeding from all the hairs being ripped out.  I went and looked in the mirror and there was a softball-sized bald spot on the lower side of my head behind my right ear.  It was ghastly.  I started bawling.  I was terrified – what had I done?  What had caused me to do such a thing?  I called my (then) fiancé who came over and immediately started trying to analyze and fix the situation.  Failing to do so, and with me in a useless crying heap, he then called my parents.  They had no idea I’d ever pulled my hair out and were completely blindsided.  My mom caught the next plane out and came to live with me for the rest of the school year because I just couldn’t handle things on my own.

I got married right after graduation, which probably wasn’t the wisest thing for me to do.  I thought it would “fix” all my problems because then I wouldn’t have to be 3,000 miles away from my fiancé and we could live happily ever after!  Wrong.  Getting married meant I had to live 3,000 miles away from my family, and I fell into a very dark depression.  I slept all day long (all day long), pulled hair, cried, and then slept some more.  I couldn’t even hold down a part-time job.  I was useless and miserable.  I can’t even think back on those times without getting upset because they were just so, so incredibly horrible.  I had no hair at all.  I’d had to shave my head to stop myself from pulling.  I had no eyelashes and eyebrows either.  I looked 100% different than I had a year earlier, and I couldn’t stand myself.

I wanted to die.  Truly.  I thought about ways to kill myself.  I couldn’t handle being left alone all day while my husband was at work because I just sat in front of the bathroom mirror and pulled hair and cried and pulled hair.

You might think, “Well why didn’t you just stop???”  But it’s not that simple.  It’s like there’s something wrong in my head and I can’t get the signal down to my fingers to stop pulling.  It’s like I’m screaming in my head to stop pulling but I just can’t.  My hands just keep reaching up to my scalp, finding hairs that feel ready, and yanking them out.

This went on for several years until my husband and I were finally able to move out to be with my family.  This has greatly helped things and I’ll admit I’m much happier now, but I still struggle with my Trichotillomania.  It’s a daily battle.  Some days I win.  Some days I lose.  Some days I accomplish lots of things and don’t really think about pulling hair, but other days all I can do is stand in the bathroom crying while I pull hair after hair out in a stupefied, horrible trance.

I can’t explain why I pull my hair and I can’t explain why I can’t stop pulling, either.  It’s so complicated – there’s not just one reason or explanation.  It’s usually because of stress but sometimes it’s because I’m bored.  Sometimes it’s simply that one hair feels different from the rest and I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve pulled it out.  It feels good.  It’s calming.  I use the time to think about things in my life, almost like meditation.  But then immediately afterwards, I feel immense guilt.  Overwhelming guilt, as if I’ve murdered someone.

It’s a horrible mental and physical cycle.  It has caused me years of self-hatred and shame, and it has greatly altered the way I look.  (My hair is much thinner now and I have many gray hairs…when I even have any hair at all!  And as for my eyebrows and eyelashes, I’m still just hoping and praying they continue to grow back.  We’ll see!)  It’s hindered me in many ways, one of which is being able to hold down a steady job.  I’m 27 years old and tired, so very tired, of letting this absurd disorder rule my life.  I don’t want my Trich to define me!

Have you ever heard of this bizarre mental disorder?  Are you going through some of the things I described or do you know someone who is?  I’d love to hear your story, your thoughts, or basically anything you want to say on the subject.  Even if you just need someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through – I’m here.  And thanks for reading my post!  Best wishes!

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