Trichotillomania: a compulsive desire to pull out one’s hair.
A Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) is an umbrella name for impulse control behaviors involving compulsively damaging one’s physical appearance or causing physical injury. (source)
The concept to pull my own hair out seemed ridiculous. A friend had actually brought it to my attention that she suffered when we were 11 years old. I didn’t think much of it and I don’t recall what I said, but today, I hope it was something helpful, as I hope someone would be when I confess to them that I, too, struggle with trichotillomania.
I was 14 years old and very mentally ill. I was traumatized by my childhood and the recent additives of feeling followed, having been hospitalized, run aways and police appearances. I was cutting several times a week and was very suicidal, but I felt numb. No matter what I was going through, what I was doing or the fears I had, I remained emotionless. I had previously been obsessed with keeping my eyebrows groomed, and chose that when things had gotten too stressful and I just wanted to feel something, I would escape to the bathroom and take the tweezers to my eyebrows. Tears began to drip; which was exactly what I was looking for.
A spiral began slowly. My 9th grade (age 14-15), I had half my eyebrows and i was constantly taunted by people who would ask if I shaved them off and why I would shave them. I was ashamed and had no way to tell them. And I liked them short.
10th grade came around and I had dyed my hair black and red and loved it! I dyed it weekly/bi-weekly and trimmed it to maintain it. But it was my favourite feature and, being the new kid in a new high school, I was quite the attraction. I concealed myself under this mask of hair, and I didn’t dread it either. I didn’t want anybody to see my actual face, especially without makeup.
I was in the improv team and I had created an image for myself. But something happened. January 14th, 2014, a family friend of mine killed himself… In a gruesome way, too.
I had already spent so much time in the counselor’s office, but after that incident, I was in her office and in a room to be alone for a good 2 days. I did not show up with my hair done or my makeup on and my mask was removed. I became very vulnerable and felt I was losing my identity. During improv, I had even broke down out of nowhere after drawing a blank in practice and ran away from my team. The pulling moved from my eyebrows to my head.
The bangs I loved so much quickly disappeared. I would pull constantly watching tv, just sitting around and I began to run water over myself as I sulked in the bottom of the shower, ripping chunks out. I became very vulnerable and came out of the shower on numerous occasions to cry to my mom. My mother would come to vaccuum the living room to discover piles of hair scattered on the floor from me watching House M.D. This bald spot had quickly expanded and became very apparent. I discovered trichotillomania.
I wore bandanas around the house and my favourite baseball cap at school, swooping my bangs from one side to the other, folding them in ways to conceal the large spots, held in place by the cap. The pulling had taken a toll on me and I had lost control.
The day after my 16th birthday, I took a day off school. My mother came downstairs and offered we go get my hair cut like “Miley Cyrus”, as she said, and I had considered it for a brief amount of time. Well, I did and my bald spot was hidden, but it didn’t get better from there.
I got compliments and many people thought I looked good with short hair. I was fully exposed, face and hair, and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t know how to take it; it wasn’t exactly a choice, I thought. I felt decent, but comments aroused about me looking like a boy and that women with short hair weren’t attractive, which stung.
I struggled as it grew and a bad relationship I was in worsened it. I was cheated on constantly and it played my femininity. Not to mention, the girl I was cheated on with had hair nearly down to her hips and I wanted to cry when I saw that, especially after he was the one to tell me he wasn’t attracted to girls with short hair. The abuse in that relationship caused me to pull a lot, creating bald spots on several occasions, even after the hair had started to grow again.
On one occasion, I had ripped so much out, triggered by loneliness or a comment he said. He came into the bedroom and yelled at me for making a mess of his bed.
When arguments would arise, especially the abusive comments and anxiety attacks, I would lock myself in the bathroom in darkness and rip chunks out until he would break in and hold my hands down.
My hair had weird stages and I just wanted to make myself feel better. I styled it in several ways; down naturally, something similar to a male come-over, my “sheep hair” (twisted it and it turned into a slight afro), etc. I compared myself constantly and begged for help, but did not want it.
I used to collect hair balls and get fascinated by large amounts I would pull in one tug, feeling upset when the hairs would separate from their cluster.
I worked really hard in getting it to grow and eventually dyed it in a way I loved. By the time it had grown out, my pulling had greatly reduced from my scalp, and despite losing my eyebrows and lashes entirely, I was able to maintain hair growth.
Today, I have grown my hair to the top of my breasts. I have dyed and cut it and tried to satisfy myself but I hate my hair with every fiber of my being.
It’s nappy, knotty and has not chosen a texture it likes. I am incapable of coping with the knots that form and I find little interest in styling it due to it’s condition and some shorter hairs that I conceal. A lot of hair just falls out as well, not exactly helping with my perception of my hair. It’s uneven and quite frustrating.
I tend to pull the hair of my scalp when I’m stressed in social situations and coming out of the shower (to get rid of knots). I pull my eyebrows because they bother me; their existence feels like a curse and they keep growing, they’re never equal, they never look good and I can’t stand having a full eyebrow. My eyelashes tend to go if I put on makeup or I’m anxious; I actually get physical pain in my eye and feel like they don’t belong. My nose hairs get ripped out because I hate them and it’s a private place to pull. On a personal and TMI (too much information) level, I pull my pubic hair and leg hair as well as an occasional after shower activity.
Showers are rough because it will not untangle and so, I rip chunks out from under. I pull at my bangs and still have baby hairs that are struggling to reach the length of the rest of my bangs. It is constantly tangled and causes me to rip the knots apart, because even when I brush it and fill my hair with conditioner, it doesn’t work and it won’t stay soft or straight. It’s gotten thin and though I began to pull less, it frustrates my current partner to no end.
Reality for me is, it feels like a virus or a needle. It’s a pain and I physically can’t handle the existence of my hair coming out of my body. I don’t know how to explain it exactly other than a nuisance. It’s in my skin, and my brain is convinced it shouldn’t be there and so, I rip it out. It’s an obsessive hatred that can control my thoughts for hours and that bothers me daily.
It gets to a point where I sometimes ask to rip my partner’s hair out when I feel it doesn’t belong there.
Sometimes, I’m just fascinated with the “pop” sound, the root that comes out, how stretchy or weak some strands can be and the different colours in my hair, and those are the times I am pulling “mindlessly” or “for fun” (habit or boredom).
I become pained when my loved ones get furious with me about it. I pull to cope with social interactions and I get yelled at insensitively and held down as I struggle not to cry. I will try not to pull but thinking about it makes me want to pull more. I am usually not too bad on my own but something about someone else around me arises this need to pull, and sometimes I fear doing it in case I subconsciously am doing it for attention.
I feel as though they don’t understand. Yelling at me and cursing doesn’t make it better and causes me to isolate myself. I don’t feel loved in those moments and wish myself away from the situation. The intensity of emotions can, at times, cause a worse outcome of me being physically violent with myself to relieve myself.
My life hasn’t been entirely damaged by it in the recent years, but it is still a struggle. It feels as though it has forever affected my view of myself; my perception. I have a full head of hair and I don’t understand why I can’t just enjoy it? Why did I grow it out for over 2 years to not play with it and style it? Why do I still feel unbeautiful for it?
I had felt like I looked so manly in the last years and it stripped me of my feminine identity, drawing me back.
On the day of prom, I had my brows done at Saphora and it took them 20 minutes to do my brows alone and I STILL left unsatisfied, even after a staff change. They assured my brows were the perfect length and shape (after a waxing), but I didn’t feel that way. I hated explaining that the hair felt like little infections in my skin and that their existence makes me so angry and frustrated. I hated what they tried and was overall displeased with the service.
I am highly dissatisfied with my hair and my mind hasn’t processed that my hair has grown as long as it has. I find myself trying to conceal things that aren’t there or feeling like I have a huge bald spot when, in reality, the pulled hair is scattered and there are no prominent spots.
The length it has reached has caused me to pull less. The longer it got, the less I pulled. But when it becomes reborn as it is, I need support and love. I need to know that I am not alone and that I can continue to fight it. The encouraging and acknowledgement of my loved ones would be greatly appreciated, eve if it’s just a comment like “I’m proud of you”. The support and belief in me can go a long way and push me to continue fighting.
In comparison to others, I also feel like it’s nothing. I don’t have any bald spots exactly and I am not violently pulling daily, so I’m okay, right? No, I’m not and it’s not, and my condition is individual and valid.
I may not be in therapy currently but I am trying to take it day by day. If I have to cut it again or buy a wig, it will not mean I failed and it will be a decision I will take for myself then.
I am tired of feeling alone, ugly, insane and ridiculous for a condition I have learned to manage in ways I never thought possible. I miss my hair and all the ways I had dyed it but god damn it, this is huge progress and I want to keep growing it. Whether it be patchy or perfectly even, I will continue.
DO YOU HAVE TRICH?
If you are speculating that you may have trichotillomania, you should seek out a doctor’s advice and assistance.
If you are already diagnosed and need some help, consider buying yourself textured toys like a Tangle or Silly Putty to distract you from the behaviour, as well as seeking therapy.
There are many online support communities for peer support and the sharing of various experiences.
A popular YouTuber named Rebecca Brown runs a channel called Trich Journal where she shares her life experiences and helpful tips, and helps to raise awareness.
Trichotillomania is a battle, but you are not alone nor are you insane for suffering. We need to become mindful of our pulling and continue to support one another. Seek out help from loved ones and professionals. Our goal can be to, one day, be pull free.