Ever since I was young, I have been very nervous. I get anxious about trivial tasks, I am a perfectionist, and I have a problem saying no when someone asks for a favor regardless how busy I might be—I always say yes. A lot of this has translated into intense migraines, lip chewing, nail biting, and hair pulling. That last part is what I hate most about my anxiety. It is called trichotillomania.
For people with trichotillomania, hair pulling is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, frustration, or loneliness. It involves recurrent, often irresistible, urges to pull hair from areas of the body despite attempts to stop.
Psychology Today says, “it is an impulse-control disorder and one of several body-focused repetitive behaviors currently classified in the DSM-5 as Obsessive Compulsive and Related disorders.”
Most people do not even know what trichotillomania looks like.
I have experienced this since the fourth grade, and I want to stop desperately. It distresses me, it’s incessant, and often makes me self-conscious about my appearance which only exacerbates the hair pulling. Some days I don’t even recognize the girl looking back at me in the mirror; she is not who I want to be.
Mine mostly focuses on the eyebrows and eyelashes, and usually occurs without me even really realizing that I am doing it. I could be reading, sitting in class, or watching TV and I am completely unaware….until I realize and curse at myself for it. The worst is when I realize that I have been standing in the bathroom, the door shut, hyper focused on pulling for an hour.
For people with trichotillomania, hair pulling is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, frustration, or loneliness.
My mental health disorder is unpleasant, silent and lonely. Most people do not even know what trichotillomania looks like, or frankly what it is, which makes it difficult for me to talk about candidly or even to explain.
You see, the thing is that I am the only person I know who lives with this, and I have a hard time putting my anxiety into clear words because of it. It doesn’t even make sense to me! I only found out that I was trich after a series of long and exhausting nights spent with my parents, who sat across from me for hours wondering why I would do this to myself.
It is more than just a habit. It is a disorder and I was alone.
Why can’t I just stop? They would just keep saying that I was beautiful and smart hoping that this would persuade me to stop. I’d sit there red faced, my body hollow from crying so much, wanting it all to just stop, too. They’d beg me to tell them what was the matter. And the truth is, I really did have no idea what or why. I still don’t.
One day I decided that I didn’t want to upset my family anymore because of this. I wanted answers. So, I typed what I did to myself into google I immediately knew this was something serious. It is more than just a habit. It is a disorder and I was alone.
I can’t help it and I can’t “just stop.”
This realization just made me feel more helpless. Sure, there are a lot of people who love me and wanted to help me, but no one understood exactly what this was. They don’t understand what it feels like to be completely out of control. I can’t help it and I can’t “just stop.” It doesn’t work like that, regardless of how much I wish that it did.
What doesn’t help either is that trichotillomania is not a part of popular conversation surrounding mental health. You only know about it if you are directly affected by it, but at that point, shame has surely already kicked in. I used to pray that no one at school would notice, even though I knew that it was hard not too.
If you just take one look at me it becomes obvious that something is wrong. I felt weird, trapped, and very angry. I quickly learned how to color in my eyebrows to make them look full, or to appear to be “normal.” This, of course, was only sustainable for some time.
Eventually my parents brought me to a therapist, and I hated it at first. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I think I was either really nervous or in complete denial. But the therapy helped and we talked about things that I could do to ease my triggers. We tried so many things.
Getting it all out of me, and put somewhere else feels better, and I like that it gives my hands something to do.
One suggestion was that I put vaseline on my eyebrows to stop my ability to pull. Another was that I wear a hair tie around my wrist and pull that when I’m nervous. My parents even bought me a prayer bracelet and a worry stone, which is known to reduce anxiety and create some sense of calm.
This helped me the most, but now that I am older I rely on my writing a lot more. I fill journals with streams of my consciousness, all of my thoughts, my nerves, and my perfectionist tendencies until I feel like I rid myself of it. Getting it all out of me, and put somewhere else feels better, and I like that it gives my hands something to do. It keeps me busy so that I don’t dwell on it.
No, I am not cured and I never will be. I know that this is something I will live with and have to treat for the rest of my life, but I am okay with that. I am glad to be a work in progress.
Of course, it won’t be easy and will require a lot of discipline, attention and self-love to handle, but I am so grateful to finally be confident enough to open up about my trichotillomania. I don’t want to be quiet anymore.