Written during Trichotillomania Awareness Week, Oct 1-7.
tricho•til•lo•ma•nia. noun ˌtri-kə-ˌti-lə-ˈmā-nē-ə 1. a compulsive desire to pull out one’s hair.
I don’t remember the exact date or occasion, but one day in eighth grade I started pulling my own hair out. Perhaps I was feeling stressed or just dissatisfied with life in at the time, but my hand would just reach up to my head and tug at my hair. I figured that a few strands wouldn’t matter out of the hundreds of thousands of hairs on my head, so I kept jerking out hairs and letting them fall to the ground.
That was until I felt a smooth patch of skin along my hairline. Slightly worried, I ran to the mirror and looked at the reflection of my forehead. Sure enough, my widow’s peak had disappeared, leaving a bald patch right in the center of my forehead.
This freaked me out. What had I done to myself? Would my hair grow back? How long would it take? Would my hairstyle have to change in order to cover it up? Would I end up with mysterious bangs? Most importantly, what would people think of me with a (seemingly) huge bald spot? And would my hair grow back?
Thankfully, I realized that the patch would be less noticeable if I altered my hair part slightly, so for the next few months (and even today), I would carefully check my hair in the mirror before school or whenever I was going out to make sure nothing looked too suspicious. While people were talking to me, I examined them closely to see if they were looking at my eyes or above them, and if it was the latter, I would self-consciously pat down the hairs around the bald spot, desperately trying to cover it up.
Surprisingly, this debacle didn’t stop me from pulling. Instead, I simply stayed away from my hairline, hoping that any new bald patches would be covered by my ponytail.
And thus the current state of my hair. More than a year and half later, I’m still pulling, although slightly less intensely than before. Moving away from my hairline has caused me to start pulling along my hair part, creating an impression that I’m balding.
I’ve given up on trying to cover it up, since it’s just a hassle, and people can judge me if they want to.
Now to the big question: Why? Why do I perform this self-mutilation that elicits so many weird glances from people? Why can’t I just stop?
The most honest answer to that pulling feels nice and I don’t want to stop. It’s probably some chemical imbalance in my brain.There’s a pleasure in fingering my scalp until I find a perfect hair to remove, often a hair that has started to grow back but is thicker and different from the others, pulling it harder and harder and feeling the tension rise, the moment of pain as it comes out, and then…nothing, except the urge to pull another imperfect strand out. It’s a very calming process, and it’s not particularly life-threatening in any sense.
Up until a few weeks ago, I thought I was the only one with this problem,and that it was just me being abnormal. Then I searched up “hair pulling” on Google one night , and after a bit of research, I learned that there was an actual classified NAME for this disorder: trichotillomania, or trich for short, and it affects between .6 and 4% of the population, much higher than I had expected. Applied to my school, that means roughly 21 to 140 people are in the same building as me 5 days a week with trich. Guess who I look for in the halls now?
There’s a plethora of videos on YouTube about trichotillomania, and it’s surprising how many people are willing to share their stories. Most of these people had it a lot worse than me, having pulled out all their hair and having to wear a wig in public, and hearing their stories is extremely comforting, whether they’ve recovered or not.
People have written books on trich as well, and I decided to check out The Perfect Pull by Lindsay Woolman, which happened to be published on my birthday last year. Aside from satisfying my need for some YA romance with unrealistic plots, The Perfect Pull provided a scarily relateable depiction of trich down to the sensation of pulling a single hair out, It’s not a well known book, but definitely the best YA novel I’ve read recently.
Social humiliation is supposed to be the most difficult aspect of dealing with trich, and while I’m not exactly sure what everyone thinks, I’ve had a fair number of comments about my “balding” or “bangs” that appeared as my hair was growing back from my original bald spot. A friend braided my hair once and kept commenting on how thin the resulting braid was, since my normal ponytail is a disastrous pouf. And just yesterday, my math teacher offhandedly asked, “Now, how do we graph rational inequalities without pulling your hair out?”
None of these remarks were made with bad intentions, but this just shows how little people know about trichotillomania. Even I wasn’t aware of it until I searched it up, yet I feel like it’s more prominent than it seems.
So where is my trich going from here? I really don’t know. As my ponytail keeps thinning at an alarming rate, as hair continues to pile around my chair, as people keep staring at the top of my head, as I’m running my hand through my hair trying to find an imperfect hair, I’m not even sure what to think of trichotillomania. I don’t particularly hate myself for it, but sometimes, I just stare at the backs of peoples’ heads and want to tell them that they’re taking their hair for granted. Even if I stop pulling today, it’s going to take a few years before my hair fully grows back, assuming that it does. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.