My Journey with Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is defined as the “compulsive need to pull out one’s own hair.” It’s a hereditary disease triggered by stress. My mom has it, my sister has it, and I most definitely have it. Since I was in middle school, I have had issues with pulling my hair out during times of stress, and, as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten even worse.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that triggered my hair pulling, but I do have a few vague memories of family members and friends telling me that my eyebrows were really bushy and that I should do something about it or that my hair was so frizzy, I just had so much of it. Middle school is especially a hard time for girls, kids can be mean. I remember having friends who were told that they should shave their arms or their upper lips because they looked like guys. Middle school girls are very impressionable and being told those kinds of things sticks with you, even years later, and even in a society that is much more willing to reject traditional femininity. Trichotillomania does something to your brain. It ignores the signal that says that pulling your hair out hurts and tells you that it’s comforting instead. It makes you want to keep doing it. It makes you not want to stop even when you tell yourself that you need to stop, that you don’t want a bald spot, that you do want eyebrows that aren’t toothpick thin and uneven, that you don’t want scars all over your legs from digging out ingrown hairs, that you do want full and long eyelashes. It takes so much effort to stop. It takes no effort at all to keep pulling.

For years, I walked around oblivious to how I looked. But now when I look back at pictures of myself during high school, I am appalled and embarrassed by what I see. I don’t look like myself. I get angry sometimes and wonder why no one, not my family, not my friends, ever said anything to me. But, what were they supposed to say? And, even if they had said anything, would it really have changed anything? My mom used to hide my tweezers from me, and I would flip out on her, so how would I have reacted if she had explicitly told me just how bad my condition had gotten.

Since I’ve accepted that I have a problem and that I needed to take control of it, I’ve been a lot better about my pulling, but the incessant urge to pull has not stopped, and sometimes it’s hard to ignore. After months of filling in my eyebrows and trying my best not to pluck out every single hair that grows back in, I now feel confident about them and am not afraid to leave my dorm without abusing my tweezers or my eyebrow pencil. But, I still get super self-conscious about it. I still find myself staring in the mirror for ten minutes making sure that they look perfectly even. I still find myself paying extra close attention to other people’s eyebrows, noticing if theirs are also uneven, are also imperfect, wanting to fix them. I still notice people’s arm hair, try to see if they shave their arms or not, if they have as much hair as I do. I notice people’s eyelashes more, try to figure out if they’re wearing mascara or if their lashes are natural. I still find myself occasionally getting too obsessed with one hair I missed on my leg when shaving, tweezing out one too many hairs when cleaning up my eyebrows, getting lost in a hair-pulling session on my head when doing my homework because I just forget that I can’t, that I need to stop, that it’s not normal. I try so hard to stop, but it’s hard. I am incredibly proud of myself for the progress that I have made, but there is still so much farther to go. Two years ago, I could not admit to myself, let alone tell other people, what was up with me. But, lately, I’ve found it much easier to talk to the people who I trust about this; none of them have thought that I’m weird, they’ve just wanted to help me. They want me to want to help myself. And, I’ve found, in talking to my close friends about it, that many of them have the same problem, but they just never had a word for it, and it’s made both them and me feel much better knowing that we are not the only ones and that there are other people out there who know what we’re going through. In fact, according to a 2013 study, 1% of the US population will experience trichotillomania in their lifetime, and it’s especially prevalent among teenagers and young adults.

Help is out there. There are different therapies, different methods, and natural remedies to help decrease the urge to pull. But, when it comes down to it, trichotillomania is self-harming behavior, and the only person who can really help you is yourself. You have to actively make the choice to get better. It seems really hard, but it is possible if you stay strong and remember that you are beautiful no matter what.


Image Credit: Feature,1,2