A Girl’s Guide to Trich

January of my senior year in high school, my mom insisted I let her look at my head. She gingerly combed over my scalp, pushing aside my hair and gasped when she ran her fingers over my large bald spot. That was the day I began the process of admitting to myself that I had a hair pulling disorder.

My grandma died during my senior year of high school, I had my first (and, a rocky first, at that) relationship, and I was recovering from recently quitting an artform that had been part of my life since I was five.

At night, when I felt especially stressed, or while I argued with my boyfriend, or as I completed homework, I would pull out strands of hair. In denial and attempting to rationalize the behavior when I was conscious of it, I would sometimes make excuses as I pulled: this is hair is darker than the others, or this one is shorter, or this one is weaker. Sometimes my excuse was that I deserved to have less hair, or to feel the pinch as I pulled out strands.

Almost two years later, I no longer have an obvious bald spot, but I still feel uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed writing that I had and have Trichotillomania.

Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh), is a chronic impulse control mental disorder. It’s characterized by an impulsive need to pull out your own hair; this can mean any hair on your body. For me, it meant the hair on my scalp.

The intensity of the urge to pull varies among people, as do people's motivations for pulling. Some people pull when bored or when they don’t realize they are doing it, and some pull as a reaction to certain emotions. Usually, the person will have some kind of emotional reaction, positive or negative to their pulling. People’s triggers to pull differ. For me, it’s stress or extreme negative emotions.

Trichotillomania (Trich) comes with deep shame about pulling and the consequences of pulling. It is especially hard in a culture that so highly prioritizes beauty and perfection, especially in its young, to be open about suffering and struggling to recover from Trich.

Teaching myself and practicing not pulling my hair has been a challenging two-year process. It took a year before my hair had grown back to cover the bald spot. Even after my mom’s intervention, the spot became so obvious that I couldn’t do a middle part or wear my hair down. I had to strategically arrange my hair. Sometimes people would comment, and I wanted to hide when they did. I felt like no one would sympathize with this strange sounding disease most people have not heard of.

Some people’s hair does not grow back, especially if they have been pulling for years. I was lucky to have not been pulling for a long time when I got help.

If we don’t start opening up about this disorder, people with Trich won’t have an adequate support community, especially young women. I have only talked openly once about this disorder to another women my age. I realized in that moment, awash in relief, that I had been doubting that anyone else had this disease.

It’s past time to start opening up more conversations about Trichotillomania, to start speaking openly about suffering from this disease, to start sharing how we recovered or are recovering, or are managing relapses. We as young women have the power to speak up despite our shame and stop suffering politely and quietly from a disease that can affect what society has in so many implicit ways deemed most important about us. We should be able to be open and honest about this disease without feeling less feminine, less beautiful, or less powerful.