Trichotillomania

This is going to be one of those “mental health” posts, so if you’re sick and tired of seeing these, by all means, skip this post. However, I’m compelled to write about this because somewhere out there, a eleven year old girl is forming a bald spot on the back of her head and doesn’t really understand why she likes to pull her hair so much.

I can’t explain to you why, but I can give you some sort of hope, and how to, at the very least, hide it better.

Let’s start this post with a picture, and we’ll go from there.

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“Ugh, who is that ugly boy?”

Well, first, that’s a girl. Secondly, that used to be me. I suffer from a disease, mental illness, whatever you want to call it, called Trichotillomania; also referred to as Trich. It didn’t start off as Trich, though. For me, it started off as Dermatillomania, a skin-picking disorder. It’s where you pick your skin till it bleeds, to the point of almost obsession, and when I was ten, I would pick my scalp to that point. At eleven, it was a short jump over to simply pulling hair, since my hands were always in my hair anyway and I was pulling hair as a direct result of picking my scalp.

The weird thing is, when you pull, it’s always around the same area. It was only a matter of time before I developed a bald spot. I could feel it on my fingertips, like a seam running down my head. There’d be small ones, but on the very back of my head, there was the large one, and from that I thrived and made it bigger, until someone pointed it out in class one day and I was sent to the guidance counselor because I couldn’t really explain how it got there. I was confused that people could see it, and that it had gotten so big. Now, I wish I had a picture of it to post and to remind myself, but if that picture exists, it’s kept hidden away from me.

I’ve heard stories where people come from the most loving of families, and yet they pull. Sometimes, the mother pulls so the daughter follows suite, either by example or genetics. I don’t know if anyone else in my family ever suffered from this, because it was never talked about. The school let me wear a bandanna to cover it up, my mother did her, “You’re just doing this to hurt me” spiel, and my father and his wife wouldn’t bring it up except to say, “Get your hands out of your hair.”

I had plenty of reasons to pull.

But, the bald spot did teach me a lesson: don’t pull from your head. So I stopped, and started on something that can be seen as much worse. I began targeting my eyebrows and eyelashes, as you can see in the picture. My logic was, I was made fun of for the bald spot. This is different. There will be no bald spot. Eleven year old logic is very flawed.

And instead of being supportive, my stepmother said I shaved my eyebrows and eyelashes off. My father still refused to acknowledge the problem. My mother sent me to psychiatrists and pumped me full of medicine.

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You can look at this picture and think that my family’s offhand approach worked, that I’m all better, but if you’ve read previous entries, I talked about trying to go to a therapist who deals in Trichotillomania. I am not past this, not yet. I’ve just gotten better at hiding it, and this entry is really to teach you how to pass yourself off as normal and how to deal with pulling a little bit better.

Lesson one: Know the circumstances of your pulling. I notice that I pull when I concentrate, like reading a book or sitting at a desk. When I’m in these situations, I’m more aware of the possibility that it could happen, so I’m more prepared to fight it.

Lesson two: Know why you pull. I notice that I’ll pull more when I’m wearing mascara, so I don’t wear mascara if I don’t think that I can handle it. It’s simple, but effective.

Lesson three: Keep your hands busy. In high school, I would fray my jacket sleeve, but that leaves a huge mess, right? It did help though. It was still pulling, just not from my head or face. Other things I’ve found helpful are hand grips. You’ll be surprised how effective this is. If hand grips are a little weird for you, try a staple remover. They’re like mini hand grips. Bracelets, rings, hair ties are all things you play with. If you keep your hands busy, you won’t unconciously pull or have your hands anywhere near your head. Don’t play with necklaces or earrings. That is too close of a proximity.

Lesson four, and the most important lesson of them all: When all else fails, pull. I still pull, at least once a week. But you can’t tell. I also have a habit of pulling when I’m trying to sleep. All of these tips help me out if the world, but when I’m alone in my room, I’m not using hand grips or hair ties. So I pull. But I don’t pull from my face or head. Leg hair, arm hair, sometimes even chin hair. Hair people won’t notice, hair that won’t be missed. This, above all else, is key.

I still have episodes where none of these tips work because I can no longer control myself, but I am working towards self control.

I’m wondering if maybe I should begin treating this like AA. “Hi, my name is Jessica and it’s been six seconds since I pulled….make that zero seconds.”

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