Pulling My Hair Out: Life with Trichotillomania
My mother keeps a large childhood p0rtrait of me hanging in her home. Framed in dark wood, I’m wearing a cutesy red dress with blue dots, white tights, and black patent leather shoes. I’m sitting with slender legs in front of me–giving the audience my best 5-year-old cheerleader pose. My brown hair looks swept to the side–but with a closer look, you realize the horror that was my half-decade of cheveux: on one side, my hair has grown to my shoulders, and on the other, it’s thin and falls just above my ears.
Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-ne-uh), or trich, “is an irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body.”
In my childhood portrait, perhaps I sensed my parents’ forthcoming divorce, or maybe I was just born an anxious, tormented soul. No matter the cause, I have twirled my hair and pulled it out from my scalp since my earliest memory. I’ve tried every remedy, from the stylish to the psychoanalytic: short hair, permed hair, highlighted hair, awareness training, hypnosis, and rubber bands worn as bracelets to pop when I reach for my head.
It’s difficult to describe how good it feels to twist, pop, and pull your hair out. Imagine that the source of all of your anxiety resides in the roots of your locks, and when you tug on them, you release stress. About 1 to 3 percent of the US population suffers from trich, which is classfied as an impulse control disorder. Trich is more common among girls/women than boys/men, and can begin in early childhood. There is no fast and easy cure for trich, and as many Web sites and can attest, it is not something you can just “stop doing.” People who suffer from trich can have extremely complex disorders. I consider mine very mild in comparison with those I’ve read about. I’ve never taken medication for my condition, but those who have describe disappointing results.
I’m fortunate that my trich is not very noticeable and that my biggest struggle with it is my pride. I do simple things to cope: I avoid hair stylists (except for my very understanding cousin, Erin), I laugh about it, I accept it, and I try to improve it. Most of all, I’m very sensitive to other people’s suffering from trich, especially those whose struggles are so crippling that they avoid public situations, wear wigs, and have difficulty functioning.
Life, after all, is a hair-pulling mess. At each stage of our humanity, we deal with anxieties. Our journeys are difficult–but not impossible. I’ve found that what helps most is being gentle with ourselves and others. Admitting our struggles is half the battle (just say NO to perfectionism!).
So there you have it. My name is J. Dana Trent and I suffer from trichotillomania.
Do you (or does someone you know) suffer from trichotillomania? Share your story in the comments section below.
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Editor’s Note: This a portrait of me on my wedding day, a far cry from the lopsided hairdo of my 5-year-old self. For the sake of full transparency, I will confess to wearing fake hair in my bun! Thanks for the great do, Erin.