I was in the fifth grade when I first started pulling out my hair. I remember the first time it started. It was an hour before my tenth birthday part began and I was alone in my room looking in the mirror. I noticed a stray eyelash and, having a history of OCD, I needed everything to be “perfect” and “even.” My natural response was to remove the problem. The problem here was a stray eyelash but it seemed that once it was gone, it only opened the door to more problems. The hairs kept getting pulled and things kept getting more and more uneven. The next thing I knew, most of my eyelashes on my upper lids were gone and I was in a state of panic. It was a clearly visible problem on my face and all of my friends were on their way over. I was panicking. I decided the best distraction was to wear my reading glasses all day and try and have fun at the party.
Luckily, the party was fun and no one noticed, but this was only the beginning of a struggle I would deal with for the rest of my life. The hair pulling had spread to my eyebrows as well. This was even more visible to people I met everyday and for years I just avoided talking about it. I have always been a jokester so I would mask my insecurities with humor and by making fun of myself. That is, I made fun of myself in any way except for my disorder (that I came to learn is called trichotillomania). My sixth grade teacher had confronted my mother about it, concerned, at a parent teacher conference. She advised my mom to take me to a therapist who specialized in trichotillomania. Every week I went with my mom to my session- he would sit me down, ask me endless questions about when I noticed it happening, why I would do it, and then give me tips on how to stop it or distract myself the next time I was having an “episode.” This was all so technical and almost seemed too overwhelming for me. I was just a regular kid. I had a great childhood, loving parents, awesome friends. Everyone supported me. I never had any emotional stress except for my hair pulling and when people asked me about it. My therapist was convinced there was some deeper reason but trichotillomania for me was just a bad habit that was hard to kick. It was now a new outlet for my OCD. It was as natural as breathing. The worst part is that as hair is growing back, it is uneven and sometimes itchy. I kept pulling just to avoid discomfort and frustration. Unfortunately, that was counterproductive and it led to emotional discomfort and frustration.
Now, at 22 years old, I have lived with trichotillomania for about eleven years and still fight the urge all the time. I have overcome it a few times now and find that when I am active and stress-free, I am totally fine. However, as a premed college student, I have my moments of overwhelming stress where I lose all self-control. I am a very open person but, to this day, I have a tough time talking about my disorder.
If we can’t understand what someone else is going through, we now have the opportunity to learn and talk without judgment. It is a healing process for all. I know this will be something I will fight for the rest of my life but it’s better to get talking and to embrace it than to let it silently affect me. I just hope that I can help reach out to other people with similar disorders or insecurities so that we can all help one another to accept Who We Be!