September is Trichotillomania Awareness Month. With today being September 1st, there’s no better time to write this.
When people bring up mental health and mental illness, more often than not we think of the major ones: depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.
Most people will never experience or develop trichotillomania. According to Mental Health America, only 1 to 2% of people will suffer from it.
bfrb.org defines trichotillomania (trich or TTM) as a hair pulling disorder that is characterized by the repetitive pulling out of ones hair. Trichotillomania is one of a group of behaviors known as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) self grooming behaviors in which individuals pull, pick, scrape or bite their hair, skin, or nails, resulting in damage to the body.
For me, trich has manifested as hair pulling from my scalp.
My struggle with trichotillomania became apparent to me when I was 13 years old. I would always play with my hair, but I never thought much of it. As time progressed, it noticeably got worse.
I would feel a piece of hair that was coarse — a hair that didn’t belong. It felt satisfying to pull it out, and I would examined it in my hand afterwards, enthralled at the weird texture of it.
Slowly I would begin to notice more “weird” pieces of hair and continue to pull them out. When I got into high school my level of stress had increased and I found myself reaching up to my head, pulling out as much hair as I could to ease the anxiety.
I couldn’t stop.
I still can’t stop.
Since my hair is damaged from heat, I’ll use two hands to just pull off split ends to prevent myself from removing the entire piece of hair from the scalp.
Sometimes I’ll be mindlessly pulling while working, watching tv, or driving which leads me to fully pulling my hair.
When I’m bored, I pull.
When I’m stressed, I pull.
When I’m anxious, I pull.
When I’m working, I pull.
Trichotillomania has taught me so many things. I’ve learned that my worth is not based on superficial evaluations. My worth is in what I can offer.
Trichotillomania has taught me that it’s okay to be seen, to let myself and others see me in my most genuine form.
Trichotillomania taught me that I am strong, sensitive, empathetic, creative, kind, and above all flawed — which is OKAY!
I used to feel very embarrassed and somewhat ashamed talking about trich. No one knew what it was, and even after giving an explanation, many of them were still confused. I’d always get asked why I do it to myself. It’s hard to give an answer when you don’t know why yourself.
Trichotillomania is a complex and confusing disorder. Anyone that suffers from it can tell you they can’t even wrap their heads around it themselves. Asking things such as, ‘why don’t you just stop?’ or ‘why would you do that to yourself?’ is not only frustrating, but it’s belittling as well. Trust me, if I could ‘just stop,’ I would. No one wants to do this to themselves, but we can’t help it.
Be supportive, be understanding, and be kind. All we can do is stay positive and keep pushing.