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This is my personal & painfully honest story of how my Trichotillomania began. Most of my close friends/ family know little to nothing about my history of developing trich… but here it is. And yes, it is VERY long. (Sorry!)
It was the last day of grade 7, and for some odd reason the older kids in my elementary school had a strange tradition of having a massive “food fight” to celebrate the last day before summer. When I say food fight, I mean kids brought water balloons, shaving cream, eggs, toilet paper, ketchup and mustard, water guns etc. I always enjoyed participating in this event because we would run around care free and make a complete disaster of ourselves (the surrounding neighbourhood didn’t appreciate all the cleanup they usually were left with the following day). Anyways, I went home that afternoon straight to the shower to clean out the mess of shaving cream, honey and other condiments that had formed a tiny home on top of my head. I remember while my hair was drying I found I had missed a part underneath that still had honey (I know exactly who the girl was who brought this stupid liquid to the food fight)… I didn’t want to get back in the shower, so I tried breaking it up with my fingers. This was the first time I accidentally pulled a few strands of hair out, and my first experience seeing a “root”. That strange white tip on the hair with a black tip. I had NO clue what it was, but it was interesting and I wanted to see more of it. I tugged a little bit more at my hair even though it was painful. No luck with finding another mysterious tip on the end of a hair strand. Giving it no thought I continued on enjoying my night of freedom by staying up late and watching TV.
The next morning I woke up with that part of my hair still sticky… I suddenly remembered the new mysterious tip on a hair strand from the day before. That’s where it all started. I wasn’t “enjoying” pulling my hair out… it HURT! But I was so determined to “find” another hair root and see it again. Slowly but surely I got better at getting one hair strand at a time and tugging on it just the right way, which allowed that glorious root to become free. It was fascinating to look at! For some reason I began to bring the root to my lips… it had a cold tip and felt strange. But I liked this weird feeling, it was calming. Through the summer it became more often and frequent that I found myself looking for “roots”. I started to notice small patches of hair missing and panicked. What was I doing to myself?! There was no explanation for a 12 year old kid to pull out her hair. I had to tell my mom what I was doing; I was so embarrassed and felt ashamed of this weird habit I had developed. That’s when my mom took me to the doctor. He explained some condition I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone heard of. He set up some appointments for me to meet with a child psychiatrist. Apparently this hair pulling thing trichotillomania they called it, WAS heard of… just never by me or my family.
By the end of the summer I couldn’t hide the patches, they were visible to my family. I couldn’t possibly go into the final year of elementary school with bald spots! A compromise we came up with was wearing a hat/ bandana. My mom talked to my teachers and principal at the school before the first day I would return. I felt like crap heading to school that first day of school in grade 8… what would my “friends” and peers think… why was I wearing a hat IN class? Over the first couple of weeks I had to explain OVER and OVER that I had a medical condition that requires I need to wear a hat because it was affecting my hair. Some adults understood, most didn’t care. I eventually started becoming an easy target for some of the boys who were in their awkward “let’s try to impress people stage by being mean” phase. What the hell was going on!? These guys were my friends for 8 years, and suddenly I was like this strange creature that had a target sign on her head. A couple of them began to try and take my hat off and throw it around to each other until a teacher caught them, or one of my true friends got it back for me. I had to immediately cover my head with my arms and usually get something like a sweater or book to try and hide my head when this happened. I spent many days crying at lunch because of the teasing and at the time I didn’t know it… downright bullying.
So I was seeing this child psychiatrist and was being asked questions over and over and over. I had no idea what the hell I was doing there… what was he going to do to help solve my strange habit? Questions about my family life came up, my friends, my surroundings. I had never given much thought to my childhood and how it was… but up until that point I thought I had a pretty normal, GOOD childhood with all the love and attention I ever needed. Little did I know I would grow up a lot sooner that year learning things about myself and my family. Turns out my mom had anxiety. I didn’t even know what that word meant before I turned 12, turns out she also pulled a couple of hairs from her head once in a while. I would have never known this. I didn’t see patches or noticed her ever doing this strange ritual that had taken over my life in a matter of months. The psychiatrist eventually put me on anti-depressants, with my parents’ permission of course, because there was a 2% chance they would help me overcome this disorder. Worth a shot, or so we thought.
I continued pulling more and more through the fall of that year, causing more harm to my head and creating more bald spots. Perfect timing for graduation photos! What the hell was I going to do?!?! I begged my mom to let me get a wig to at least take the picture… Reluctantly she took me to a wig shop… who knew it would cost over $1000 for a basic, okay, nothing special looking wig? So we took it to an expensive hair dresser to add some “highlights” and get a good cut to make the wig look like it actually belonged to a 12 year old girl. I never intended to wear it at school because I thought it would be worse for the teasing…One day she has a hat, the next day she has longer hair that’s a different colour? Wasn’t going to happen. Somehow those boys had found out I was going to wear a wig for graduation pictures and started taunting me, how ugly I was, how weird I was, and how gross it is to have fake hair. I couldn’t take it anymore, my mom called a meeting with my teacher (who at the time was a mean, cruel man who didn’t care about some little girls self-esteem issues), and the principal. My principal was awesome and vowed to talk to the individual kids who were harassing me, and my teacher was told to keep an eye out in the classroom for any sort of trouble. Problem solved right? …. We will see.
This psychiatrist really started getting into deep conversations about my relationship with my family… what the hell was he after? Other than giving me minor tips such as wearing a hat, cutting my nails short, snapping a rubber band when I feel the urge to pull, I wasn’t getting anywhere with this guy. My parents were getting frustrated more and more because I was having breakdowns pretty much every day at home about how crappy I felt and looked. I had gained weight from not being able to participate in swimming and other activities I used to feel confident about, and I’m sure puberty didn’t help.
I was halfway through the school year, it was spring, and I was still pulling and wearing a hat. My anti-depressant dosage had been raised several times because there was zero improvement while I was taking them for the past couple of months. I had my close friends at school that stuck by me and didn’t change, but I had lost so many people who I considered friends. I was officially an outcast at school. I had always been on the more “popular” side of the school yard… sporty, confident, had no problem with having “boyfriends” from grades 1-7. But grade 8 and the lack of hair suddenly took all of that away from me. I continued to gain weight (partially due to the antidepressants) and lose confidence. Still continued seeing my psychiatrist on a regular basis, but found it very unhelpful. I felt like he was looking for something I couldn’t give him. An explanation as to what was wrong with me. I just didn’t know.
The first bomb dropped on my life that spring. My dosage on my antidepressant had been put so high I began to behave… strangely. Angry bursts, getting physically abusive towards my mom, constant crying and screaming was the sound coming from my house. One night I was having a fit and my nose began to bleed really badly. It wouldn’t stop but I was so angry at my mom and sister for some reason and was just so out of it. My sister drove me and my mom to the emergency room where I was given a sedative. Turns out I was being overdosed with the antidepressants. The dosage was considered dangerously high for a full grown adult, let alone a 12 year old kid. I let my mom deal with the doctors and the adult stuff. All I knew was that I was being asked by a new child psychiatrist if I would like to be given a chance to stay at a youth medical facility where I would be monitored and properly given medication suited for me, and get some therapy for the hair pulling. Of course I wanted help. So I said yes. And that’s when I was taken to a psychiatric children’s ward at a hospital. I didn’t know this at the time of course. All I knew it was a bit strange that I wasn’t allowed to leave the floor, not be allowed to wear shoe laces or keep pens in my room. I was there a whole week, a week away from home and the screaming, the bullies at school, and reality. I was feeling good, I hadn’t pulled my hair the entire time I was there. I had only been allowed to see my parents once because unfortunately this all occurred during the SARS outbreak. When I came home it was like a new environment, my sister was being unusually nice to me, everyone was tip toeing around me, and I liked it.
I returned to school after the weekend, and some kids were asking me questions about the hospital and they were generally concerned. My teacher on the other hand gave no special attention to the fact I had been in the hospital and actually yelled at me when I didn’t know a math answer because I missed the lessons from the previous week. “Just because you were away doesn’t give you a reason to be special”. He had no idea what the hell I was dealing with. Absolutely no clue. He actually told me on another occasion that I was probably pretending to get out of school. At this point I hated school. I started pulling again the minute I got home. I was 13 and hated myself, my life and everything I knew.
I graduated. I had my sister do my hair in a scarf the best way she could. It was decent, but I stood out like a sore thumb. At this point I was happy to get the hell away from all these kids who I thought were my friends, but had become these assholes (to put it nicely). I never did get a graduation picture, and on the class graduation picture that hangs in my elementary school hall, it says Missing: S.Robertson in the bottom left corner. It hurt a lot more than then it does now. I was free. Summer was here, and I would be going to an all girl’s high school that September with a few girl friends.
That summer I worked hard on my hair pulling. I created a countdown on MSN messenger that kept track of everyday I didn’t pull. I didn’t pull all summer. I still had patches that prohibited me from going swimming, wearing my hair down etc. But I got used to wearing a hat or bandana. I was finally free of antidepressants and I stopped seeing the therapist after the hospital incident. I was doing okay on my own. I did my own research online and found new tricks to help me stop, along with resources that showed me I wasn’t the only one out there with this strange disorder called Trichotillomania. Prior to the first day of school, my mom took me to meet the principal to explain my condition, and that I would be wearing a hat/bandana. She was an amazingly supportive woman and I appreciated her kindness. This was going to be a good place for me. I felt it. When I went into grade 9 I was asked often why I was allowed to wear a hat, I always replied with “I have a medical condition”. That was that. Nobody bothered me, only a few times teachers would stop and say take your hat off young lady, but I just showed them the principal’s note I carried around in my knapsack that gave me permission. I was still not pulling, and my hair was growing back. I felt myself around my new found friends in the school. It was a safe place.
After that first year of high school, I had been pull free for over a year. That summer going into grade 10 I got my hair cut. It was short, not the greatest look for me, but I had hair. I didn’t have to wear a hat for the first time in 2 years. It felt amazing. I promised myself I would appreciate my hair, I would do it every day and take the time to really appreciate the fact I could style it and go out in public feeling normal. The first day of grade 10 was AMAZING. Everyone couldn’t believe I wasn’t wearing a hat. It was a great year that continued for several pull-free years. I had been able to overcome Trichotillomania! I did have the occasional slip up where I would pull one or two hairs, but it didn’t affect me. Slowly but surely I was confident again, felt good about my looks, and had dyed my hair several different colours to figure out what my style was. I continued to understand that trichotillomania never really goes away, and that I would always have to watch out for the warning signs.
Being 23 now, I have had so much happen in between my first major pulling episode and now. I always had issues with pulling hairs from my eyebrows, but could always keep control so they wouldn’t “stand out”, I found other areas to pull hair from including my legs and arms. I got a boyfriend my final year in high school, who is now my fiancee (update 2014)! I went to university for Social Work- not a shock for most people who have had some type of personal mental health experience. I was doing great until things got out of hand with my dad. It was a long battle with mental health issues, alcoholism, old age, dementia and other issues. He deteriorated after he retired. My dad died in March of 2010. This was the beginning of my new downward spiral. I hated my dad for what he had done to my family, but he was gone and this hurt. I finished third year of university completely numb. I then fell into a severe deep depression that summer, and barely graduated fourth year. My severe depression was the worst experience of my entire life. It was so painful, and lasted so long. Over a year and half to be exact. I could not work, my relationships were put through hell and back, I wanted to die. I wish depression upon no one. It is a lonely place that I describe as being placed into a deep hole and not being able to climb out or see the light no matter how hard you try. With the help of therapy and finding the right medication, I overcame my depression last summer. I got a part time job, my relationships were getting back to normal and I finally came to terms on the loss of my dad. Even through all of this, I hadn’t pulled. But for some reason, the stress of trying to find a full time job, and a couple of rough patches with external factors, I started pulling again.
Here I am today. 2013, exactly 10 years after my first pulling episode. I have dealt with so much suffering and pain most people will never experience. I believe this is what caused me to pull again. This disorder is so mysterious, and I have had hid the fact I have Trichotillomania from people for many years. Not anymore. This round, I will educate people along the way. I will reduce the stigma attached with this disorder and other mental health issues.
If you read my story the full way through, I thank you.