I was around 8 years old when I noticed an eyelash in my eye and got very upset and paranoid about getting others. I started pulling out the ones that would appear to stand out from the rest in case they were about to fall out. Then pulling my eyelashes became a normal thing for me. The feeling was actually weirdly satisfying. It’s funny to think, that one eyelash threw the doors wide open to a life changing disorder.
Hair pulling became a powerful method of stress relief for me and when I literally ran out of eyelashes to pull, I moved onto other areas of my body. Some areas were too sore to pull from so I would run my fingers round until I got a ‘good spot’. This included knee hairs, forearm hairs and even pubic hairs. I could sit there for hours.
I got my first set of straighteners when I was 11. My hair was horribly thick and frizzy so when I straightened it, I was very pleased with it. Well, apart from the odd few that remained. I started playing with the odd frizzy hairs and enjoyed the ‘zig zaggy’ texture on my fingers. When I was done with that hair, it just didn’t feel right to leave it there. I pulled it out. It was painless, actually I got the same relief I did from pulling other hairs. Without thinking, I repeated the same playing and pulling action with all the other ‘odd hairs’. This happened every time I straightened my hair, as there was always a few stray frizzy ones left.
My parting started widening and it didn’t actually bother me until my mum pointed it out. She was furious and warned me too. But it was too late. Hair pulling had already become a compulsion and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control my hands and within the next few months, my parting had gone and what I was left with was a bald shape on top of my head. By now I knew I had to think of a way to hide my problem from the public.
“You’ll make yourself bald! You won’t be able to do anything with your hair! JUST STOP ALREADY!” my mum would yell. She didn’t understand it but to be honest neither did I. The threats of me going bald and not being ‘normal’ didn’t affect me like it should. No matter how much I wanted to stop and how much I wanted all my hair back, the pulling was as bad as always.
I came up with a technique for hiding my bald patches – black eyeliner to colour it in and a ridiculous comb over. It worked pretty well except when it was windy. My friend left her hair band in my room one night and I tried it on. It seemed perfect .
I still did the eyeliner and comb over method but the hairband added that extra protection whenever I went out. This was my way of hiding it for years.
I never pulled in public…it was a private thing I’d do in the comfort of my own room. I didn’t know anyone else who did this and I wasn’t very internet active so hadn’t read anything either. For all I knew, I was the only person in the world who did this. Half of me was ashamed and the other half thought, ‘As long as I keep this a secret, it’s fine’.
My mum was losing her mind. She took me to the doctors. I wasn’t to mask my bald spots so I wore a cap and when I was in the room with the doctor, my mum snapped “I am at my wits end…take your hat off!”
The doctor looked surprised. He had never seen or heard anything like this.
Great, so I am a freak aren’t I?
He found my behaviour very strange so referred me to a psychologist to give me a chance to tell someone how I was feeling.
I started getting weekly appointments with someone else who hadn’t heard of hair pulling. Instead, our conversations were just about my week and my constant battles with anxiety. She was like my weekly diary that I could just spill my feelings out to, so the appointments weren’t totally pointless. With my mum getting easily angry, I felt like I had no one else to talk to.
My doctor referred me to a dermatologist, to have a look at the damage I was causing to my scalp. He was very understanding, but sadly didn’t know about my problem either. I remember him saying “You’re very pretty, you don’t need to be doing this to yourself”.
As sweet and heartfelt as it sounded…a piece of advice like that wasn’t the answer. My dermatology appointments followed every 6 months from that day.
Back at school, it was a rainy day and I didn’t have an umbrella or hood. So I had to let my hair get soaked. This made my bald spots stand out and that was my worst day at school.
“Look! She’s going bald!”
“Do you have cancer?”
“You look horrible!”
I didn’t reply to anyone. I didn’t know what to say to them.
After the same routine for the next few years, I was seeing a different dermatologist and she brought up the word ‘Trichotillomania’. A name? You mean this is actually a thing?!
I went straight online to look it up and low and behold, every story I read made complete sense to me.
When I was confident enough I posted something with the word ‘Trichotillomania’ to see if anyone reacted. Someone I used to talk to in high school sent me a message saying she has it too! She moved away years ago so meeting up is pretty near impossible.
While I was happy that my problem wasn’t just me going insane, my trichotillomania hadn’t improved at all. My dermatologist suggested a hair piece to cover the top of my head and blend in with the hair I did have. This scared me as I hadn’t ever considered a wig.
An appointment was made with a hair salon nearby that specialises in wigs, extensions and hair pieces. They mentioned that they have had a few Trichotillomania sufferers in but it was rare compared to reasons why others needed wigs. But they were very friendly and understanding. After the first meeting, they were going to get my ideal hair piece sorted out for me.
When I next returned, it was ready. The woman placed it on my head and I couldn’t believe how natural it looked! Although it didn’t feel very natural. Before leaving I was given instructions on how to care for it and was given a number if I had any problems.
Leaving the salon, I was very self-conscious, yet felt happily different. I looked like I had all my hair! For the first time 10 years!
It took me around 9 years to discover my hair pulling is actually a medical problem. I’m sad it has little awareness but that’s hard when it’s so hard to explain. My hair pulling still happens, but this time I can accept myself more. I would like to raise awareness not only to teach people, but to help people who also have this problem and don’t know it to come forward and seek help. I’m part of the Trichotillomania Facebook group, which has over 3000. It feels good to be able to express how I’m feeling and not be judged. I feel a lot lighter now not having to bottle up my emotions. With support of my fellow ‘Trichsters’, I have built confidence to tell my friends about this and they have been surprisingly supportive, even if they don’t understand it as much. A reassuring hug speaks a thousand words more than “Why can’t you just stop?”
Kristy is a 22 year-old from Scotland who has had trichotillomania for about 12 years. She’s really excited about sharing her blog and hopes it sheds some light and lets others know they are not alone with this. Typing her story has also helped get a lot of weight off her shoulders for the first time. Her tumblr blog can be found here: www.kizzytrichster.tumblr.com/