Trichotillomania – “a body-focused repetitive behavior classified as an impulse control disorder (along the lines of pyromania, kleptomania, and pathologic gambling) which involves pulling out one’s hair. Hair pulling may occur in any region of the body in which hair grows but the most common sites are the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelids.” (Mental Health America)
Years before I was ever diagnosed with anxiety, I used to pull my hair out. I don’t remember the exact age, but I was either in grade 5 or 6. My family and I were living in a two-bedroom apartment at the time. On the weekends when my brother went to my grandmother’s to stay, I would sleep in his room and stay up late because his room had a TV.
I don’t know why I started doing it. There was just one night where I was watching TV, and I would be slowly pulling out strands of my hair one by one. I would get a little feeling of pleasure when I saw a piece of follicle come out with the root.
None of my family knew. One day my brother came in to my room with a big ball of hair in his hand, asking me if I had brushed my hair in his room. I said yes; too embarrassed to tell the real reason. I was also afraid he would have told my mom.
One day while watching TV, I saw an episode of My Strange Addiction on TLC. One of the people interviewed was a woman who pulled out her hair, and they called it trichotillomania. I had no idea it was a thing until that exact moment. Things became a little more clear for me, and I really didn’t want to become bald like the woman had on TV. But I would still sometimes do it without even realizing.
One day while at our hairdresser’s, she noticed a couple of bald patches on my head where new hairs were growing in. She pointed them out to my mom. She freaked out and wondered if it was the shampoo I was using or our laundry detergent or maybe if she should take me to the doctor.
I was really embarrassed, but I told both my mom and the hairdresser that I had these patches because I was pulling out my own hair. The hairdresser was quick to warn me that it could lead to damaged hair and that maybe some of my hair might never grow back. My mom was horrified.
For about a year after that, she would watch me closely to see if I would ever reach up to play with my hair. If I did, she would slap my hand away and warn me not to pull any. She would often check to see if I had anymore bald patches.
The trichotillomania would never fully go away. I would go a month or more without bothering my hair, then one day I would pull out 50-100 strands in one sitting.
I ended up doing it quite often in high school, to the point that sometimes I had to brush my hair a certain way so others wouldn’t notice the patches. I was ashamed, and didn’t know how to stop myself. Thankfully after high school it really did cool down. I would only pull once in a long while, and only maybe 10 strands at most. To this day my mom still notices when I do it.
Once in a blue moon I’ll still catch myself doing it, and it’ll only be about three strands. I’ve learned to do other things to distract myself when I feel like pulling my hair. I feel like as long as I still have tension and stressful moments, there will always be moments when I will want to pull my hair.
Oddly enough, when I did some research on trichotillomania, it’s really common in kids between the ages of 9-13; which is the age I started. Some supposed causes are body image, social development, and stress. The hair pulling is a way to ease tension, albeit not a healthy one.
Some people do different things with their hair once they pull it out. Some play with it between their fingers, some cut it up, and some even chew/eat it. I didn’t do any of those. I would just check if the strand had any follicle on it, then throw it out.
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On a side note, it will probably be better if I change the name of my website, as I seem to be far from a journalist since graduating from university. Maybe I should change it to The Anxious and Curious Blogger or something like that.