My struggle with Trichtotillomania; you can get better too

by Ellie Kinsella, entertainment editor

Many of you likely don’t know that I suffered from Trichotillomania for most of high school. Trichotillomania—often shortened to Trich—is a disorder where a person obsessively and compulsively pulls out their hair. This hair could be hair on their head, eyelashes, eyebrows, really anywhere on their bodies. Despite falling under the well-known umbrella of obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), Trich isn’t talked about very often, and is kind of “taboo,” as many body-harming disorders and illnesses have become.

I started pulling in the fall of my freshman year, and if you asked me why I started to pull, I couldn’t tell you. The only explanation I could possibly give you now—after careful contemplation—is that I felt alone. I was in a completely new environment, and I was just figuring out how to handle the workload of high school. I was trying to figure out friendships, and I was in the midst of a sports team in which I felt isolated. I was a very anxious person back then, and throwing myself into a very social situation like a traveling sport without the mental capacity to talk to people was definitely not the smartest move.

My mom was the first person I told about my hair-pulling. Later, I told my dad. I don’t blame my parents for not being able to help me. They come from a different age—a different time of mental health acceptance and awareness—and I knew that the fact that their usually happy and unbothered daughter was struggling from a disorder that left clumps of hair around the house was uncomfortable. I don’t blame them for their bad but well-intentioned advice, and I don’t blame them for snapping whenever they saw my hands in my hair. It was uncharted territory for them, like it was for me. How could I expect them to have all the answers when I didn’t have all the answers, either?

I didn’t just decide one day to stop pulling. There were physical attempts to block the pulling over my sophomore year- like wearing a headband or hoodie or having my hair constantly tied up—but it never worked. I tried writing down every time I pulled and how much I pulled for accountability, so maybe I would look back and feel ashamed and stop, however, that didn’t work either.

But I didn’t deserve to feel ashamed. I deserved to feel proud that I was trying in the first place.

The issue of me not being able to stop didn’t stem from the fact that I wasn’t trying hard enough, because I was trying. The issue stemmed from the fact that I didn’t want to get better. I liked having an escape and the ability to relieve my stress in a way that I knew worked.

I won’t say that one realization—the realization that I couldn’t stop pulling because I wanted to keep pulling—is what allowed me to finally stop. It was also the fact that I was growing up and becoming myself: my anxiety was going away on its own, and I had a good grasp of my social life and schoolwork. The combination of me finding myself and my anxiety going away are both what contributed to my eventual recovery. And, really, I’m still in the process of recovering. I still pull out my hair on occasion, although it’s not nearly as frequent or as much as I used to. Although I haven’t stopped pulling altogether, I’m still proud of my progress. And if you have made any progress towards healing or helping yourself, even if it’s objectively “small” progress, you should be proud too.

I don’t tell you my story to make you feel bad for me, or to make you uncomfortable. I tell you this story so that you know you’re not alone. When I was struggling, I didn’t know anyone else who had Trich. If I can help one person recognize that they’re not alone within our school community, then I’ve done my job.

Trich is a consuming disorder, and its effects on self-image and self-esteem can be devastating. Recovery is a slow process in the first place, and watching the hair grow back even slower can be even more painful. But any progress is good progress. Be patient with yourself, and understand that the healing process will be slow. It’ll feel like you’re not getting anywhere, so celebrate the small successes. Have faith that you will get better, and reach out to friends or anyone you trust if/when you need help. Remember that growth for one person may look different than growth for another person, and what works for some may not work for others. If it matters to you at all, I’m proud of you, because I know you’ve come very far. You will continue to make progress over time, and one day you’ll be able to speak up and tell your story like me.

My phone number is 508-221-1748 if anyone ever wants/needs to reach out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: