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It is so much more than the act of hair pulling

When people learn about trichotillomania, the hair-pulling disorder, they often find themselves blurting out, "Just stop pulling out your hair" like no one had ever thought of that before. Like it would ever be that easy. People are comfortable making that jump because they have no idea what trichotillomania really is. They hear "hair-pulling disorder" and all of a sudden a lightbulb goes off. "The problem is the hair!" and yes, it can be but it's more complicated than that.


Of course, trichotillomania involves hair but it is much more than the act of hair pulling. It is self-soothing. There are feelings that happen before and after the hair is removed that can be debilitating. Some emotions that come (too easily) to mind are: guilt, shame, self-loathing, and insecurity. These feelings plague us and 1. Cause us to pull more and 2. Negatively impact our lives because we are scared to build close relationships, attend certain or all events, and be ourselves because we are "weird" or "unworthy" or plainly, "bad."


Guilt.


I viewed my trichotillomania as something I could control and because of that I lived in guilt. Why wouldn't I? I was a little kid who had adults telling me that I had to stop this behavior but I couldn't. Every hair/eyebrow/eyelash I pulled reminded me that I was doing something wrong. I was hurting myself because I was creating bald spots but I was also hurting my parents and the adults around me because I was letting them down over and over again.


A strategy that kept me living in guilt was tracking my pulling. As wonderful as it sounded when the therapist suggested it to my parents and I, the reality was anything but. I dreaded having to fill out each day knowing that I pulled during every single one.

Shame.


Living in guilt quickly led me to a new emotion: shame. Because I wasn't able to stop, I blamed myself. Never once did it cross my mind to question the strategies the various therapists offered. Never once did it cross my mind to blame the disorder. I couldn't stop pulling out my hair and that made me a bad person. You couldn't convince me otherwise.


I told myself that I was sick in the head. Twisted. Weird. Bad. Undeserving of anything good. I kept my trichotillomania a secret from those closest to me because I knew that if they knew they wouldn't want to be in my life anymore.


Anytime someone pointed out my missing hair/eyebrows/eyelashes I became angry with myself. I remember looking in the mirror and saying the nastiest things I could. I didn't think that the person pointing it out was rude (they often were), I was angry that I let my trichotillomania get so bad that people noticed.


Self-loathing.


Years went by and I was still pulling. I lost all hope for a cure. I would try different management strategies but the second they didn't work I would stop using them. I knew they wouldn't cure me. I couldn't be cured. How could someone so worthless be cured?


I existed in the world in a cloud of self-loathing. It impacted everything. Why would I want to raise my hand and answer a question in class when I was stupid? Why would anyone have a crush on me when I was ugly? Why would I want to hangout with new people when I barely felt comfortable around the people I knew?


Insecurity.


I only believed that I could be beautiful if all of my hair/eyebrows/eyelashes were grown back—an impossible task. For that reason, I felt ugly and was extremely insecure. It took multiple steps for me to feel comfortable enough to leave the house. I felt like I could not exist as myself and in order for me to be tolerated by those around me I had to hide my trichotillomania. This is what I had to add to my morning routine at 17 years old:


  • straighten my regrowth because if I didn't it would stick out

  • if my regrowth wasn't cooperating I would use hairspray or mousse to try and lay it flat

  • manipulate my hair to cover my bald spots by using bobby pins, clips, and/or headbands

  • black liquid eyeliner on both top and bottom eyelids

  • pencil in my eyebrows

It might not sound like much but if I was unable to complete any of these tasks before leaving for school I would cry and have a knot in my stomach the entire day.


So tell me again how I should "just stop" pulling out my hair.



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