www.whyville.net Feb 15, 2016 Weekly Issue

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I Have Trichotillomania

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You're probably wondering, what exactly is trichotillomania? Trichotillomania, or trich for short, is a disorder that is characterized by pulling out one's hair in excessive amounts.

Trichotillomania when seen by itself is a regarded as an impulsive control disorder. In ways, it mimics an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but only superficially. The difference lies in the driving force behind the pulling. A compulsion is a repetitive unwanted behavior brought on by some obsessive idealization, such as the obsession with washing your hands because you're afraid of germs. Compulsive driven actions help reduce anxiety brought on by obsessive thoughts, whereas impulse driven actions produce pleasure or comfort. However, trich can also be compulsively driven. Thinking that a certain hair is "bad" and "needs to be pulled" would be an example of trich being compulsive as opposed to impulsive.

I have had anxiety my entire life, for as long as I can remember I have just been a naturally very nervous person. I sucked my thumb until I was about 7 or 8, and I chewed my fingernails until I was 13, I had OCD related "symptoms" in elementary school where I would wash my hands to the point where they would crack and bleed due to my abnormal fixation with germs. But the most humiliating of them all was the trichotillomania.

I started pulling out my hair when I was in 4th grade, at the time I was around 8 or 9. I pulled out my hair to the point where I had a bald spot the size of a baseball on the top of my head, and golf ball sized bald spots on the bottom of my head. So obviously wearing my hair up to hide my hair loss wasn't a viable option at the time. I also had a rare "sub" condition (for lack of a better word) called trichophagia, where I would eat my hair after pulling it out. That of course didn?t help because on top of the fact that I was missing 40% of my hair, I had to worry about developing a trichobezoar. (A hairball that forms in your stomach or gastrointestinal tract).

I would always get questions like, "Do you have cancer?" "Why do you mess with your hair so much?" "Do you have a disease?" "Are you a boy?"

These questions were extremely difficult for me to answer because I honestly didn't even understand it myself, I was just a little kid. My disorder scared me. I didn't even find out what trichotillomania was until I was about 13 or 14 and curiously looked up my symptoms on Google. With any impulse control disorder there are misconceptions associated with it. People think that you can just stop and it isn't that easy. You don't know or realize that you''e pulling your hair out. It just happens! It was especially difficult trying to explain to my peers about my very apparent hair loss, So for the duration of time where my hair loss was very noticeable, I would make up excuses like, "I fell off my bike." or, "My sister took a razor to my head." Because that was a lot easier than trying to explain that I actually pull out my hair, and why I pull it out.

People were also a lot less empathetic after learning that my disorder wasn't the result of some sort of life-threatening illness. Of course with cancer, you have the chance of possibly losing your life. But because trich is viewed as something that is controllable and non-life threatening there isn't much sympathy for people who suffer from such an ailment. Of course I'm not saying that trich is nearly as extreme as cancer because it certainly isn't, but there isn't much understanding for people who have to suffer every day because of something that is out of their control. The weird looks and stares, the rude questions, and the ostracization from peers was extremely hard to handle. Especially when you suffer from anxiety and depression. I remember points in my life where I wish that I did have a debilitating illness, just so people were a little more understanding of me.

I am 19 now, and I have almost completely outgrown my disorder and my hair is almost to my bellybutton. I still pull sometimes in extremely stressful circumstances but for the most part I am able to control myself. It has taken me a lot of self evaluating and hard work to get to the point where I am now, and I am proud of myself. I wouldn't have been able to do it without my mom, who always nagged me whenever I messed with my hair and instilled the ability for me to recognize whenever I was pulling so I could stop. Unfortunately though, some people aren't as lucky as me and don't have the support system that I did. I wrote this in hopes to bring awareness to people who suffer from trichotillomania and the common misconceptions associated with this disorder.

If you ever see someone on the street, or in your class, or at work who is suffering from obvious hair loss, don't immediately jump to conclusions about that person because chances are, they're very ashamed of the fact that they're missing so much hair. Take the time to get to know someone before making unnecessary assumptions or asking rude questions that relate to their baldness. It means the world to trich suffers when you don't immediately bring up their disorder with them when you don't really even know what type of person they are.



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