It Happened to Me: I Have Trichotillomania

"Trichotillomania, which is classified as an impulse control disorder by DSM-IV, is the compulsive urge to pull out one's own hair leading to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment. It is often chronic and difficult to treat."

Dec 6, 2011 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Take it away, Wikipedia:

"Trichotillomania, which is classified as an impulse control disorder by DSM-IV, is the compulsive urge to pull out one's own hair leading to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment. It is often chronic and difficult to treat.[1]

Trichotillomania may be present in infants, but the peak age of onset is 9 to 13. It may be triggered by depression or stress. Due to social implications the disorder is often unreported and it is difficult to accurately predict its prevalence; the lifetime prevalence is estimated to be between 0.6% (overall) and may be as high as 1.5% (in males) to 3.4% (in females).

The name, coined by French dermatologist François Henri Hallopeau, derives from the Greek: trich- (hair), till(en) (to pull), and mania ("an abnormal love for a specific object, place, or action").[2]"

Cheers, my favorite Internet bestie. Let’s hookup later to find out what John Wesley “Mitch ‘Dawson’s Dead Dad’ Leery” Shipp has been up to lately, k?

ANYway, my seedy love affair with ripping out strands of my hair began at the ripe old age of 12. Actually, my seedy love affair with pulling apart split ends by the hundreds began at 12, imparted and glorified by Cool New Girl Tamera in 7th grade Language Arts class.

We sat at the same table round, and I was absolutely enthralled by her long, beachy blonde hair, which she would scour for split ends for the entirety of our 52-minute periods. Once she found a fragmented culprit, she would methodically separate the strand from the herd and then slowly and seductively pull the damaged pieces away from each other -- do any of you have a raging follicle-boner yet?

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Picture a burlesque performer shimmying a stocking teasingly away from their garter belt, or ever-so-enticingly shrugging their feathered bra off of their boobies to the beat of a drum bass and a high hat. GULP. So, yeah, that’s how I felt about the pulling-apart-of-a-split-end thing.

Cut to around 5 years later: stress levels had risen in my life (see: It Happened to Me: I Have An Eating Disorder [Of COURSE I did. Of course.]; It Happened to Me: I Have OCD, Now With More Anxiety AND Riboflavin!; It Happened to Me: My Mother Abandoned Me, and Also, She SUCKS), and rather than acquiring a debilitating drug addiction or a pony, I decided, OF COURSE! to start pulling out my hair. Like, yeah, that sounds like exactly something someone with an already piss-poor, gutter-residing self-image should do: Make herself even MORE hideous! Genius, right? 

Sidebar: I just stopped typing to yank a strand out of my noggin. See, I also resort to this “coping mechanism” when: put on my Thinkin’ Cap; watching TV; sitting in mind-numbingly tedious meetings at work; driving; talking on the phone; petting a cat; having sex (no, I don’t). (Similar to this writer, when my mind if focused on something else, the pulling starts.)

It’s how I do, if you will (you won’t). It’s My Thing.

I wasn’t really “diagnosed” with trich (what all the cool, partially-bald kids are calling it) until I started therapy at the age of 21. Previous to that, I just thought I was some freak show (more so) that couldn’t. Stop. PULLING. HER. HAIR. O-U-T.

Someone with a creepy nervous tic, like judging everyone around you (IHTM: I Judge), or gnawing on your toenails. Unluckily for me, it’s a difficult habit to hide; I’ve always attempted to be very subtle about it, all “Oh, I’m just running my fingers through my hair, Pantene Pro-V-style, overandoverandoverandover, and OOPS! all of this hair just keeps coming out! Don’t mind my threadbare scalp!”

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But inevitably, someone takes notice, and on more than one occasion some tactless yokel will bust out with the “ARE YOU LIKE, PULLING OUT YOUR HAAAAAAAIR?” Like, thanks EVER so much, YOU BOOR. Maybe you’d also like to announce my overactive sweat glands which I try to conceal by shoving folded-up paper towels into my shirts (IHTM: I Have Overactive Sweat Glands and Shove Folded-Up Paper Towels Into My Shirts).

Luckily for me, my issue is miniscule in comparison to others (see Exhibit A below). And I have thickish hair so I can generally procure a comb-over if I thin one area out a little too much (typically, near the base of my skull, behind my right ear -- delicious).

I’ve never had to sport wigs or don floppy hats -- I just use my devastating dependence on hair products (putty, serum, volumizing powder, wax, hairspray, the tears of orphan children) as a crutch; I can shellac my ‘do into any number of Semi-Bald Patch awnings. I FOR REAL need to teach a class on it at the local community college; someone get on that.

My Personal Hair Theory goes a lil’ sumpin’-sumpin’ like this: the higher the poofiness all around, the better -- think, Rose Nylund; the bigger the hair, the better the coverage for any thinning areas. The first step: tease, tease, TEASE…actually, the first step is to maybe slap some serum on there (I use Bio Silk when I can afford it), ‘cause you’re going to be putting your hair through a LA-HOT and you don’t want Hay Head.

Then: Beyond the Zone Demented Styling Goo & Beyond the Zone Deranged Molding Wax (don’t make a trichotillomaniac feel self-conscious or anything with your descriptive words there); Not Your Mother’s Hair Volumizing Powder (which has become MY LOVER since a friend at work told me about it; FIVE BUCKS at Wal-Mart and it seriously, seriously works at puffin’ it up); Aqua Net Extra Super Hold hairspray. Basically, you want to look like you fell out of a White Snake video.

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My boyfriend is also very supportive…and by “my boyfriend is also very supportive” I mean that I’ve never in 6 years told him that my “quirky quirk” is an actual thing, like, it has a name and everything. I’ve never told anyone, actually (other than my dad, and he so doesn’t count; he’s like, my walking, talking, living diary -- love you, Dad!).

This is my first declaration to the world (besides several therapists and see above re: Dad) that It Happened to Me: I Have Trichotillomania. Don’t judge me! For me, stopping the insanity of pulling my own hair out is a lot like the 17 times I’ve attempted to quit smoking: I want to, but DAMN, I actually really kind of enjoy it. Sick, right?

But it’s comforting; I KNOW that if I’m stressed or irritated or … reading a book (?), pulling a strand of hair out of my head and breaking it apart while listening to the snap, crackle, pop will make me feel oodles better. In the moment.

However, also like smoking, I know it’s not good for me: It makes me WAY more self-conscious and critical of the way I look, it’s something that I’m purposely hiding from people, and it’s weird. I know that. I wish my “nervous whatever” was biting my nails, or tapping my foot or anything that was considered a more “normal” way of coping.

The good news: My new best friend is Silly Putty; I now keep it on me at all times, so that when the urge to yank comes over me (and when I remember that it’s there) I can take it out and give it a squeeze or 7 (I’ve gone through 3 in the last month).

So instead of being The Odd Woman Who Pulls Out Her Own Hair at work, I am The Odd Woman Who Has A Strange Attachment To Silly Putty And Has Early-Stage Carpal Tunnel. Baby steps.

Posted in It Happened To Me