I started pulling my hair when I was 10 years old. I didn’t know what I was doing, or why I was doing it. I kept it a secret, and felt embarrassed if anyone saw me pulling, but I couldn’t stop. Sometimes the other kids would ask me what I was doing, and I didn’t know what to say. Why was I pulling out my hair?
Finally, when I was 19 years old, and had been pulling out my hair for 9 years, I met someone who told me she’d pulled out her hair, and there was a name for it: trichotillomania. She wasn’t embarrassed or shy about it. She told me she’d given herself a bald spot, and eventually was able to help herself stop pulling by pulling the gooey strings off koosh balls. I told her I had trichotillomania, too. I was so relieved there was a name for it.
And since then, I’ve talked to many, many people who have trichotillomania, too. Lots of people pull out their hair, just like lots of people bite their fingernails, or pick at their skin. Some of them don’t mind it, or actually enjoy it!
But others find it to be painful and frustrating, and want to stop. Unfortunately, trichotillomania is not talked about very much, so most people don’t know what it is, or how common it is, or that they can ask for help with it.
If you want to stop pulling your hair, it’s possible. The trick that has worked for me is talking to people about it openly. Tell the people you love - your parents, your siblings, your friends -- that trichotillomania is a hair pulling compulsion that 3% of people experience at some time in their life. Tell them that sometimes we start to pull their hair as response to stressful events in our life, and it’s our body’s way of helping us cope. Sometimes we keep pulling our hair even after the stressful events are over, and that can be frustrating. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Some people will understand. When I told my best friend about it, she said, “wow! I didn’t know that was a thing! That’s interesting.” And after that, I didn’t feel embarrassed if I pulled around her.
When I was trying to quit pulling my hair, I told my boyfriend about it. He started to check in with me and ask how it was going. It was really nice to have someone to talk about it with so often, in such a normal way. I realized if I treated it as something normal, other people did, too.
If I could go back and talk to my ten year old self, I’d tell her: some people bite their nails. Some people pick their skin. Some people pull their hair. You are not alone, nor are you strange for doing this. You are a human in a human body, and human bodies do funny things.
If the people around you right now don’t understand, that’s okay. It’s not their fault. They just don’t know what it is or how to respond. As you get older, and meet more people, you will meet people who have pulled their hair. You will realize it is not strange. It is not anything to be ashamed of. It’s just a quirk of being human. And it’s possible to stop if you want to. Stopping will be easier if you don’t feel ashamed.
If you ever have any questions, or want to talk to someone, you can always write me a letter! I live in Los Angeles and I draw pictures for a living.
A few days after I sent the letter, my friend texted me:
"I got your letter last week and ▊▊▊▊▊ wanted me to read it to him. It is the absolute quietest and most focused I have ever seen him. When we finished it he said, 'ok, you keep it on your desk.' 🙄 It was super helpful way to be able to remind him theres nothing wrong with him, and that he’s not the only one, it helped him feel less upset when he was really frustrated with himself. Thank you so much for writing it to him."
I loved writing the letter, and hearing his response. I do talk about trich very openly and often on instagram stories, but this was really my first time writing about it. Initially I thought, I don't know what I'd write. I'm not an expert. But this exercise showed me that even just being an expert in my own experience can be useful to someone.
And oh my god, I can't tell you how therapeutic it is to help, even in a small way, a kid struggling with trich. It was such a big and unpleasant part of my childhood and I've had multiple therapists do exercises with me to "go back" and speak to my childhood self about it in an attempt to heal those wounds. I think writing to an actual human child may have been more effective than all those therapy sessions...