I’ve been pulling out my hair for so long, I can’t even remember when my trich began. I’m not talking about doing away with some pesky gray strand, or taming a whisker-like stray hair begging for attention. I’m talking about pulling out strand after strand after strand.
Trich is short for trichotillomania, a compulsive disorder characterized by the need to obsessively pull out hair — any hair — on one’s body. For me, it’s the hair on my head. It’s a dilemma made even more complicated by the fact that I’m a Black woman. I needn’t tell you the amount of importance, work, value and money we place on getting our precious hair done and keeping it intact.
Much like any other bad habit that’s hard to break, I’ve found an oddly soothing comfort in plucking strands. It’s not at all painful and I’ve done it whether my hair has been permed, texturized or in its natural state. I do all this in the comfort of my own home, mind you (I ain’t that crazy to do it everywhere), and only when I’m bored or stressed, particularly the latter. The problem is, it doesn’t take much for me to feel stressed. Just about anything can trigger a full-on pulling session if I’m not careful.
I’ll stop after the next one, I often tell myself. No, wait…now. But true to its obsessive nature, the pulling continues whether I want it to or not. Before long, my couch and floor are covered in hair. It’s not exactly calming then, looking down at a sea of kinky strands that moments ago were in their rightful place. When I can look in the mirror and see noticeable bare spots or, worse yet, bald patches smack dab in the middle of my head, that’s when feelings of shame and embarrassment come flooding in. Not to mention, a plain old disgust and ridiculous fear of being seen as less beautiful and less of a woman.
As a result of all this pulling, my hair hasn’t been an even length in years. I rock wigs, hats, and scarves: 1) because they’re cool, and 2) to cover up any damage so I can avoid having uncomfortable conversations. After all the stress I’ve put on my hair and scalp, I fear some of my hair may never grow back. I often worry that I’ll have trich for the rest of my life.
When I finally became aware that this thing I do is an actual disorder with a name that’s hard to pronounce, I sought professional help. On separate occasions, I saw two doctors who recommended that I keep a journal noting the time of day I pulled, the length of time I did it, and how I felt before and after pulling (relieved, bored, anxious, etc.). One doctor suggested that I wear gloves when I felt the urge to pull, or if I was in the middle of pulling and needed to stop. Not too helpful, that one. You kind of need your hands to do everything.
In denial and perhaps not willing to put in the necessary work to seek and make a change, I quickly lost interest in the process. You know how it is when you start something new and want to see results, like, yesterday? Patience didn’t factor into the equation. Instead, I threatened to go completely bald (though I’ve never had the courage to rock that look) and suffered the wrath of well-meaning family members and friends who’d tell me to stop when they caught me in the act. For the record, if being told to “stop” were all it took, none of us would have any problems and we’d all be sh*tting rainbows. But I digress.
I divulge all of this because I know I am not alone. There are other women out there struggling with this very issue, which seems to affect women more than men. I suspect these women are afraid, embarrassed and tired of succumbing to this baffling disorder. Talking about it is the first step to erasing the shame. Recognize that you’re not any less beautiful or any less of a woman because you have trich. Organizations like the Trichotillomania Learning Center are at your disposal, and help is available if you’re willing to seek it and are ready to do the necessary work. While I’m not completely healed, I do my best to be mindful and to keep my triggers in check. Though I’ve worried +that this may be a lifelong struggle, I know that in time, I will overcome trich.
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