Trichotillomania......An Unspoken Epidemic
by Holly Laux
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Turning ten! Finally growing up. A big step in the age of a little girl who already thought she was twenty. I remember it well. It wasn't the happiest time in my life, my parents had been divorced for one year, my mother had remarried, divorced, moved to another state and now we were back in my hometown living with my sick grandmother. Nine had been a struggle for me, not so much as growing up, but all the changes I had to endure. Fortunately for me, I had a loving family and knew that whatever I had to encounter, they would always be there.
We lost my grandmother that year, which was a tragic event for my own precious mother. I was the strong one though, never shed a tear, but inside it was killing me that my Grannie had gone to heaven. I pressed the pain as far as I could, down into my soul. I had to be tough so I could help my Mom and younger sister. They depended on me.
It was shortly after, that I discovered an infatuation with beauty. Though I was slightly overweight for my age, I was determined to make the best of it. As all little girls do, I experimented with makeup and hairstyles and fashion. Into the eleventh year of my short life, I discovered a tiny sore spot on top of my head, my nightmare had only begun. I picked at the spot, which turned into several more. I would sit in school and pick, come home and watch TV and pick, lay in bed at night and pick. Almost as if in a trance of some sort. It was a vicious cycle for many months, until I decided to use tweezers and pull the hair in the middle of the sore spot out. It hurt the first time. The kind of hurt that actually made me feel better. I began pulling all the hairs, one by one, in the sore spot, which eventually led to bald spots. But that didn't stop me from daily episodes of picking and pulling. The bald spots were slowly becoming more noticeable. I tried feverishly to hide them by pulling my hair back or putting it in a high pony tail. Swimming, sleep-overs and outdoor activities that included any wind potential were becoming out of the question. Living in Florida, with the ocean at my door-step and the soft Atlantic breezes, they were slowly becoming my enemy. I was just a child, how could I have a habit of pulling my hair out? It was crazy. I was crazy!
Over the years it progressed into a ritual of several hours. Mostly in the evenings. I had become a pro at pulling, Eventually it became a game of...one more hair and I will stop...no, just one more. I would even sleep with my tweezers so that if I woke up, I wouldn't have to get up. I would scoop the hair into a neat pile and throw it away...hiding it inside opened mail, or under food...anything to keep my parents from seeing how much I had pulled out.
Because I had become a teenage professional hair styler (I had to), not too many people outside my family and friends could tell I even had any problem. I vividly recall the Christmas of my sophomore year in high school. I woke up to open presents with my sisters and parents. I remember my father taking a photo of me and all you could see was this hideous bald spot on top of my head. I remember my father making fun of me. It was as though I was out of control, and all I could do is laugh along with anyone who made fun of me or those who saw my bald spot.
I rode local, professional and High School Rodeo for many years. I recall the fear I had when my hat would fly off or when the wind would blow just the right way, sending a heat wave of fear through my body. I also tried out for the high school swim team. Even though I could wear a bathing cap, I quit after seeing the beautiful healthy hair everyone else had. Physical activities were also becoming non-existent. I just kept thinking, this isn't really happening. But is was.
In 1991 I received an article in the newspaper from the "Dear Abby" column. It was about a young woman who had bald spots from pulling out her hair. The disorder finally had a name. Trichotillomania ("Trich" meaning hair, "o-till" meaning to twist or pull and "mania" meaning out of madness). To this day I haven't forgotten the feeling I had when I was finally able to identify with the name, and know I wasn't alone. That I wasn't crazy. I wasn't fighting a losing battle. Little did I know that Trichotillomania was not an easy disorder to conquer.
I graduated High School in 1992 and went out into the real world to work. I continued to pull over the years. Little by little forming bald spots in places that I knew I would be able to hide. If I felt it might be visible, I would color it in with eyeliner or eyebrow pencil. Making it invisible under the small amount of hair that I had. I remember boldly lying that I had just been through Chemotherapy or I had gone to a hair salon that had burnt my hair. I wasn't lying to get attention, I just wanted to avoid explaining that I wasn't crazy and that I just had a problem ripping my hair out. I soon began believing my own lies. It was so much easier than being humiliated, in fact it got me many hugs from complete strangers.
The pulling began to slow down when I became involved with a guy I had dated in high School. I was so busy working and worrying about how I looked, I didn't have time to pull. As long as I stayed busy I was pull-free. The second I stopped or began worrying about bills, my boyfriend or the stress of life, my hand would shoot straight for my head. The feeling of helplessness set in. I knew I would be living with Trich for the rest of my life.
Over the years I spent thousands of dollars on doctors, on hypnotism, on medications, on counselors. Nothing seemed to work. Pulling felt so comforting and intimate. While I was silently sitting there..staring into space, pulling the hair out of my head, I was happy -almost peaceful. But after having to clean up the hair I had pulled, realizing how long it took to grow and then seeing the damage I did, I hated myself. I would get so angry with myself that I would just sit and cry. No-one could help, nothing was working and I was destroying my self-esteem and beautiful hair in the process. I was fighting a losing battle.
I met my husband in 1995. After the first year I decided to shave all of my hair off. I went to the wig shop and bought my first wig. It was a beautiful platinum blonde. I continued to pull out my hair for several years, maintaining the wig wearing and carry the burden of knowing I was in the prime of my life, bald. I can't tell you how difficult it was. No swimming, no sports and praying that the wind wouldn't blow, totally humiliated.
After suffering with the shame, I finally set a goal to have hair. To release myself from the wigs, the wind and any other enemy of Trich sufferer. In 1999, after I was married, I started my quest of not pulling. It was unbelievably difficult. Because Trich is classified as an Obsessive-compulsive behavior, it generally requires regulated doses of medication. Here I was, newly married, BALD and starting the uphill battle of growing my hair back. I refused medication, medical attention or any family involvement.
During Spring of 2001, I was finally able to walk outside without a wig. Even though I continued to have pulling episodes, I had reached my goal. The delicate hair that was growing in made me realize that I had beat what I had been calling the "the monster".
With the help of my faith in God, it is now Summer of 2002, I have been "pull-free" for almost a year. It is an amazing feeling of confidence and self-assurance that I have been given. Renewed, restored, FREE.
Anyone dealing with Trich knows that it is an incredibly emotional journey. If this is the first you have heard about Trichotillomania, I hope it has been educational. Each person has their own unique story to tell of both failure and success. If you know someone suffering from Trich, I urge you to pray and contact www.anxietycoach.com, for more information, support and a list of help groups. You are not alone.
Copyright ©2005 Holly R. Laux
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