Trichotillomania - A Mysterious Hair Pulling Disorder
Trichotillomania is defined as a disorder in which a person pulls out their hair. The hair is often pulled from the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, underarms, beard, chest, legs or other parts of the body and varies in severity and location for those who suffer from it. Trichotillomania is currently defined as an impulse control disorder and is being conceptualized as part of a family of body focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs for short.
Although many sufferers of Trichotillomania have had success in becoming "Pull Free" (PF), Trichotillomania is still very much a medical mystery. It is estimated that 6-12 million people in the United States alone suffer from this disorder, many of them in silence.
There are a variety of online and local support groups for those suffering from Trichotillomania. It helps to connect with others to see what remedies they are using to combat Trichotillomania. Within these groups, friendships are developed and bonds are made. Because Trichotillomania is, in my opinion, a very misunderstood disorder, those who don't suffer from it oftentimes have trouble relating to it. Within these groups, no one is a stranger to Trichotillomania, and challenges and triumphs are shared and celebrated. I belong to a few private groups online and they are listed as follows:
The above groups are private and none of your information is shared outside the group. If you want in, just simply send a request to join the closed group and your wish will be granted. The admins in each group are there to help, and new members are always welcome.
I wrote an article a while back about the effects Trichotillomania has on one's self-esteem. As someone who has grown up with this disorder, I'd like to point out that around the age of 12, I began to feel the ripple effects of the long-term hair pulling I had done since I was 2 (or thereabouts). Without any eyelashes or eyebrows, I looked different than the other children. Fitting in among the masses is such a ridiculous goal, but imperative nonetheless during adolescence, and when you stand out for reasons you cannot explain, it makes life very awkward. Without eyelashes and eyebrows, I felt I wasn't pretty, and it affected me adversely. I didn't feel good about the way I looked, therefore, I felt like I didn't measure up.
Another, and possibly more debilitating form in which Trichotillomania affects people is through a cycle of self-loathing. In many cases, those who suffer from Trichotillomania pull their hair in their sleep, or when they are in a state of mind where they are not aware of what they are doing. That has happened to me from time to time, but the majority of the time, I am fully aware of hair pulling when it is taking place, but I am just simply unable to stop. Those who have never been afflicted with Trichotillomania might say, "Why not just go for a bike ride or do something to keep your hands busy?". If only it were that simple. :) People who suffer from Trichotillomania will often have urges that result in a pulling spree, thus not allowing them to be able to stop and change direction. From an outsiders perspective, it does seem easy to simply divert; I understand that. But I am here to tell you it is just not that simple. Regarding the aftermath, once a hair puller has finished a pulling spree, they will experience guilt for pulling, followed by anger directed at themselves for pulling, and then of course, the look in the mirror to see the damage and the prayer right before the glimpse in the hopes that its not that noticeable. Hair takes about 4-6 months to grow in, but all that hard work of growing and not pulling can be unraveled in one 30 minute pulling spree, which leaves behind a feeling of hopelessness, followed by a bout of depression and finally fear that this will never be resolved.
It is a vicious cycle to say the least, and I dislike Trichotillomania very much. But in all of the darkness and shame Trichotillomania brings it's sufferers, I'd also like to highlight some of the things I feel Trichotillomania brings to it's sufferers that make these special people so unique:
1. People who suffer from Trichotillomania tend to have a higher tolerance for misguided and uninformed people, and have learned to project kindness and grace, even in the midst of another person's hurtful behavior.
2. Those who suffer from Trichotillomania may be hard on themselves, but they are tough-as-nails warriors that don't give up on themselves either.
3. People who suffer from Trichotillomania won't ask you silly questions, such as, "Why do you do that?" or "Doesn't that hurt?". They will accept you for who you are, just as you are.
4. People with Trichotillomania are loyal and will go out of their way to help lift others up.
5. People who have Trichotillomania are especially brave and will often put themselves out there to protect something or someone else.
6. People who suffer from Trichotillomania are very intelligent. Oftentimes, they just have trouble placing their thoughts in order and taking action.
7. In spite of their struggles, or possibly due to them, those who suffer from Trichotillomania have learned to appreciate the little things in life, such as a quiet moment, a day without pulling, nature, a good movie, time with loved ones, etc.
8. People who suffer from Trich have an ingenuity about them that is rare in this world. They wear their hearts on their sleeve and, although they may get hurt from time to time, they have a fighting spirit that stands them up for one more round every time with all the grace and optimism a true winner can muster.
In closing, there is no question that Trichotillomania creates destruction, self-loathing, anxiety, fear and depression for it's sufferers. It is a challenging and frustrating disorder with no known medical cure. However, through the trials and tribulations, Trichotillomania also offers up a few gifts along the way; gifts we may have never harnessed the power of, had we not been afflicted with Trichotillomania. When we embrace those gifts and work toward self acceptance and self love, it is then that Trichotillomania becomes smaller and less and less a part of our life, and people who suffer from Trichotillomania become empowered to be who they are, just as they are.
So, here's to a good fight, my fellow trichsters. Shine on!