Living with Trichotillomania
I want to talk about something super real. It's not talked about a lot in the mental health world, but it's something that I battle with every single day:
What is trichotillomania? Trich (for short) is basically the obsessive impulse to constantly pull out your hair - from pulling split ends and full strands out of your head, to pulling out eyebrows and eyelashes. It's categorized as a body-focused repetitive behaviour, and is on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. It's also closely linked to anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and self-harm.
When I developed my eating disorder a few years ago, I started to develop trich tendancies.
I remember how frail my hair had become because of my weight loss: it was already falling out and the ends felt like straw. Growing up, I'd always had long hair. In high school, friends would compliment me on my thick, long hair; it was something that was a part of who I was. But my eating disorder took that away from me: instead of full and enviable, my hair became dull, weak and broken. Your hair's health is a reflection of what you put in your body, and because I was restricting myself from essential nutrients, my hair showed that.
So, I became incredibly insecure and self-conscious about my hair. I hated the split ends, so I started pulling them off. I hated the texture of each strand, so I meticulously pulled out the worst ones. And what started as a small way to "rid imperfections" soon became a full-out obsession. Fast forward 3 years, and trichotillomania has become a big part of my life.
When I'm anxious or stressed, I pull. But it's also when I'm thinking, zoned out, or even working on repetitive tasks (like e-mails). I pull because it's a comfort thing. I know I shouldn't, but I need to. It comes second-nature. It's an automatic tendency, and I'm always aware of it, but I literally can't stop. My friend Ally described body-focused repetitive behaviours really well in her latest blog post: think of mosquito bites in the summer - you tell yourself not to scratch them, and you know you shouldn't, but sometimes you do it anyways.
The first time I noticed that my trich tendancies were out of control was when my friends & family started pointing it out to me.
"You're playing with your hair a lot."
"Are you nervous? You're playing with your hair."
"Why do you pull your hair so much? You should stop. It's bad for you."
Trichotillomania is misunderstood
And barely talked about - which means it has its own set of stigmas. Thankfully I've never been very extreme with my hair pulling - I haven't had any major bald spots, but I do have thinning hair and subtle hair loss. That in itself makes me even more self-conscious, and it starts the negative cycle all over again.
I have definitely gotten a lot better now that I'm much more self-aware and practice self-care *on the daily*. But I do still struggle; it impacts my ability to focus, and my productivity levels, and is just flat out embarrassing to feel so obsessive over something that I know doesn't/shouldn't matter. Not to mention, avoiding comments like "Why don't you just stop playing with your hair? Isn't it annoying?!" (or cleaning hair up off the floor after sitting at my desk all day...)
Some things that have helped:
- Putting my hair up in a bun. A ponytail never does much for me, because my hair is long enough to still pull the strands out of the ponytail. But putting my hair completely up in a bun is a surefire way to avoid pulling.
- Washing & conditioning my hair every other day. I prefer to not wash my hair a lot, but I do find that when it's dirty and textured from dry shampoo, oils and other products, I am more tempted to pull. Versus when my hair is fresh, shiny, silky and soft from a condition & good blow out, I'm less likely to pull.
- Cutting my own hair. Okay, this isn't the most conventional, and I'm sure any hair stylist friends will hate reading this. But this is probably the #1 thing that has helped me with my hair pulling. Rather than wait/pay for a hair stylist to chop off my dead ends, I give myself a little trim once every 3-6 weeks. I'm a minimalist, so I'd probably do this rather than pay for a big hair cut anyways, but it helps me to visually see my split ends falling into the sink, and is so satisfying to run my hands through my hair after a cut. I don't have *much* of a method to my madness, but I avoid layers other than some face-framing pieces, and basically eyeball it. *This seems to shock a lot of people, when I tell them, but, it's just hair?
- Have a buddy. It used to annoy me so much when people pointed out my hair pulling. Like, yes I know I'm pulling my hair, and you reminding me isn't going to stop it. But finding 1 person to help you ease out of trich tendancies can be really helpful. Choose wisely - a friend you super duper trust, your mom, or partner. I made a pact with my boyfriend to help me stop pulling my hair - any time he sees me pulling, he holds my hand (instead of saying something about it, especially in public). It's less shaming than "you're pulling again!", and is a nice little "reward" for not pulling.
- Find something else to fiddle with. Stress balls are helpful at work. I also like spinner rings. They haven't been as affective as other things, for me personally, but definitely worth a try to see what works for you!
If you've coped with trichotillomania or any other BFRB, what have you found helpful? I'd love to hear your advice in the comments or on instagram.