What Is TTM?
Trichotillomania (TTM) is a hair-pulling impulse disorder, or body focused repetitive disorder, which affects between 1-3% of the population. Although it is statistically more likely for sufferers to be female, men are affected by it too. Most people with the disorder are presumed to develop these tendencies in their teenage years, but it is not uncommon to hear of stories, like mine, where it develops in any stage of childhood.
The disorder involves pulling hair from your head, eyelashes, eyebrows and anywhere else where hair grows! Sufferers of TTM might also eat the hair, roll it in their fingers, collect the hairs, and see it manifest in other ways, such as, in my case, skin picking. Many people assume it to be like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), yet it is actually quite far from it. Instead of thinking I need to pull X amounts of hairs, or else Y would happen, it is more a case of having exceedingly strong urges to pull hair which you simply cannot contain. Many sufferers, including me occasionally, go into a sort of 'trance-mode' when pulling, so we do not realise we have done it until afterwards.
How Does It Affect Sufferers?
To not know or be consciously aware that you are doing something harmful to your own body is utterly terrifying; an impact of the illness which I think is often downplayed. Physical effects obviously include bald patches. Emotional effects are far less easy to see but are the most devastating. Many are bullied because of their physical appearance. Some suffer feelings of complete isolation, despair, depression and hopelessness at not being able to control this disease. Others may manifest their frustration at not being able to control their TTM by controlling other aspects of their life, developing OCD or eating disorders to name a few.
The feeling of disappointment after pulling hairs out is one of the most gut-wrenchingly awful feelings for sufferers. Especially after being 'pull-free' for a certain amount of time. Every time I pulled hairs out when I thought I was going through a 'good patch', I hated myself so strongly I cannot even put it into words. You want to curl up, hide from the world, and cry.
Low self-esteem is another huge effect of trichotillomania. No matter what you do to cover them, you always go out knowing the bald patches are there, even if others don't see them. It makes you feel abnormal, weird, subhuman. That you don't deserve to have all the things you have; friends, family, anything.
Many dismiss this illness as 'stupid', 'insignificant' or say 'you could have something so much worse'. Yes, physically, maybe we could have a worse illness. But it doesn't take away from the fact that emotionally, this disorder is crushing. That is why I am speaking out; IT IS NOT AN ILLNESS TO BE DISMISSED. We need to raise awareness.
Why and When Do People Do It?
For some, there is frustratingly no answer to this. I have no idea why I started. Most commonly, people pull during times of stress, anxiety or emotional upheaval. I find myself doing it when I am tired and trying really hard to concentrate on something- reaching for my eyelashes and eyebrows aid my ability to concentrate. However, every person has a different case, and there is no straight-forward answer to this.
|My Current Battle with Trichotillomania|
Ways To Treat It
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Trichotillomania. That said, there are ways to treat it. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most popular treatment which is supposed to get the most results. Other ways are hypnotherapy, changing your diet, seeing psychiatrists, counselling, and smaller changes such as putting Vaseline on your eyelashes and wearing gloves when you sleep to prevent your ability to pull the hairs.
I have had counselling, seen countless psychiatrists, had hypnotherapy, and tried pretty much all of these smaller changes, yet had no luck. For me, it has just been a case of investigating when and why I do it, and substituting my hair pulling for something else. For example, when I am concentrating, instead of pulling my eyelashes, I tap my fingers. It sounds simple, but it's a different way to occupy you mind and get rid of these bad 'pulling' thoughts.
I have finally reached the stage where I have accepted that this illness is a part of my life, a part of me. I only started telling people I had it when I started university in 2012 and had a chance to start a-fresh (I went to an all girls school where appearance was everything- I was terrified of 'coming out' and being bullied or viewed as weird, more than I was already).
Keep looking for answers, anaylising your behavioural patterns, and chase after the appropriate treatment. Even if you go 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year or more pull-free, each step, no matter how small, is progress. And if you relapse, and you probably will (I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic), then just try again. As long as you have good support behind you and are determined, you will get better.
YOU WILL GET THERE IN THE END.
THERE IS HOPE.
And most importantly, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you want to find out more about the illness, get support, or treatment, please visit http://www.trichotillomania.co.uk/
If you have ANY questions or just want someone to talk to, I am always here, so please never hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on Facebook, or tweet me. I will do all my best to help you, advise you or just point you in the right direction. I am going through it too and might be able to share some 'wisdom'!