1. It is not attention-seeking.
Throughout my childhood, and particularly my teenage years, I felt there was a lot of accusations thrown my way in regards to trichotillomania. I distinctly remember when I was 14/15 being told by a family member that the reason I pulled my eyelashes out was because I was jealous of my brother's fishing success; that I scarred my own face in order to get my parents' attention. This allegation tore me apart for so long, and it wasn't until I started researching trichotillomania a bit more that I realised that this approach was fundamentally wrong. It is nothing to do with jealousy and attention-seeking; trich is a mental health disorder that the sufferer does not have control over.
2. Trich is not a choice.
The single most annoying thing you can say to a trich sufferer is 'why don't you just stop?'. We do not have any choice over the impulses and urges to pull; there are ways of learning to manage them, but the bottom line is, you do not choose to have trichotillomania. Why on earth would we choose to have compulsions which make us pull out our own hair, cripple our confidence, and restrict us in our day to day life? It is absurd statements like this which makes sufferers feel guilty and ashamed for having a disorder they have no control over; this in itself is a form of victim-blaming, no?
3. It is not something to be ashamed of.
I have spent so much of my life feeling relentlessly embarrassed about pulling my eyelashes and eyebrows out. Because it is not particularly common to see someone without eyelashes and brows, or with bald patches on their head, we are made to feel that if we leave the house without 'covering up' we will be viewed as weird and subsequently judged by everyone around us. Why should this be the case? I recently wrote a post about this whole topic, and it seems to centre around the issue of [un]familiarity. There is little awareness and understanding, leading to a stigma about the psychological and physical manifestations of the illness. Even if other people stare, you should not be ashamed. It's not something you can help, it's just the way you are. Feelings of embarrassment are largely the result of other people; society's expectations of how we should look and act. These expectations do not necessarily reflect what is realistically achievable, so ease the pressure off!
4. It is extremely common.
Although sufferers may feel like the only ones in the world who have this disorder, it is surprisingly common. It is estimated that between 1 and 3% of the population suffer from some degree of trichotillomania, and it is often named as the 'most common disorder that you've never heard of'. I have still never met a fellow sufferer in person, despite having plenty of contact with trichsters online. The fact that it's not necessarily visible (as most cover it up and don't speak about it due to shame) makes you feel like you are totally alone in your suffering. This is not true. All you have to do is log onto Twitter, Instagram or carry out a quick google search to discover just how common it is. There are plenty of people who are going through exactly the same thing, so never think that you 'a freak' because you're the only one who does it; it's a lot more normal than you'd ever imagine.
5. It usually doesn't stop at trich.
There is a huge misunderstanding that trichotillomania is simply 'pulling hair out'. While there is that physical aspect of actual hair loss, most of the damage is actually psychological. It leads to extremely low self-esteem, self-loathing, guilt, shame, feeling like you're not in control of your life and loneliness. With these emotions buzzing around a sufferer's psyche, it is no wonder that trichotillomania is often just the tip of the mental health-shaped iceberg. Trich often leads to other forms of self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and most commonly, mood disorders (namely depression). I'm not saying that everyone who pulls their own hair out progresses to heroin abuse, but research has proven there are links associated between all of these conditions. So don't be surprised if your trich goes hand-in-hand with depression; this is totally normal, if not a little bit expected.
I hope this post has helped to address and answer some of the myths around trichotillomania, and try to get to the core of what the disorder actually is. Sharing this kind of understanding with friends, family and other sufferers will really help raise awareness of trichotillomania.
What myths about the disorder would you like addressed? Have you been faced with any of these? I'd love to hear about your experiences.