Trichotillomania is More Than Just a Bad Habit

Growing up, I was always led to believe that my hair-pulling was just a bad habit- one that I would probably grow out of as I got older. Although my parents and other family members were obviously concerned, it was almost down-played in that it wasn't a genuine illness. It was just a little 'thing' I had; just like some people bite their nails, I pulled my hair out. I can't remember my early childhood with trich, but as I got to late primary school/ start of secondary school I do remember thinking that nail-biting was considered normal and so many people did it and spoke about it; there were those awful nail varnishes that would deter you from biting them and other things to help you stop widely available in pharmacies. But, nobody spoke about how they pulled their hair out or how to try and stop. I always thought I was odd, different, weird for pulling out my hair, but I think the comparison to habits made these feelings worse when I realised, 'if hair-pulling is a habit too, then why does nobody else have it?'.

Of course, so many people have it. It affects such a large portion of the population, but because of the silence around the disorder (especially when I was growing up), you're made to feel alone. Bad habits undoubtedly bring an element of shame to the person with them, but nowhere near the level as trichotillomania does. I think part of this is because bad habits are accepted in society; they are seen as less serious and therefore easier to talk about- the more people talk, the more acceptable they become. Nobody talks about trichotillomania.

One of the things trich does have in common with bad habits is the aggravating 'why don't you just stop?' questions. Just like you can't just switch off from biting your nails, you can't stop pulling your hair out. And perhaps this is why so many end up blurring trich into the 'bad habit' category. But the emotions and thought-processes behind trichotillomania are so much more complex than those a simple bad habit brings that I think unless you are directly involved in the disorder, it can be difficult to understand.

Trichotillomania is a mental health disorder. It is compulsive hair pulling; you cannot physically drag your hand away from your scalp, lashes, eyebrows (or wherever you pull from) no matter how much you are willing yourself to. Often people go into a 'trance mode' wherein they don't even realise they are doing it to themselves. If a hair sticks out, it is all you think about- no matter what else is going on around you, all you can focus on is the need to remove that hair from your body. It is the infliction of pain on yourself which reinforces positive associations; pulling the hair may hurt, it may not, but to us, it feels good irrespective. The anxiety which builds within you before and during pulling can be crippling.

And then there's there emotions attached to the pulling itself. You not only hate the way you look, leading to incredibly low self-esteem, but you detest yourself to the very core because you are the one who has done this to yourself. You have caused the bald patches, you are the only one you can blame for this. You hate yourself for pulling your hair out, but you cannot stop yourself from doing it- see the vicious cycle arising here? Social anxiety is often prevalent; although I now have eyelashes, I still struggle with making eye contact with people without feeling incredibly awkward because of years of avoiding it due to lack of lashes and hoping that if people don't notice me, they won't notice my baldness. I used to avoid certain social situations because of trich, severely lacked confidence, and every time I left the house would be filled with the utmost dread that someone (even a stranger) would notice that I didn't have eyelashes. I felt like a freak. It's likely to lead to depression and other mental health problems too.

Trichotillomania is so much more than just a bad habit. It is exhausting, relentless and takes over every element of your life. I hope that people can stop minimising its severity by telling sufferers that it's a habit or they will grow out of it and acknowledge it for what it is, but only increasing awareness of the disorder, educating and openly discussing it will do this. I can still hope though, right?

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  1. I didn't know what I had was a disorder until high school. I knew no one else that had it. I had a few people try to relate to by saying "yeah, I overplucked my brows too!" Uhhh.. that's not really the same thing.

    My earliest trigger was boredom so I would often keep my hands busy with crochet or drawing. Eventually the triggers were more anxiety and insomnia related. It was very difficult to stop. I've had an ex try to take my tweezers away. He had no clue that I was pulling the hair out with my fingers. I might have had decent eyelashes and brows 5 times in about 15 years. I hid behind makeup and false lashes nonstop. I hated waking up looking naked/bald. You just really don't feel normal.

    I've recovered over a year ago and I'm not sure what exactly caused me to stop myself from going bald in those spots since I've tried everything. I think my state of mind has drastically improved (like getting out of a bad relationship). I forgot I even had long eyelashes.

    Most people that have heard of the disorder automatically think it's about ripping off the hair from your head and that's it -_- I've heard of it as well but not so much about lashes/brows or any other regions.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. A few years ago:

      Thick eyeliner and lashes too haha

    3. Wow that's so amazing that you have recovered, a huge well done! That gives me so much hope that I can do the same one day. And yeah, the whole phrase of 'tearing your hair out' obviously stems from trich and has connotations with the hair on your head. It's just generally a very misunderstood disorder!

  2. I really love this post, it sums up exactly what I wish people would understand about trich. I admire you for talking so openly about your own experiences because I still have trouble talking about my hair pulling with close friends and family, since it's not something they understand very well. It's inspiring to know people have the same struggles as me and we are all in this together :)

    1. I'm so glad you liked the post. I never used to talk openly about trich and did all I could to hide it for about 17 years! As soon as you realise you shouldn't be ashamed to have it or be ashamed of what you look like it helps a lot. We are definitely all together in our struggle! x

  3. I hate when people ask me "so you gonna try to grow your hair?" It makes me so frustrated. like I want to have a bald head.. my response is " yes everyday "

    1. We're always trying and battling, even if others can't see it.


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