I’ve had trichotillomania since I was 11 years old. I’m now almost 18. Trichotillomania (“trich” for short) is a disorder that causes the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair. It affects between 2-4% of the population. Despite how fairly common it is, there is very little public awareness of trich. Many people with the condition live in shame and secrecy... I was one of them.
I started pulling the hair on my head during the summer between 6th and 7th grade. I don’t remember exactly how I started doing it. It wasn’t a huge problem in my life until I was 14 years old. That’s when I started getting bald spots and my thick naturally curly hair started significantly thinning.
I felt extremely self-conscious, as if everyone somehow knew that there was something wrong with me; that I was no longer ‘normal.’ My worst fear was someone finding out my big secret. I tried multiple methods to conceal my hair loss, from headbands, to ponytails, barrettes, bobby pins, and a shake-on powder called Toppik.
While I continued to pull the hair from my head, almost exactly a year later, when I was 15, I started pulling my eyebrows as well. Until then, I had considered myself lucky that it was only from my head and nowhere else. I lost the tail ends of each eyebrow and started filling them in with eyeliner pencil. I hated looking in the mirror because it was a reminder of the ‘damage’ I had done to myself - I truly felt damaged because I didn’t have full brows. Today, I have no eyebrows at all, but I’ve come to accept the way I look, and have realized that not having brows doesn’t make me worth any less as a human being. I’ve gotten really good at drawing on realitstic looking brows, and some days I’ll even go out of the house sans makeup.
In the beginning, I felt extremely alone and isolated. It seemed like no one understood what I was going through. But that all changed when I was 16, and attended my first TLC Foundation conference for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), like trich and dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking). For the first time, I met people face to face who were just like me. They have since become some of my best friends and like a second family.
Immediately after the conference I overcame my biggest fear, and made a Facebook post telling all my family and friends that I have trich. I was completely taken aback at how supportive they all were.
A month later, I received a glued on hairpiece from Hair Club for Kids, a charity that provides custom made hairpieces completely free of charge to children under 18 with hair loss conditions. It boosted my confidence significantly, but it also made me realize the importance of unconditional self-acceptance. My hairpiece helped me feel good about myself on the surface, but I learned I had to also love myself and feel comfortable with who I am internally.
A year after initially getting my hairpiece, I made the big decision to stop wearing it, and cut my hair into a pixie cut. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous at first to go to school with such a drastic change to my appearance, but I got so many compliments, even from people I don’t know. My hairpiece acted as a barrier to prevent me from pulling, since it was glued to my scalp. I still didn’t pull with my pixie cut either.
After only a couple weeks of having the pixie cut, I had the crazy thought to cut my hair even shorter. As in completely shave it all off. Many of my trichster friends I’ve met through conferences have shaved heads and I admired their boldness and bravery.
The day before my last day of high school, my mom shaved my head with clippers we had at home. I technically didn’t need to shave my head. As I mentioned, it was still short enough to deter me from pulling. But I wanted to do it. It was kind of like a big “screw you” to having trichotillomania. For years, the appearance of my hair dominated my life and it determined how I felt about myself. But I finally decided I didn’t need hair anymore to feel good about myself. I’ve never felt more confident, and the freedom I now feel is indescribable. I surely never imagined I’d go to my senior prom and my high school graduation with a buzzcut, but I did. I’m definitely not living in hiding anymore, as my bald head is on display for everyone to see, and I wear it with pride.
As much as I love being bald, it’s not without its challenges. Long, thick hair is a symbol of beauty and femininity in our society. I get my fair share of stares from strangers while I’m doing simple everyday activities like walking my dog or going grocery shopping with my mom. It’s not everyday that you see a bald teenage girl walking down the street. While a few years ago stares like that would have seriously upset me, I actually find them quite amusing. They don’t bother me, but I do wish seeing a bald girl wasn’t such a rare strange thing.
I do sometimes miss having hair. Although I feel comfortable without it now, I miss having something to run my hands through and play with. Fortunately, I still have a wig from Hair Club, but it’s no longer glued on, so I can take it on and off. I wear it on occasion, but most days you can find me sporting my shaved head. It was hard at first to accept the fact that the only way I’ll be able to have long curly hair again -that I once had naturally- is by wearing a hairpiece. But now I have the best of both worlds.
With that said, hair for me has become just an accessory, rather than a necessity. I used to be known for my beautiful curls. Now, though, I’m the girl with a buzzcut. And I absolutely love it.