My family has always been sick of me fiddling with my hair. Since I was about nine, I've been cutting it short, dyeing it, straightening it, putting extensions in, and cutting my own hair. My mother was especially was frustrated with how fixated on my hair I was, and that I could never just leave it alone, and let it grow long.
And one day, I started pulling it out.
I remember sitting on a train home from Newtown, in Sydney. I was fiddling with my hair, possibly matting it into tiny dreadlocks, when I pulled a hair out by accident. I wrapped a single hair around my fingers, and broke it.
I don't know what about that sound or feeling triggered something in me, but from that moment, my life was changed forever.
I began pulling my hair out and snapping it, at first with stray hairs and then soon afterwards compulsively. It wasn't long before I had sparse patches on my head, almost bald. Luckily, I suppose, I have very thick, curly hair, so no one noticed these patchy bits, and for a long time, things continued on as normal.
One day, family members started to notice me pulling my hair out, and seeing the bald patches. My mum yelled at me: "stop pulling your hair out!" every time she "caught" me doing it, which triggered extreme panic and anxiety in me, which made the desire to pull my hair out even harder to resist. And it only got harder.
This compulsive, often unconscious desire to pull out your own hair (be it from your head, eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic hair, or arm/leg hair) is called trichotillomania. It is often "aquired" in the early teen years, but can strike at any time in your life. Often accompanied by the unwelcome playmates of depression and anxiety, trichotillomania is considered an impulse control disorder, similar to tourettes or chronic nail-biting (another club I belong to).
We "trichsters" have trouble finding ways to deal with stress that don't do damage to our bodies. I personally (although I'm no scientist) feel it is like a natural grooming mechanism gone awry in a modern world. At least then I feel archaic, not sick.
I have shaved my head, and am now rocking the Very Short Hairstyle. This stops me fiddling with my hair so much, and I've taken to rubbing my short hair with the palms of my hands instead, which is kind of relaxing, and far less damaging.
There are a few online resources for people suffering from trichotillomania, but I find joining support groups makes me feel like a victim, and I relapse, or just get worse. I know this is not the case for everyone though, and some people find these groups to be very helpful. I know I cried when I found out that there were groups full of people other than me pulled out their hair, and it helped me find my own way to deal with trich, and better deal with other people in general.
I hope anyone reading this who has trichotillomania, anxiety or depression realises that they are not alone, and although it is hard, the best thing to do is to confide in friends and family. People who know you and can understand what you're going through are your best support network, and can help you find professional help if you need it, or offer a shoulder to cry on if that's more your speed.
Having trichotillomania has made me stronger, and less focussed on appearances, which has carved a large part of my personality. I guess I leave you with that message - remember to love yourself, regardless of the things you perceive as your flaws. Others might just see them as the things that make you unique!