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My Life With Trichotillomania: The Hair-Pulling, Skin-Picking Disorder That Has a Name

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As a product of a dysfunctional family, I find fulfillment in sharing my personal heartache to help others going through difficult times.

My life with trichotillomania

As a “city” kid who grew up and attended school in the 90s, I walked to school everyday from the time I was in kindergarten to my senior year of high school. I don‘t recall if I was in junior high or high school at the time, but I'll never forget the odd trait of the girl that lived on my street that I walked to school with one year. I don't even remember her name but I remember vividly that she had no eyelashes. Being an uncensored teenager, I asked her why she didn't have any eyelashes. She simply said, “I don't like the way that I look with them." I took her word for it. I didn’t at all realize at the time that it was probably extreme emotional pain or anxiety that caused her to pull them out, rather than vanity.

I didn't know that it was a "thing” until a few years ago when I heard that the beautiful actress, Olivia Munn, also pulled out her eyelashes and it was something called trichotillomania. That was when I realized that my friend suffered from that so many years ago, and it had a name!

In 2007, and well out of my teenage years, I developed some pretty moderate acne. This caused me to pick at my face constantly. Sometimes it was because of things that I felt needed squeezed and popped. Other times, I would pick as if there was something that needed my attention even though there wasn't anything there. I felt like I was hiding something and I did try to. The scabs littered on my face told on me no matter what my lips said. I would go into the bathroom to tend to my “habit” and, after a while, I would hear my husband would shout, asking from the other room if I was picking at my face. I usually always lied and told him no, much like an addict in denial.

After some time, I got my acne under control and I just stopped picking so obsessively. I don’t remember stopping, I just realized a couple years later, I didn’t do it anymore (except on occasions.)

Fast forward to 2017. I had colored my chestnut brown hair, blonde. With my beautiful, new, golden color also came a sometimes "crunchy" texture. The health of my hair became a breeding ground for my new habit: hair-twisting. Here I am now, almost two years later and several broken sections of hair (not just damage from the bottle of bleach) and I’m still “twisting.” Most of the time, I can keep the knot small enough, and it can come out (mostly) from washing and conditioning my hair. On occasions, I need to take the scissor and cut a chunk out of the ends.

Despite the trouble, there is no better feeling than getting a good section of crunchy hair out when my hair is in a bun (and it is often) and getting a good knot going. It really does release some anxious feelings and is sort of a security blanket. I don't have any bald spots and I don't touch my eyebrows or eyelashes (thank goodness!) but I know that I am on the trichotillomania spectrum. Luckily, I wear hair pieces for my performing job and I wear my hair up most of the time outside of work so it's not too much of an issue right now given my current routine. Someday, that may change.

I try to stop myself if I can. Keeping my hair as clean and soft as possible and not using a lot of products helps with the "crunchiness" of my hair, therefore affecting the satisfaction level of the twisting. However, the result of broken hair isn't enough to make me want to stop. It may not be if or until there are bald spots that I will see it as a real problem for me. I don't tend to pull, though, so (hopefully) I'll never get to that point.

That is my story and I know a lot of you are probably where I am at right now.

Trichotillomania is on the OCD spectrum and is connected to anxiety.

Trichotillomania is on the OCD spectrum and is connected to anxiety.

What exactly is trichotillomania?

Known as hair-pulling disorder and pronounced trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh, trichotillomania is a mental disorder that is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. It involves an individual subconsciously or ritualistically pulling at their hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes, sometimes to a point of baldness.

What causes trichotillomania?

Although the exact cause is vague and unknown, it is believed to be a result of a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Usually, trichotillomania occurs along with other conditions, such as, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and various anxiety disorders. It can be related to either negative or positive emotions. It often begins with negative feelings and is used as a coping mechanism to sooth. The repetitive action is then repeated to maintain the positive feelings that come from doing it. It is also believed that it can increase in severity with a woman's menstrual cycle.

Signs and symptoms

This disorder can range from mild (like my case) to overwhelming. If it is bad enough, it can really affect someone’s way of life by one’s diminishing self-confidence and desire to get out into the world to live and socialize.


Signs and Symptoms

  • Tugging at hair, eyelashes, or eyebrows. It can be any or all of these and may change at times
  • You start tugging, twisting, pulling or plucking when you're tense and find you're relaxed when you're doing it
  • You have experienced hair loss, breakage, or thinning do to this action
  • You bit or chew your hair
  • You have developed rituals around this behavior
  • You feel like you can’t control the urge to do it
  • It cause you distress at work, home, or socially

The symptoms and signs don’t stop there. Other things can be the object of your Trichotillomania. Biting your nails, picking at your skin, and chewing your lips are others ways trichotillomania can manifest itself.

Some people know when they are engaging in this behavior and others do it automatically and don’t even realize it.

Celebrities who suffer from trichotillomania

We think of celebrities as being the epitome of perfection and beauty, however they are just like us. In fact, many of them suffer from trichotillomania. Celebrities that are believed to suffer from this disorder are...

  • Olivia Munn
  • Kate Beckinsale
  • Naomi Campbell
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Katy Perry
  • Victoria Beckham
  • Charlize Theron

While Olivia Munn, Katy Perry, Charlize Theron, and Justin Timberlake had been open about their conditions, it is only speculated for others. Kate Beckinsale and Naomi Campbell have been spotted and photographed with bald patched and it is beleieve they suffer from the condition as well, although they have not candidly talked about it.

There are several celebrities that are known for wearing hair extensions regularly, such as Britney Spears. Because of periodic bald spots, it is believed she may also suffer from from it. However, it is unclear if the use of extensions and weaves are the main factor of trichotillomania for some celebrities.

Don't let this condition make you pull your hair out......literally!

Don't let this condition make you pull your hair out......literally!

How is it treated? Is there a cure?

There is no known cure for trichotillomania. There is also no medication or pill specifically for it, but it is very treatable. Clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and dermatologists can help you find ways to manage the condition. Therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and habit reversal training, alone or in conjunction with medications, such antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, can be very helpful for those suffering.

Will your hair grow back?

Yes if there is no permanent damage to the hair follicle. However, repeated pulling can damage the hair follicles and that could affect how and if it does. If the hair does grow back, it can grow in different than it was. It can grow in sparser or a different texture or color entirely. A different texture can make the desire to pull even stronger.

Hair grows about a half an inch a month give or take. Hair that grows back after pulling it out of the follicle should also grow about a half inch a month but it may take a little longer to start since the follicle has to heal itself from the trauma of being pulled out.

I guess as far as conditions go, this one can be easily diagnosed and managed with the right help. Luckily, hair usually grows back and skin heals. In the meantime, a ponytail, hair extensions, false lashes, moisturizer, and acrylic nails are available to most all of us to help us transition into people who may stop engaging in these behaviors one day. At the very least, maybe it's not so disruptive to your life that it can't just stay and be a part of you.

Do you suffer from trichotillomania?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Jess B (author) from United States on June 26, 2019:

Thank you so much for reading, Lorna! :)

Lorna Lamon on June 23, 2019:

I have treated people who have this disorder and even though it does take time CBT does help to change the thought patterns associated with Trichotillomania, However, support and understanding are also crucial in the treatment plan.Your article is very informative and shines the spotlight on this not so well known disorder. Thank you for sharing.