20 years is a long damn time.
20 years of continually doing something day after day can make you feel like it's impossible to ever change that behavior.
We hear all these sayings "it takes 21 days to build a habit" which is a myth, actually. But we forget that sometimes the hardest thing isn't BUILDING a new habit, it's breaking an old behavior that has become ingrained in you.
I don't remember when I ACTUALLY started pulling. I remember bits and pieces of when my trichotillomania started.
I remember being in my favorite class in 5th grade and looking down at my shoulder. I saw a hair and i saw the cuticle and thought it looked neat. I started playing with it, rolling it in my fingers. Then I remember at some point pulling a hair out of my head. I didn't get the same type of hair so I tried again.
and again, until I found that the rough hairs had that same cuticle.
This then turned into hunting out "rough" hairs and pulling them out. THEN i started to bite off the cuticle to see what that was like.
AND THUS my trichotillomania had evolved. It would still evolve more.
I remember that when hair would grow back, sometimes I'd get an ingrown hair. The pressure would hurt and I would think that if I could pull ONE hair it would reilieve the pressure. SO I would go on a pulling spree looking for the one hair to pull to make that spot feel better.
From around 6th grade through college I would ocassionally pull my eyelashses. It was mostly when they were bothered by an ingrown eyelash or certain types of mascara when I started wearing makeup. I stopped pulling my lashes just kind of out of nowhere - THAT took no effort.
My hair on the other hand was another story. I remember realizing at some point that if I pulled a certain way, I would be able to pull out the hair with the cuticle and get that piece I was looking for. So now almost every hair I pulled was "perfect" so I would pull more and more and more. NO relief would come.
It sounds completely bizarre to an outsider but to someone who struggles with this disorder it's all too familiar.
And that's what makes it SO HARD. You create this behavior, you reward this behavior, you become OBSESSED with it. And you do it over and over knowing that you shouldn't.
I started with a few bald spots that were completely bald but then it spread to the whole top of my head being thin - almost like female pattern baldness. I remember for YEARS my bathroom was coated in a dusting of hairspray. I could smell it and taste it constantly. I would guarantee you I probably have a build up in my lungs of it.
In college I tried to hide it with thick ribbon headbands and a combover. There was a solid couple years where I did this weird "bump" thing in the front that was still thin AF and had a ponytail at the bottom.
I felt unattractive and had no confidence. It wasn't until after college I finally decided to purchase a "hair piece" I purchased some Jessica Simpson Hair-Do clip in bangs. For the first time, I actually felt a bit of confidence about my hair. I eventually bought a wider piece that acted as a part. But as I bought hair pieces my bald spot continued to grow and grow and grow. I had to keep buying bigger pieces until I had a clip in piece that covered the entire top of my head.
It took me a long time to find ways to make it look "natural" a lot of practice and youtube videos. I would make sure that the clips were flat and "perfect" which often meant they pulled my hair too tight creating traction alopecia where the hair follicle is completely damaged and may never grow back.
The constant fear of having to explain this if I was found out was real. Every time I was in an unavoidable situation where I'd have to share it was torture and scary. No one has heard of it so it's not like you can just SHARE it - you have to say what it is, explain it, and hope for no judgement. Examples: getting my hair done for events I was in, explaining why I wanted to do my own or to the hair dresser what was going on things like that.
I would spend so much time fixing my hair to go to the gym to cover my bald spots with bobby pins, hair spray and head bands that my arms would be sore and I'd have a headache. TO GO TO THE GYM. Because I'd get too hot in a hat.
All this time I so badly wanted to quit but I did not know how. I didn't like any of the counselors or therapists I saw. None of them truly understood this disorder.
I didn't have money to pay for anything extra to help me.
But what's funny is the last straw that made me quit WAS a waste of money. I had found this company that offered these "hair barriers" for women with trichotillomania. It's essentially a hairpiece that glues onto your pullspots so you can't access them so you can eliminate the behavior. It was expensive and there were no salons close so I opted for their "DIY" package. I hated it. I didn't like that it would smell because I worked out so much. I didn't like that it would itch. I DID like waking up with a "full head of hair" lol but that was about it. I spent over $800 on this and cried feeling like I'd wasted our money because I hated it so much. HOWEVER I decided that was it. I was going to quit. I was fucking DONE. SO if it cost $800 to finally be DONE and to face this disorder rather than hiding from it FINE.
At this point I shared with my social media following what I'd been struggling with rather than in secret groups and with my husband and felt F R E E. I can't even describe it. I shared my battle. I bought fun wigs now that people knew what I was struggling with. AND FINALLY in an attempt to just START FRESH I shaved my head.
Shaving my head opened up my eyes to ways to finally quit I hadn't realized - NOT shaving your head that's not required. BUT it took away the focus on my hair and helped me focus on other stuff. It's help me develop a method for "quitting" and "embracing" trichotillomania I never would have known if I hadn't just gone for it. I'm telling you my life is in a totally new place.
I focused on my heart, on my inside. I stopped hating my disorder and figured out I'd have to work with it not fight it if I wanted to win.
I found that there are so many people like me who feel lost and alone. They hide it well but area constantly wondering if they are hiding it at all.
See trichotillomania creates this state of fear you're CONSTANTLY living in. You become so obsessed with the behavior you have and hiding it. It becomes a constant strain on your heart and an constant feeling of inadequacy and that you aren't good enough is in your head. It also created this unrealistic goal fo perfection. I always wanted my make up and hair perfect because I could actually control that and not my hair. I thought that being "pull free" meant going from pulling one day to NEVER pulling again.
It added to an even unhealthier relationship with myself over 20 years. When I started to view it that pull free is a PROCESS and not a destination - much like when I worked with fitness clients - it helped me develop an A HA moment. It helped me see what SO MANY of us get wrong and WHY SO MANY of us fail over and over and over again.
I'm glad this disorder is a part of my life now because my appreciation for BAD hair days is on another LEVEL lol I actually like bad hair days now because it's not a bad bald spot day. I am grateful for the people I've met and been inspired by.
We all have our "trich" story if you struggle with trich. Maybe you pull differently or from a different area. Maybe you use tweezers while I used my fingers. It doesn't matter. They all fucking suck because we make ourselves feel like shit for a literal ADDICTION we've created in our bodies. We sit there and feel bad about ourselves perpetuating the anxiety and the behavior. We create a cycle we can't dig out of, even when we have every intention of changing.
It's ridiculous. But it doesn't have to stay that way. There is hope. BUT ultimately it also DOES NOT have to mean being "pull free" many people with trichotillomania have found joy in not getting hung up in it. Trust me I wish I could log the hours of research I've done on this topic - I'm sure you know what I mean. There are people who have embraced it and feel fulfilled. EVERYONE is different. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed of it because you don't need hair to be beautiful or eyelashes. It's what's in your heart. We have to let go of the self-hate we develop with this disorder. To be honest I STILL struggle with the stigmatization when I go to explain it to someone in person. I hear my voice crack and struggle to get the words out.
I'm here for you if you relate to this. I'm here to offer you hope and to share this journey every step of the way. YES it is hard but YOU can do HARD things.
199 days pull free and counting