Broken Light: A Photography Collective

We are photographers living with or affected by mental illness; supporting each other one photograph at a time. Join our community, submit today!

Hey Girl, You’re Bald

Photo taken by Melanie who suffers from Trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. She is a former environmental lobbyist of 30 years, who left Capitol Hill to pursue her dream of being a writer. She is nearing the end of her Masters in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. Writing has been spiritually and emotionally healing for her, and she enjoys encouraging others to explore writing as a path to serenity and personal freedom.

About this photo: “Hey girl, you’re bald!” My friend pretended not to hear, as our escalator descended, leaving the boys’ laughter behind. I heard well enough, and my stomach lurched as if we were on a carnival ride. Those cruel words were called out decades ago, but I can still hear them.

I’ve lived most of my life with the shame and embarrassment of having large bald patches on my head, and oftentimes no eyebrows or lashes. My condition made me sit in the back of the classroom all my life, when I’m naturally a front-row kind of gal. It’s kept me from going swimming, from spending the night with friends, from ever going to a hair stylist.

Once I told a boyfriend that I had been in a car accident and doctors had shaved my head, but the hair never grew back because of anxiety. Turns out his father was a medical doctor and told my boyfriend that he didn’t know what my issue was, but I was a liar.

In the sixties, Dear Abby told a girl who had written in about her hair-pulling that it was a throw-back to the monkeys who pick lice off each other. Oh. My. God. Abby should have been horribly punished. You can imagine how this helped a teenager who already thought she was a freak.

It has a Name.

I suffer from Trichotillomania, “the hair-pulling disease.” It’s one of a spectrum of disorders classified as “impulse control disorders.” There’s a lot of discussion about how it should be classified – it resembles obsessive-compulsive disorder, and they are now researching a family of disorders called “body-focused repetitive behaviors.” One in fifty people have it to some extent.

I know the classification and science are important, as far as getting research dollars and insurance coverage and such. But for me, it’s a personal issue. I don’t really care what they call it.

I’ve been hiding long enough, and if I can help just one person suffering in shameful solitude, I thought it would be worth it to speak up. Here’s a link to an organization that can help you, or your loved one, if you have this disorder. The Trichotillomania Learning Center, TLC.

In the meantime, if you have a child that does this, please don’t slap their hands away. It won’t help. If you know someone with bald patches, don’t ask them, “What happened to your hair?” They’ll tell you if they want to. And while I’m making suggestions, if you’re prone to saying, “It just made me want to pull my hair out,” well, maybe you could stop. That phrase makes 1 in 50 cringe.

I want to add my happy and miraculous ending. I’m eternally grateful to my therapist, Joanne, for introducing me to the practice of “tapping,” or Emotional Freedom Technique, which has given me three years, ten months and fifteen days of pull-free living. If you’re curious, check it out: . I don’t understand how it works, but it does, using the same energy meridians as acupuncture, but without the needles. (Yay!) My fine, straight hair has grown back thick and curly, as if I had been through chemo. It is without a doubt the most beautiful head of hair on the planet.


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10 comments on “Hey Girl, You’re Bald

  1. tilde531
    June 13, 2013

    What an incredibly insightful, enlightening and inspiring post!


  2. Developing A New Image
    June 13, 2013

    Melanie……great share, keep working at it. The tapping thing is strange, I was suspicions, it seems to defy logic, but when it works, one quits questioning so much…..tap on…peace…j


  3. Paula McLane Jennings
    June 13, 2013

    Great photo Melanie. And I do know what your disease is – I have the related symptom – skin picking. It is part of BDD – Body Dysmorphic Disorder. My fingers are always bandaged and sore or bleeding and it has been so bad recently that my finger tips are calloused from it. It is a terrible part of depression. I am going to look into that website you mentioned as maybe that tapping will help me too. How wonderful that you are healing and that your hair all came back amazing and full.


  4. victoriaaa15
    June 13, 2013

    People don’t need hair to be beautiful. ❤
    Stay strong. Good work. You're an inspiration.


  5. Sammy
    June 13, 2013

    Good for you. Great post


  6. ag
    June 13, 2013

    Glad that there’s a happy ending to your story


  7. themanofletters
    June 14, 2013

    A very moving, insightful and inspiring blog. Power to you; you deserve all the happiness you have found, long may it continue. Thank you for courage to share and for the help it will give others.


  8. Miss P
    June 14, 2013

    touching… I have a son with this disorder. Thank you for sharing your link


  9. melanielynngriffin
    June 14, 2013

    Thanks for your comments, everybody! I can’t say I think this is the end of the story – it’s all a journey. I have recently started considering dating — another casualty of my trich disorder. Just the thought of it makes me want to pull! I’m tapping every day again, just to stay balanced.


  10. Tiger Lillies
    June 17, 2013

    Look at you! Beautiful smile. Fabulous message. I have a family member who does this hair pulling, until reading this message we always thought it was a nervous disorder. Thank you for opening my eyes. I will be sure to relay the message. Thank you, and wishes for the very best!


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