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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: eft.mercola.com . 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.