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How Music Can Emulate the Tension and Release of Trichotillomania

I am sure most people understand me when I say music is therapeutic. I hesitated to write this piece because of how universal this topic is, wanting to avoid a cliche. Then, I realized I had a unique perspective because of my disorder. I have trichotillomania, a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) mental illness, which causes me to uncontrollably and compulsively pull out my own hair. I live a life of constant tension, stress and anxiety. Relief is rare. However, when I listen to music, things tend to change.

In my 10th grade music class, I learned the fundamentals of music are tension and release. Think about your favorite song. It probably builds up just before the chorus, with the chorus acting as a release when the artist begins to belt out their power.

Adele’s “Hello” is a journey of tension and release. The high notes peak and then come back down, taking us on an emotional up and down journey. Sia’s “The Greatest” gives us tension and release each time she belts out “the greatest” in the chorus, with the chorus itself a satisfying release after tense lines of “Don’t give up. I won’t give up.”

These songs are just two popular, contemporary examples that can give you a sense of of what I’m trying to explain. Listen to these songs. I mean really listen to them. Listen to your favorite song. Do you feel the tension and release? This is what I feel on a daily basis, although it’s often a lot more tension than release as I try to battle my compulsions.

Going back to Sia, the best way I can explain trichotillomania is with the lines preceeding the chorus, “Don’t give up. I won’t give up.” These lines are pervasive, repetitive and tense, just like my intrusive thoughts and urges.

If you’re into dubstep, then think about what it feels like when you’re waiting for the bass to drop. Think about the adrenaline rush you get when it does. That’s what pulling does for me. It releases tension. It releases euphoric, chemical sensations through my body because my brain is sick and not wired properly. The only difference between trichotillomania and music for me is listening to music isn’t followed by extreme guilt or scars. In fact, music can sometimes replace and divert urges I have to pull by emulating the tension and release my body craves.

I have a playlist below of the songs I most frequently listen to when I’m in a bad place. I share these in an effort to help provide relief to other people living with BFRBs, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other forms of mental illness. I thank the artists that write these songs for giving me an outlet and for making me feel less alone. I imagine many of these artists are tortured souls, too. In solidarity with them, I share their words of strength.

My Therapy Playlist

1. “The Greatest” by Sia

2. “Hello” by Adele

3. “Queen of Peace” by Florence + the Machine

4. “Shake it Out” by Florence + the Machine

5. “Elastic Heart” by Sia

6. “They Know My Name” by Big Little Lions

7. “Empty House” by Relient K

8. “1000x” by Jarryd James

9. “For Now” by Original Broadway Cast of Avenue Q

10. “Bulletproof” by La Roux

Bonus: The entire soundtrack for “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Thanks, Lin.

October 1-7 was BFRB Awareness Week, but there are events going on throughout the month of October. Share your story on social media to help break the stigma.

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Image via Thinkstock.