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I Asked My Ex-Boyfriend What It's Like Dating Someone With Trichotillomania

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Relationships are tough. They’re rewarding, and they take work. And it’s even more difficult when there’s an added third person, an elephant in the room — in my case, trichotillomania. I’ve never had trichotillomania end a relationship, but it has certainly complicated it. At the suggestion of my friend, and now ex-boyfriend, we figured we should talk about it. Enjoy the ride.

In an attempt to provide transparency and both sides of a relationship, involving trichotillomania, this piece is in Q&A format. A bit different for me, but also helpful for ensuring both sides are covered. Dexter has answered and asked questions, as have I.

Anastasia: What was your reaction when you first discovered someone you were dating had trichotillomania. Both outwardly and on an emotional level?

Dexter: I didn’t know what to do. Sounds stupid, right? I had never known that trich was a mental illness and was confused at first. What did it mean? How would this effect our relationship? What could I do to help? Could I even help her? The questions were endless.

Emotionally, I just wanted to be there for her. She deserved that. I decided if I really cared about the person I wanted to be with, I needed to find out more about it and how I could be supportive of her.

Dexter: What has been your greatest fear while being in a relationship and living with trich?

Anastasia: My biggest fear is the person I’m with will discover my trichotillomania before I find the courage to share it. When you have trichotillomania there’s pointy, regrowing hair involved. That’s not fun for someone running their hands through your hair. I also play with my hair a lot, twisting it, pulling at it, constantly fixing it, which can be seen as self-focused and I worry it deters people.

Anastasia: What was frustrating about dating someone with trichotillomania?

Dexter: Despite doing my research, talking to her and reassuring her I was there if she needed me, I felt kind of helpless when I found out she pulled. I mean, there was never any shame I felt in her pulling, but I feared I had somehow caused an amount of stress that led to it happening, or that I wasn’t attentive enough to recognize it.

I was frustrated with myself because I didn’t always feel like I was as supportive as I should have been. (I also live with depression which can amplify the feeling.) When your partner admits to you they’ve pulled, there can be a sense of self-questioning, wondering what you did wrong, and that’s OK. The main thing to realize is it’s not about you, it’s about what you can do to be supportive.

Dexter: Has trich ever made you question your own self-worth, and what effect has that had, if ever, in your past relationships?

Anastasia: Is every day a good answer? I question my validity, my ability to succeed and my beauty on a daily, almost hourly basis. I enjoy succeeding at things I can see as tangible, that’s what I see as progress. It helps me feel progress in a tactile way. Although I can walk the talk, I am super insecure. Every aspect of my identity has been affected by trich. I obsess about my hair, never truly feeling beautiful. In turn, it affects my self-confidence in talking to others, sharing with others and being comfortable with others. It’s hard to put yourself out there when often all you want to do is hide.

Anastasia: What pieces of advice would you give to someone who is dating someone with trichotillomania?

Dexter: Just, be there. Listen. Let them know you love them. Give them space when they need it, as hard as it may be to be apart. It’s not your job to fix that person, but it’s on you though to not judge, to hold them tight when they need you to and let them know you’ll always be there and always have their back.

Dexter: What would you need in a relationship, from a partner, to support your while living with trich? A partner may feel helpless when they see you go through this. What advice would you have for them when pulling occurs?

Anastasia: Above all else, understanding I can’t really articulate what I need. This may not be the case for all “trichsters,” but for me personally I often just need to get through a pulling episode and ride through the emotions that come with. Someone’s support or their being there will not necessarily help, but rather just delay the pulling session. In my own instance, someone telling me to stop pulling is not helpful, but for others this may not be the case. One major thing my partner can do to support me is to just accept I will need alone time and to give it to me even when I don’t ask for it.

Anastasia: Any positives you can gleen from dating someone with trichotillomania?

Dexter: She was and is her own woman. She’s courageous enough to get up each day, knowing that she lives with this, and she’s coping. In a world that shames people because of what they look like or what they suffer from, it’s a beautiful thing to know there are those who fearlessly still go out there and never stop trying.

Dexter: What would you say to someone who lives with trich but is fearful of going into a relationship for the first time?

Anastasia: It will be OK. Trust you are your own person, and if someone can’t handle your trichotillomania, or any illness for that matter, they are not worth your time. In my experiences, don’t bring it up on the first date. It’s confusing and a long word. Texting it is helpful (you know, spelling). Overall, be true to yourself, what you live with and who you are. Anyone you are going to be with, will want to honor those things.

Anastasia: What positives are there?

Dexter: Dating a person with trich will teach you beauty isn’t just the hair on a persons’ head. It isn’t the makeup that defines the person, but it’s the strong will to just be. And for that, they’ll make you a better person because of it.

I’m lucky.

Not many can say they’ve had the opportunity to reach out and talk to their ex about trichotillomania in the relationship. I’ve been unlucky before though and had exes I didn’t feel comfortable talking to about my illness. Exes who told me to “just stop.” Others who blamed my family for the way I am.

That is not, however, the point. There are good people out there, understanding people, ones who are willing to accept and cherish who you are. Find those people, whoever they may be. Be yourself. A huge thank you to Dexter for his willingness, and encouragement in doing this. We may not be together, but we’re still friends and for that I’m forever grateful.

Originally published: July 26, 2016
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