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What Happened at 8 Years Old When My Teacher Noticed My Hair Pulling

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

A few strands twirled around a delicate finger. Grab, twist, yank. Repeat.

It must have been recess or lunchtime because I distinctly remember feeling completely and utterly alone with this woman. All the other children had already gone out to play, and why I was still in this room was beyond me. I sat at a desk that was entirely too big for me, and she sat at a desk that was entirely too big for her frail body. She never said a word, she never got out of her chair. She simply motioned with her fingers to come to the front of the room and stand before her and the giant desk. Mind you, this desk was normal size. But to an 8-year-old? This desk was God.

My nerves were fried, my brain scrambled over the events of the day to pinpoint my mistakes. Why was I being summoned forward by this devil of a woman? I was sweating bullets but knew to remain silent. Children are decorations with the batteries removed so they cannot make a sound. I arrived at her desk, and she just looked at me. I had yet to arrive at the destination in my head. What did I do wrong? Why was I here and can I go play now?

A simple gesture was all it was, but I remember it nearly 20 years later. A tape dispenser. You know the big black ones that sit on a teacher’s desk. They hold together the stories of the world but little did I know it would bury the evidence. She picked it up and put it on the corner of the desk, right where it would be next to me.

“I want you to take pieces of tape from here and clean up the mess you’ve made. Take the tape and put it to the floor and clean it up. Throw it away and you will do this every day that you make a mess on my floor.”

Forgive me for paraphrasing and filling in gaps, for my memory is shot. But I can assure you my estimation of what she said is close. The mess? Oh, the mess I have made. The mess I had made for weeks. Grab, twist, yank. Repeat.

Biting my nails no longer placated my need for pain. My anxiety shook me to my core and I needed more, like an addiction. I don’t remember when I first started or what gave me the idea. Hell, I don’t even remember what the final straw was before I pulled out my hair the first time. If I had to wager, I would say it was my mother’s obsession with my long, beautiful blonde hair that made me tear it out of my head.

I was 8, sitting in a “Christian” school in a desk entirely too large for me, and I picked spots on the right side of my head. I aimlessly twirled the strands around my index finger, and simply pulled. They came out with little effort at first. As less hair remained, the effort had to increase. It hurt, it itched, it throbbed, it ached, but I kept going. Sometimes I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Sometimes I wasn’t even stressed when I pulled. I eventually gave myself a bald spot, but that meant little to me. Adjusted my coordinates a little to the left and there was more hair. I discarded my strands of gold to the right of my desk, and there they sat in little piles.

This woman, this educator, this protector of children? She saw my bald spots. She saw me pull my hair. She saw the piles. And she thought of the mess I had made on her carpet. I never said a word as I took the pieces of tape, one by one, and stuck them to the floor. They picked up my strands efficiently, and I threw away the evidence of my shame. She never asked me what was wrong, and my parents never received a phone call. I continued pulling until my mother saw the bald spot and punished me for it. I cut all my hair off shortly after that to punish her, but that meant there were no more strands to pull.

I found sharp things three years later.

Photo by Lotte Meijer on Unsplash

Originally published: October 29, 2020
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