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To the Father at the Pool Whispering About My Trichotillomania

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To the father at the pool,

I don’t know if you knew this, but I have a condition called trichotillomania (which means impulsively pulling out my hair). When I stepped into the hot tub earlier today, I noticed your 9- or 10-year-old daughter pointing at my bald spot.

Carol taking a photo of her hair

It took a lot of courage to go out in public, especially to a swimming pool and hot tub. I happened to leave my swimming cap in the storage unit, and it was really hot out today. After I looked at your daughter and saw her laughing and pointing at me, I looked at you, and you looked away. When you weren’t looking, I saw you whispering to your daughter, “Wow, that’s what a freak looks like in public.” I had to leave because I felt hurt.

Do you know every day I try not to touch my head, but I feel like certain hairs shouldn’t be there? I was bullied so badly for missing eyelashes. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my trich got worse, and eventually I shaved my hair eight times. I used to be called “patches” out in public because wigs were so itchy. I remember feeling so alone until my mom found a support group in my city. I went there and met people. Eventually I went to two conferences and learned more about this disorder.

You are a parent, and as a parent, I would hope you teach your kids that it’s OK to be different. Teach compassion and kindness. And please, if you feel like you want to ask me questions nicely about my hair, I won’t be offended.

I wish people would understand it’s really hard to control. Trichotillomania is severe for me, and I feel ashamed and embarrassed because I do not have long hair, or at least hair without bald spots. Before you judge me, know that many kids and adults are affected by this disorder.

If you have a child developing this disorder, please be supportive. Attend local workshops provided, seek out online resources and educate others.

My advice to other people who have trichotillomania is this: Don’t be ashamed of who you are! You are beautiful inside and out. Don’t worry about what others think. Be yourself.

Carol Rehnlund

Originally published: June 28, 2016
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