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I Have Trichotillomania, but It Will Never Have Me

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If I had been told five years ago that at age 17 I would be the paragon for ending mental health stigma, then I would have laughed. I didn’t know I had a mental disorder as my hands unconsciously drifted to the back of my head to begin yanking out hairs from my scalp. It took me five years to put a name to this compulsive action, but I am now proud to call myself a trichotillomaniac.

It isn’t frequent that teenagers are proud of their mental disorders, but mine has been a key contributor to my development I wouldn’t want to erase. I do not struggle with trichotillomania because it hasn’t limited my life — it has only made me more comfortable with who I am. Of course, I can’t go swimming with my friends without having to take off my hairpiece and expose my bald spots, but I don’t fear their judgment. My experiences growing up with trich have taught me that anyone who mocks my anxiety just needs to be better educated on the topic.

Don’t let my confidence fool you. I was not always this proud of my trich. I spent every morning in middle school coating my hair with thickening product. Yet, rumors still spread that I was undergoing chemotherapy. I was terrified of public humiliation. The more I wanted to stop pulling, the more it would occur.

My lonely world of hidden hair balls and “What’s wrong with me?” Google searches grew brighter when my mother noticed my compulsion and brought me to my first annual Trichotillomania Learning Center conference. This outstanding foundation provides opportunities to treat body-focused repetitive behaviors like trich. My friends from TLC are incredible. I can’t imagine my life now without their constant support and perspective, despite only getting to see them once a year. Having these girls in my life reminds me that my disorder is not as uncommon as I once thought it to be. Trich is not a rare disorder. It affects a whopping 2 to 4 percent of the population or two to 10 million Americans.

Two to four percent may seem like a minuscule sliver of the human race, but is it really? In my graduating class there are 200 plus students. Statistically speaking, four to eight of these students are struggling with trichotillomania. Yet, no one aside from myself has gone public about it. The stigma around mental disorders and lack of role models in the media who admit to having trichotillomania discourage youth from doing so. Since few people affected by trich actually want people to know about it, three of my classmates are struggling in silence, probably just as confused and scared as I was five years ago during my early onset.

I want to become so confident about my disorder that these students and all others affected feel comfortable confessing to me. As a camp counselor for 7 to 15 year olds, I show my hairpiece to all my campers, male and female (boys have trichotillomania, too!) and express how grateful I am for my disorder. I go to school showing off my bald spots and smiling at those who stare. I want to be the role model that my childhood lacked for any of them who have trichotitllomania or a similar disorder. No one should feel as alienated as I did in the first couple years of my journey.

I’m still a hair puller dealing with this trichy situation. Yet, I am anything but ashamed of it. I have come so far from where I once began, and I’ve learned to use my setbacks as fuel that propels me forward toward total self-confidence. I have trichotillomania, but I won’t have it forever. I know that trichotillomania will never have me.

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Originally published: November 13, 2016
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