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Why I'm No Longer Hiding the Physical Effects of My Trichotillomania

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When I was 11 years old, I started pulling out my hair. When I was 14, I got my first bald spot. When I was 15, I began pulling out my eyebrows. When I was 16, the hair loss got so bad I started wearing a hairpiece. Today, I am 17, about to graduate high school, and my hair is only about an inch in length, and I’ve never felt more confident.

In the spring of 2015, my pulling was at an all-time high, and despite my efforts to reduce it, it was only getting worse. My head was full of bald spots, thinning and sparseness, and my hair had lost its naturally curly texture. After months of ponytails, headbands and Toppik (a shake-on powder to fill in bald spots), I couldn’t adequately cover up the hair loss anymore.

After attending my first TLC Foundation for BFRBs conference in April 2015, I was becoming increasingly more confident in myself, and I no longer wanted to keep my trichotillomania a secret. Yet I still felt the need to hide the physical part of my condition. On May 26, 2015, I began wearing a hairpiece. Hair Club For Kids provides custom-made hairpieces to kids under the age of 18 with hair loss conditions, completely free of charge. I am immensely thankful for this charity for giving me the chance to have a full head of hair again, even if it’s not my own hair.

When I first got my hairpiece put on, my mom and I both cried; I looked like my “old self” again. For the first time in years, I was able to wake up in the morning and head out the door just like that without worrying about how to cover up bald spots. I was able to have a “normal” life again (although there really is no such thing as “normal”), absent of constant anxiety over what my hair looked like. I had full, thick, curly hair just like I used to have before I ever had trich. People started to notice and I began getting compliments on my hair again very often… the whole time without anyone having any idea that it’s not my own hair. I’ve spent the entirety of my time in high school with various levels of hair loss and did many different things to hide it, so let me tell you, it’s been great to be able to spend my last year of high school worry-free with a full head of hair.

Although I’m open about my trich, and most people in my life know about it, only my parents, my sisters and my brother, and one close friend knew about my hairpiece. After all, the whole point of it was to look as if I had real hair. My hairpiece was glued on, and in order for the glue to stick, I had to shave the whole top of my head. I only had a thin layer of my own long hair left in the back and sides (these parts never had any damage to them). Every two months, I would go back in for an appointment, they would take off my hairpiece, re-shave the growth — it would still grow underneath the hairpiece — and reattach the hairpiece. Every four months, I would receive a brand new hairpiece, and they would complete this process.

Now I have a clip-in hairpiece I can take on and off myself and don’t have to wear all the time. I won’t have to keep shaving my regrowth. At the time, I felt that a glued on hairpiece was the best option for me. I definitely enjoyed having it. My hairpiece allowed me to start fresh by shaving my head and letting my bald spots regrow, while still having “hair” on top while I became comfortable with myself. But I’m in a much different place now. I’ll be graduating high school, then starting college soon. So I’ve cut the longer hair to the same length as the regrowth, and it’s a pixie cut. I’m excited to begin college and this new chapter of my life with a fresh start. The first two days of having my new clip-in hairpiece, I wore it to school. By the third day, I chose to go to school with my pixie cut, all my own real natural hair.

I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about people asking about my hair, as it’s an obvious drastic change. Just about all my family and friends know about my trich, and I’m open about it, but I’m a pretty reserved person in school, and it would be hard to explain my compulsive hair pulling disorder to someone I don’t know in just a short amount of time. But to my surprise, my new hair was so positively received, and I even got complimented by people I don’t personally know! I plan on wearing my new hairpiece only on occasion and just for fun, but if and when I do wear it, it won’t be out of necessity anymore.

My glued-on hairpiece acted as a barrier and made it physically impossible to pull my real hair. Right now with my short hair, it is too short for me to grasp and pull. So I technically haven’t done any major pulling in about a year. I truly believe that if I still had long hair, I would still be severely pulling. I’d much rather have hair that’s short but even. A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself ever having hair this short, but it was honestly the best decision I have ever made, and it has been the most helpful thing for my trich yet.

Over the years, something deep within me has changed. I love and accept who I am now. Over time, this has built up true confidence in myself that goes way beyond my appearance. Recently, I also stopped wearing eyebrow makeup, even in public or to school. I’ll admit, it took a while to accept the fact that I’ll most likely never have naturally thick curly hair again. But you know what? I am still me with or without my hair. Now I’m grateful to have any hair at all, even if it’s super short and not curly. It’s hard to explain how it happened, but I just don’t feel the need to hide anymore.

I already “came out” about my trichotillomania and it’s not a secret, and now I am no longer hiding even the physical effects of my trich. It’s taken a long time to get to this place, but I’m finally here, and I truly couldn’t be any happier.

A black and white photo of the author

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 14, 2016
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