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Why We Don't Talk About Trichotillomania

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Imagine explaining to your friends that you have a compulsive BFRB (body focused repetitive behavior) called trichotillomania that causes you to pull out hair from random areas of your body.

You don’t know why you pluck out your eyelashes and eyebrows instead of the hair on your head, or vice versa. You don’t know why it feels soothing, even good, to pull hair from some places, and painful if you pull from others. None of it makes any sense to you, so you don’t know how to describe it to people around you either.

It’s hard enough to reveal your secret, carefully camouflaged for years with meticulous makeup or specific hairstyles. What do you do when they start asking questions? You don’t have any answers, as desperately as you wish you did. No, there’s no medication. There’s certainly no cure. There are some experimental therapy techniques, but they don’t always work, and who can find a therapist who specializes in trichotillomania? Most people can’t even pronounce it correctly.

Being put on the spot makes you nervous. You’ve spent your whole life dreading that look in someone’s eyes when they peer at you a bit more closely and notice you don’t have eyelashes. That your brows are drawn or tattooed on. That you have bald patches under the hair you religiously part a certain way. You witness their realization, then their confusion. You stand there frozen as they silently deliberate whether they should ask or not. Either way, you know they know, and now things feel weird. Now you don’t want to make eye contact. Now you hope to disappear.

It might help if there were more definitive answers, but when you were a kid, you didn’t even know there was a name for your condition. The study and research around it is relatively new. Some say it’s spurred by a traumatic event, but you don’t remember anything. You drive yourself crazy wondering if you’re repressing some horrible memory, something that could explain it all, validate it all. You hope you weren’t a victim … but at the same time, if you were, maybe people wouldn’t look at you like you’re a freak.

You avoid mirrors. They’re just a reminder of something you work all day to forget.

No one in your life has ever seen you without some sort of disguise. No one. Not family, not friends, not even your partners. You run to the bathroom after sex, not to freshen up, but to make sure there’s no telltale signs of your disorder. Are your bald patches showing? Has one of your eyebrows rubbed off? You have a hard time enjoying any intimate activity, always on high alert, working to maintain your secret.

If this sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. Sometimes you think you should stop caring so much. In a society that seems to value superficial beauty norms increasingly as time goes on, that feels impossible to do. You know that you’re strong, but you don’t have the energy to deal with the likely judgment and misunderstanding. It feels easier to hide, even when it’s hard.

You don’t want to let your trichotillomania define you. You are so much more than the hair on your body. Who decided that some hair is beautiful and other hair unwanted, anyway? If you pulled out the hair on your legs, no one would notice. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. You wish you could choose where you compulsively pluck from, but apparently that’s not up to you.

This is why no one talks about trichotillomania. Even though we have it, we don’t know the first thing about explaining it to anyone. So we don’t. We simply endure in silence, do our best and carry on. We hope that no one asks, and if they do, we keep the conversation to a minimum. After all, no one knows how to respond to it either.

The best we can do is remember that we are still complete human beings living full, meaningful lives in this world. We are not our body hair, no matter what beliefs society projects upon us. We are so much more than what lies on the surface. We are so much more than an unexplainable need to pull out our hair when we are stressed, or tired, or trying to focus. We are so much more than our trichotillomania. Please remember that.

Follow this journey on What if…

Original image via contributor

Originally published: September 1, 2021
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