Ellen has been pulling since she was 8
Sensitive to stress
I’m Ellen, 23 years old, from Texas. I have only ever pulled from my scalp.
I started pulling around age 8, probably around the time my parents got divorced. It started as a fascination with the sensation of pulling out hairs and examining their roots, but it soon became a coping mechanism for stress and boredom.
When I was about 10 I went with my mom to get my beautiful, thick, straight chestnut hair cut by our family friend and she noticed two patchy (not quite bald) areas on the sides of my head. They immediately thought it was falling out, probably due to stress from my parent’s breakup, but we never sought counseling due to the expense. I played along with this explanation, and have still never told anyone ever about my secret.
The discovery of my thinning hair shocked me out of pulling for a couple of years.
When I started middle school I got my hair cut short in a boy cut, which I liked, but I looked androgynous and got teased.
I became more insecure, and therefore the pulling came back very bad. I would get up from my desk and I could see the dark hairs all over my desk, backpack, and the floor.
I always pulled from the sides of my head and so it was easy to hide, except once in 8th grade when I experimented with the crown of my head and had a small but noticeable bald spot, which a few friends teased me about. I refused to get my hair cut for fear that my family would discover my secret. In high school things were better. I was into the punk rock scene and bleached my hair, which had grown back in pretty well after a couple of years of sporadic pulling.
I would get friends to help me dye it the colors of the rainbow. I was comfortable with people touching, cutting, and grooming my hair, as I had no noticeable bald patches. But senior year, tensions were high since I was an honors student, in drama and several other extracurricular activities, working twenty hours a week, and applying for college. I started pulling hardcore, eventually cutting my hair short myself (I couldn’t stand to let another person touch my thinning mane) and even shaving the underside to lessen the extremity of my patches. I graduated and moved to another state to attend college. I met a nice guy and fell in love, which did have a positive effect on my self-image and, in turn, made me pull less. I was supporting myself and paying for school the whole time, as well as being in the honors program and studying biophysical sciences, so my workload was heavy. I would go through weeks or months where I pulled a lot, and sometimes I was scared that my boyfriend would notice my bald patches, though I’m pretty sure he never did.
My senior year was the most difficult time of my life (financial, romantic, academic, you name it), and I pulled really bad during that time.
I graduated, moved back to my hometown, and found a job. Various influences (worrying about finding a job and paying bills, insecurity and loneliness, and, more often than not, boredom) have driven me to pull a lot in the last few months. I have always been able to easily hide the patchy areas of my hair, but I hate how thin it is. When I was a child I was always being complemented on my thick, thick hair. I want it back.
Throughout my life as a hair-puller, I have repeatedly told myself, “Today’s the day. I’m stopping this madness NOW.” Of course that never happened. I always relapsed, sometimes within the hour. But as I am writing this I have not pulled a single hair out in a week.
Last Monday I was surfing the Web and out of curiosity typed in “obsessive compulsive disorder,” which I’ve long suspected has something to do with my hair pulling.
My dad has mild (and undiagnosed) OCD about cleaning and organizing, and I sometimes repeat his habits. Well, I was reading a laundry list of compulsive behaviors related to OCD and there was chronic hair-pulling, trichotillomania.
What I did had a name!! I was overwhelmed. In a matter of minutes, after visiting to a few links and reading a bit, I discovered my psychological disorder, named it, and admitted to having it. I was trembling as I went about my business at work. Every day at work last week I visited trich websites and read other people’s stories and advice. I even went to the library and checked out Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz, a book that was recommended on several sites as a guide for behavioral self-modification. I’ve already read it and have been using the Four Steps when I need them. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but somehow just knowing that what I do has a name and lots of other people suffer from it has made it so much easier to stop. And I truly believe that, even if I pull again, last Monday was the day I quit.
I just want to say to all of you who have posted on this and other trich websites, “THANK YOU!” Reading your stories has made a huge difference in my life. And since I have never discussed my problem with anyone, EVER, posting my story here is like coming out of the closet. Thanks for being my audience.