Trichotillomania. A word that has your mouth tired after forming every syllable. A word that begins confusing and ends shaming. A word that tries to hide its scary connotation with nicknames like “trich” (pronounced trick). When isolated, though, this word does more damage than the two seconds it takes to speak it. It does damage that can last a lifetime … when left alone.
I began pulling my hair out one by one nearly four years ago when I was a freshman in college. Trichotillomania is known to more commonly begin during childhood, yet when it does start up after puberty it is typically attributed to trauma. In my case, I had just gone through a traumatic experience my junior/senior years of high school.
I underwent trauma the later years of my high school experience in the form of emotional, mental, and sexual abuse – taken advantage of because of my innocence and sometimes damning tendency to trust too easily. My first survival instinct that kicks in when necessary is to shut down all emotion and get the job done, whatever it may be. For me, that job was legal process, courtroom testimony, and focusing on rebuilding a broken and hurting family. I put myself on the back burner, and once freshman year of college came around I had every excuse in front of me to ignore the pain and fear deep inside. While I was out making friends, growing in the sport I loved, dealing with roommate drama, and more, my pain was manifesting itself in one piece of hair pulled out here, one piece pulled out there. Next thing I knew, the tile floor beside my twin sized bed was covered in hair and soon I was ashamedly trying to scoop it up into the trash can when no one was looking.
The first time I heard the word trichotillomania was during the spring semester of my freshman year. I was sitting in an Abnormal Psychology class, subconsciously pulling my hair at times and catching myself at others, when my professor defined the term. In response, my heart pounded and I became acutely aware of his gaze landing in my direction during his lecture. ‘Had he seen me pull my hair? Does he think I may have this disorder? There is no way that is me. I am not crazy.’ And that is where I left the thought of the disorder, to be untouched for a couple of more years.
Fast forward to sophomore year. It is about thirty minutes earlier in the morning than I normally get up, strategically timed for two reasons: (1) my roommate is still asleep and won’t interrupt or more like notice what I’m doing, and (2) I have the extra time I need before class to do what I’m doing – which is every possible thing with the limited hair care items I have to cover up a bald spot. Tearfully, I had looked at the back of my head in the mirror the day before and discovered my worst fear. I had pulled so much hair at the end of my part that I now had a very distinct bald spot. Now, for most people, a quick use of hairspray, bobby pins, and more would fix the problem and their hair wouldn’t move for the rest of the day. But for me, someone who attends Covenant College on the oh so beautiful Lookout Mountain, those tools simply weren’t enough to battle the daily, brutal wind that sends hairstyles flying everywhere. Which means the control I was grasping at was basically an illusion. My heart filled with weight as I continued to push forward in my effort to look normal, an effort that was hopeless from the start, and left my arms weak from holding up all the products.
The end of the summer before my junior year is drawing near, and I’m lying in my bed at my parent’s home with tears streaming down my face. I have a website pulled up that explains trichotillomania, and I can see my name written all over it. I have this weird tension of acceptance and fear swirling inside my chest as I feel freedom for finally taking this step, but also pain that what I went through nearly three years ago is still affecting me to this day.
In a couple of months after that summer moment my mom will have connected me with a wonderful biblical counselor who has walked with girls through the same issue before. Under her guidance, I would see growing success, and discouraging setbacks. More importantly, I would begin to understand that this is a journey that cannot be brought to a quick destination just as I like, but will have highs and lows, bumps in the road and frustrating stop signs, and an end that only my All-Knowing Father can see.
Today, I am a college graduate who is diving headfirst into adulthood – and loving it. Today, I am also still pulling out my hair. More recently it has been more frequently. All over the top of my head are short hairs bunched together enough to disguise itself as a full head of hair, but I know it’s there. So why, after nearly four years of dealing with this, am I still pulling my hair? I would argue that there are three main reasons:
- Comfort. When there was a storm raging, conflict growing, and fear taking control deep inside my soul, I needed an outlet to distract me in the moment. I needed something to take my mind off of the anxiety burrowed within me that burst through with panic, the fear that led to sporadic nightmares, and the shame that showed itself in every mirror I faced. Believe it or not, that comfort was found in pulling out my hair. Is it that hard to believe, though? Another form of trichotillomania that is so much more widely accepted is nail biting. For some, comfort is found there, and for me and many others like me, it is found in hair pulling.
- Habit. When the anxiety subsides, when nights are full of deep, uninterrupted sleep, and when shame is the last thing on my mind, sometimes I would (and do) still pull. Why, when it leaves me with pounding headaches? Why, when it makes my hair so thin and risks more bald spots? Because the habit formed in the search for comfort is still a habit when comfort is no longer needed. At times, it’s a few minutes before I notice my floor covered in hair again, or it takes the headache for my attention to be snapped back into place. Sometimes consequences can lead to the fight lasting longer than the actual battle itself.
- Shame. Sometimes I catch myself pulling my hair, or my scalp finally aches enough to make me notice, and instead of stopping … I continue to pull because of being angry with myself, stressed about not being able to control myself, and ashamed of the thinning hair and bald spots I knew I was creating. I worried about the next morning and how I would fix my hair, or the next day at work and who would see the back of my head in a light I couldn’t. It’s a bondage that is hard to break – without the grace of Jesus.
As I said, I still pull my hair. I wish I didn’t, not so much for having the thick hair I had in high school again, but so I could feel comfortable reaching out to others struggling and give them a success story, encourage them. But, I cannot let me own finite definition of success stop me from allowing the Lord to use my pain in ways I could never imagine. Success does not only have to be overcoming, but it can be taking a small step one day in believing in my true Comforter, and giving myself grace just as he does. That is what it is about, not being alone. Understanding that God is right by my side, holding my hand, and desiring to step in and rescue me. I only have to let him. I have before, and I have experienced healing. So here I am. Expressing vulnerability in the best way I can – writing – and in the scariest way I can – my hardest trial. Trusting in my Father to take my struggle, my story, and mold it to fit his will in whatever way he desires. Hopefully through this, anyone who reads it will not see Hannah King, but will see Jesus my Redeemer, God my Father. And the fight that continues on, but thankfully with the knowledge that victory has already been won. Praise Him.