We All Have Secrets. Mine, I Pull Out My Hair

October 1-7 is Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) Awareness Week. BFRB is an umbrella term for a group of repetitive behaviors in which an individual damages their appearance or causes physical injury through pulling, picking biting or scraping of the hair, skin, or nails.

Statistics show that 2 in 50 Americans have a BFRB. However, the real number may be much higher. Many people are too embarrassed or ashamed to admit they have a BFRB and go to great lengths to hide their behavior from family, friends, and medical professionals.

I have trichotillomania. Trich for short. It causes people to pull out their hair from places such as their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, chest, legs beard or other parts of their body. I have had it since I was 7 years old. I am now 41. I do not have my upper eyelashes and wear my favorite black eyeliner to cover that up. I never leave home without it.

While I am very open about my journey today, I still get triggered by the question, "Why don't you just stop?" If it were that easy, I would have by now. I have tried different types of therapies, both traditional and non-traditional as well as medications. When I was younger, I used to pray that something would work. I definitely pull less, but I have never been able to fully stop.

In 2012, I made the choice to go public and share my journey with the world. I was tired of hiding from myself and hiding who I really was from the world. I wanted to strip off the social mask that I chose to wear in order to protect myself from being hurt, rejected or be considered a freak. The moment I chose to come out to world, was the moment I really began to love and honor myself. I never looked back. Every day I make a choice to chose myself, and that includes my trich. While it is not who I am, it is something I do. If I cannot accept that part of myself, there is no chance or opportunity for me to love myself. Rather than reject it, I choose daily to make peace with my hair pulling and appreciate the ways it has made me who I am today. So why is it this year, on my 3 year anniversary of coming out, do I find myself feeling shy, nervous, and fearful of being judged?

Here is the truth. Between the ages of 7-11 my hair pulling was at its worst. I did not know why I was doing it. I certainly did not know how to put a stop to it and had no control over it. It got worse at a rapid pace. I quickly went from that beautiful young girl all of the children wanted to play with, to the little girl who had no eyelashes, eyebrows and bald spots the size of baseballs on her head. I was abandoned by many who I thought were friends. If only being rejected by friends was where it ended. As we all know, at times some children can be cruel. Once the other children began to notice my lack of hair, I was called names such as "freak". I was bullied on the school bus being pushed down the aisle onto the floor and kicked. I was hit, beaten, punched, choked, and things worse than one can even imagine. No child should ever have to experience that. It was all because I looked different. I felt alone and I was suffering. While I had my family who loved me, I began to go inwards and I felt isolated. I did not know anyone else like me or who did what I did. Not only was I physically hurting, but my heart and soul were fractured and in pain. How is a little girl of the young age of 7 even wrap her head around all of that?

While my childhood during that time had many wonderful memories sprinkled in with my own personal hell, what really shaped a large part of me was being bullied. I put on a protective mask in order to keep myself safe. As much as I could, I hid parts of who I was and as much of the hair pulling as I could. I was going to do anything I could to prevent me from being hurt. It is that little girl that I have vowed from a young age to keep safe, that today is feeling fearful writing my story despite the fact that I have shared it so many times I can do it in my sleep. Most times I share it from a place of healing, information about me. The emotion around it has mainly disappeared. But today, it is my scared little girl who was asked "What did you do to yourself" and choked who seems to be showing up.

Those of us with trichotillomania can often feel broken and alone. We want to tell people we're hurting, but we're afraid of what they'll say. We're afraid they'll reject us. We're afraid because in a way, we reject ourselves. We suffer for years because we're scared to share that we pull out our hair. We spend countless hours trying to hide or cover the area where we've pulled. We desperately hope no one will notice and want to avoid a negative reaction, but at the very same time, we judge ourselves for it. This impacts both our mental and spiritual health, as well as our relationships with others. Worst of all, it destroys our faith in ourselves.

Sharing this type of vulnerability can be daunting to reveal, because we never know how someone will react to our truth. However, when we are unable to speak our truth and keep it locked away, we also hold on to the shame. This shame (not the pulling itself) is what cuts us off from how we really want to show up in the world.

I tell my story to show others that in sharing our stories, we can feel proud and confident. There is power in sharing our journey. Whether we still pull out our hair or we've stopped, we can tell our stories and show ourselves self-love in the process. We can honor our truth and own our true
selves. We can find beauty in who we are.

I also want to create a place in which we are safe to share our stories, all together. There is healing not only for those of us who are open about having trich, but for others, who will finally be able to admit that they, too, have been there, have felt what we have felt. I want them to reclaim this dignity. I want to create a vehicle for us to feel connected to one other, as well as educate those unfamiliar with what it is actually like to live with trichotillomania. I want to put another brave name and face to a disorder that millions of people have, that so few talk about.

People living with trichotillomania are teachers, students, non-profit professionals, medical professionals, lawyers, doctors, actors, and executive directors. Some of us are married with children while others are single. We are mothers, fathers and someone's child. Some of us are well-known BFRB advocates, and some of us have never spoken publicly about having the disorder. Some of us still pull our hair from different areas of our bodies, and some of us have stopped. We are as diverse as you.

While my inner child is feeling nervous today, the woman who I have become and know myself to be, shares my story to remind you that you are never really alone.