10 years of hair pulling, it's time to get help

When I was a freshman in college I was fixing my hair one day and noticed a bald patch on the back of my head. I grabbed a mirror and was shocked by the quarter sized spot. I didn't realize that I was pulling out my own hair until I caught myself a few days later. It's been 10 years since that time and I still struggle, worse than ever. There have been times where it got a little worse and times it got a little better, but it's been a struggle. Right now the spots are the biggest they've ever been, but if I pull my hair into a ponytail I can cover them up.

Thinking about my childhood there were some warning signs. On a road trip once my dad yelled at me to stop pulling my hair or else I was going to go bald. I remember in junior high my grandmother told me never to pull hair out because when I'm older I won't have any left. My roommate (before I knew what was going on) asked me why my hair was sticking out funny. In high school I was obsessed with removing split ends and was constantly searching for them, always playing with my hair. I wish I would have picked up on those signs so maybe I wouldn't be where I am today.

Living with this condition is miserable. I can't wear my hair down, and I have beautiful hair. Well, I suppose I COULD, but I don't want the questions or the stares. I don't like it when people sit behind me because I'm scared they will see something. I am scared to get my hair cut because I'm afraid other people will see when they start sectioning out the hair to pin up and tease me.

The worst part about trichotillomania is wanting to stop but not being able to. I experienced this sort of torture when I had anorexia and wanted to eat and get better but just "couldn't." The desire to pull hair, or at least run my hands through my hair, is so strong; it's soothing and comforting but as soon as I start pulling I am left feeling defeated, ashamed, and frustrated.

I really want to work on this aspect of my life. I have recovered from anorexia, I'm working in therapy to address my anxiety and panic issues, and I have my medical team on board. I really want to figure out what causes my desire to pull, and what I can do to stop it.

I have no doubt that the issues behind my hair pulling are the same issues that were behind my eating disorder. I believe that people who develop conditions like this may be genetically predisposed, but ultimately it's about not being able to find healthy coping mechanisms for life-- at the time we start doing them it's because we have no other option-- but now it's about replacing those behaviors with something else.

I know that millions of people suffer from this disease, and I'm tired of being one of them and feeling so alone when there are so many out there just like me.

Miss Heather,

i wish i could give you advice but instead I find myself thanking you instead and asking for your advice.

My Son is 17 and he has been pulling on his hair for a few years.

I noticed that his beautiful hair was thinning and he openly said he does pull on it; boys don't seem to carry the same, unwarranted, sense of shame over these behaviors like girls do. In any event, he's aware of it and tries to stop. I don't think he sees it as any big deal...Only he hasn't stopped

Until I read your story I didn't know there was a name for it and that it was a disorder. But now it makes perfect sense; disorders run in our families and when I was young and way into my 20's, I use to split my ends. In fact, I wear my hair short now, but I'm sure if it were long enough I'd still be tempted.

Miss Heather knowing what you know now, what do you think would be the best way for me to deal with my son?

You are not alone.

Any time anybody engages in harmful behaviors or repetitive behaviors, I believe professional treatment is necessary. Although there is nothing really life-threatening about pulling out hair it IS a learned coping mechanism, it's a behavior we have implemented into our lives. And although the behavior in itself is not really dangerous, these types of things are done as a response to something else. Maybe we're feeling bad, we're embarrassed about something, maybe we are angry on the inside. Whatever the case, people do behaviors to distract themselves from what's REALLY going on. The only problem is... what is really going on?

For your son, I'd encourage you to get him in to see a professional counselor. Maybe you can start with the school counselor, or if you have medical insurance start looking around on sites like http://www.psychologytoday.com/ Since trichotilliamania is considered part of OCD or Anxiety Disorders, I'd do searches for those.

Best of luck to you both.

Thanks Heather. I've had my son in therapy when his father and I split up when he was young. Things got more difficult for him when his father moved out of state and we tried again but he has been very resistant. I'll continue to try.

Are there things that your family said or didn't say in regards to your disorders,(I suffer from Anxiety, ADD & now Depression)that in retrospect you wished you could have changed. I feel so guilty and worried quite often that not only did my problems help create my sons but today at this moment, the only time I have control over, am I saying the right things, wrong things, not enough to my son. He gets very combative when I bring up anxiety issues.

Recovering from anorexia, Wow, not that's Huge.
I understand the burden of carrying these lifes obstacles around with us, I personally feel overwhelmed.

What are you doing with your life these days?

It's good that you are trying to keep talking to your son and pushing him toward therapy. He's resistant because nobody likes talking about painful subjects. Nobody likes to bring up painful memories. Wouldn't it be so much easier if we forgot about things and they actually went away? Unfortunately, staying silent about things that are important to us will only make the problem fester deep inside. Talking it out and working through it is in (my opinion) the only way to get through painful memories or painful subjects.

My only comment about what to say or what not to say is to remember that hair pulling is just a SYMPTOM of a bigger problem. It's like how a symptom of a cold is a runny nose. You can't just cure the runny nose and be done with it, you have to kill the virus. For your son, you can't just stop the hair pulling and expect the issues behind it to disappear. You have to treat this condition (and anorexia, too) from the inside out. Only when he starts feeling better will the pulling stop. I guess the same can be said about me, too.

And just realize that you didn't make any of this happen. You are just trying to live your life as best you can and provide the best household for your child. The best thing you can do is SHOW your son how much you love him and support him through his journey.

MisHeather,
I'm a recovering Trichotillomaniac. I started pulling when I was about 12 years old. I had a lot of stress in my life, and the therapist, told my parents I would grow out of it. Only when I was really embarrassed by kids at school, did I stop, for a while. I still find urges to pull whenever I get stressed out. I don't pull on my head very often, but I do pull other area's. I think you will always have to make a conscious effort to resist, but it is doable. Hang in there and remember your a beautiful person. You are strong and can overcome this.

Thanks Kirs, I appreciate the support. Any tips or advice on what worked for you would be much appreciated.

Thanks Heather. Great advice! Good Luck to you. You sound like an amazing person.

I have tried a lot of different things. I am happy to share a few things that helped me. I am a night puller, so I cannot go to bed restless. I learned to crochet when I was 13. This really helped me back then, and I still rely on it now at 35. I have found that doing things with my hands help. I would crochet before bed, and then if I cannot fall asleep I will get up a crochet for while (I have a bunch of scarfs). It also is constructive and creative, so I feel good about myself. I also got acrylic nails. With nails, I was unable to pull my regrowth, this helped my bald spots fill in faster. You can also try wearing gloves, a hat, or a headband to bed. I still pull my hair from other area's, but at least they aren't noticeable. I use tweasers on my arms & legs. I wish I could say I'm cured, but I am afraid that it may always be a battle. I do have periods of time that I don't pull at all. Hopefully you can try a couple of these things.

Thank you for the tips! I find that I tend to pull more at night, and I also experience more anxiety at night, too. I think I'll try to start pulling my hair back in a wrap/bandanna and see if that helps. Thanks!

wow. i feel the exact same way. i usto be anorexic also. im in college now and its so difficult to deal with this and school at the same time. my hair is to short to wear in a ponytail and thats one of my goals is to be able to put my hair in a ponytail by the end of the year. thank you for sharing your story. :) it reminds me of my own

AMEN GIRLFRIEND.....you opened my eyes and heart to knowing i'm not alone, I didn't realize the physical damage I did to myself until the hair was out.! I can promise you one thing you can't do it alone, it's a behavioral pattern, I really need to reach out to a Pysch to in rich my life...Duh--obviously!

FRUSTRATED TODAY.....
HAS ANYONE TRIED A PARTICULAR MED FOR THIS DISORDER? WHICH ONE WORKS?I NEED TO GET SERIOUS AND ASK THE DR. FOR MEDS NOTHING ELSE IS GOING TO WORK, I CAN'T DEAL WITH MY IMAGE ANYMORE, I CAN'T STOP ON MY OWN..TRIED THAT:)ADVICE AND HELP PLZ..................

For ALL that haave posted here. I am by far the one to say anything but why not try to tell others what I do when tempted. I do the sit on my hands, word search books or spot the difference in pictures books, clean my house and if its a stressful day I find something to cmean like base boards or drawers or cabinets. I guess its part of the OCD we suffer from. After my childhood being pretty rough I didnt start until I had began to notice my "mother" wasnt going to fight to get us out of the foster system. Dad couldnt because he was in prison but did his best to write call etc. The "mother" couldnt do that. Im the oldest of 3 and was beaten by her and alot in the sense I was protecting my younger siblings. Must have been about 9 or so when I noticed any signs but didnt know what it was. I have very long hair and thick and I feel personally that is what makes me feel less shame. I am embarressed to wear my hair down but not because of any patches of baldness in the back of my head. Mine is the sides and front. More like a guy who looses his hair and sports a "horse shoe" style due (doo) I have hair but its "thinner" than other spots. Im sure with all our "advice" to help eachother we CAN fight it to the best we can without MEDICINE (which has its own side effects) and having to pay pay pay someone who just looks at us like we are crazy. Lets work together!!!!

It's a little late for me to post this, but I'm going to anyway. I've had Trichotillomania since I was in 3rd grade.. that makes it 14 years now that I have been battling this. As for things that help, I was able to begin realizing my 'triggers,' when I was more likely to pull. Those times were mostly when I had zoned out... such as when on the computer, reading a book, watching TV, etc, or even sometimes trying to fall asleep at night. I would sometimes do these activities (or even sleep) with gardening gloves on to keep myself from pulling, or it at least made it harder to do so. My brain seemed to realize it more when my fingers had to work harder, I guess. I would play with something to keep my hands busy, as kirs said she does with knitting. Me, I would take a Koosh ball and play with it, or a Slinkie, or even just something with texture like a blanket or a pillow to keep your hands occupied. I know well how hard the battle is, and I encourage any readers, not just MissHeather, to keep on keepin' on. Pull free has not happened completely for me, but I DO have a full head of hair that I can wear down now, and it's almost not noticeable. Love and lots of pull-free vibes!

I almost cried reading this, you are just like me. I too, am obsessed with getting each split end off and always tuging on my ends to see if they break off.. my obsession with hair pulling is so bad however, that the entire front half of my head is bald, with a few patches of hair that is about a half an inch long. My hair has a beautiful texture, its silky and curly..ironically it got even more silky with this horribly problem..My mom wants me to start taking anti-depression, but I dont know where to start..please give your advice! this post alone made me feel just a bit better..which is a major change for me