It’s currently mental health week in NZ so I wanted to write a post about my past mental health struggle with trichotillomania and to bring trich to light! Thankfully, anxiety is talked about frequently, but less talked about mental illnesses are OCD and trichotillomania, simply because there are less of a percent of people struggling with it. I’m not going to delve into my childhood struggles and why I developed these disorders, but rather just my experience of it. This isn’t a pity party and I don’t need any empathy! I’m simply wanting to bring to light what trich is, and the signs and symptoms of it. In brief, trichotillomania is the urge to pull your hair out when the OCD is triggered. The most common areas to pull hair out are the scalp, and then the face such as eyelashes and eyebrows. Trich is brought on by anxiety and is a form of OCD. It is most commonly struggled with in childhood, but can frequently continue on in adulthood. If you’re thinking it sounds extremely weird to want to pull out your own hair, that’s totally fine that you feel that way, but the reason I’m writing this is so people can understand it better.
My first panic attack was when I was eleven and I was in a movie with my Mum. I was feeling quite stressed and anxious, and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breath, as if my airways were closing. I told my Mum I was going to the toilet, and I sat on a couch outside the movie wondering what was wrong with me. I thought perhaps I was having an asthma attack, I never assumed my symptoms would be because of a mental condition rather than a physical. I felt paralysed and unable to go back into the movie, so my Mum came out wondering what was up. When I told her I felt I couldn’t breath properly and my chest was hurting, she rushed me to the hospital. I still remember hanging my head out the window trying to get the fresh air. The hospital checked me over and said nothing seemed wrong, so I went home.
I of course had happy times as a child, but there were a lot of times where I was nervous or melancholy. I didn’t know I suffered from anxiety, because I had never heard of it. I took my signs of anxiety as secrets that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I honestly thought something was wrong with my throat, it would explain why I found it hard to breath or swallow sometimes. I was an independent child and I only relied on myself, so I found it easy to keep this all inside. The first time I pulled my hair out I was very sad and stressed, and while I was crying I plucked my scalp hair out. I then started to pull out my eyelashes, and I was obviously really confused as to why I felt a huge sense of relief and peace. I vowed to never do it again, but the next time I was upset I felt compelled to pull my hair out again. I always felt better whilst doing it, as if in a trance-like state, then guilt and unhappiness would wash over me once I had stopped pulling. I could sit for hours pulling and there would be a pile of eyelashes on my bed. I remember that some of my friends knew I pulled my hair out, but we were so young that they didn’t think it was anything odd (even though it sounds like the oddest thing?!). When I would see my parents outside of boarding school I was so happy that I think it masked my symptoms, and the matrons at the boarding school were too busy with all the other children to notice. You would think it would be obvious if a girl had chunks of her eyelashes missing, but I guess it wasn’t as obvious as you would think, especially if no one assumed someone would actually choose to pull their hair out. My trichotillomania was also accompanied by general OCD, such as checking things multiple times, and reoccurring thoughts in my head. I would check that a heater was off, climb back into bed, then my mind would tell me that I needed to go check it was off again or I wouldn’t be safe. I wouldn’t wish OCD on anyone.
My Mum eventually noticed something was wrong, so we went to the doctor. My doctor didn’t diagnose me with anxiety or trichotillomania, he simply told me that if I kept pulling my hair out then it would never grow back. I was terrified. At eleven/twelve I was not into vanity, but I wasn’t naive. I knew that the girls in the magazines I read had luscious hair and long eyelashes. I thought that if I kept pulling my hair out, I would never be pretty and no one would ever like me. After that, I struggled immensely with stopping my trich. I would flip back and forth between wanting to give into my OCD, and wanting to have my hair back. Basically, I just stopped. I also switched boarding schools in year 8 which made me happier, yet I still had anxiety. My anxiety slowly eased off each year that passed, and when I moved back into home with my mum and step dad in year 11 in Auckland, I was a new person. I had grown up a lot, and although I had periods of anxiety, I was generally a really happy person. Being a teenager can be tough, and I suffered with self harm three times mainly due to stress at home, but overall I would say I was a normal and thriving teenager. In year 13 I had an awesome group of friends, my boyfriend Matt knew of my past struggles and supported me, and I enjoyed school and my hobbies. Ever since then I haven’t majorly struggled with mental illness, but sometimes anxiety and OCD can still creep up on me. I remember in 2014 Matt and I left on a trip to Fiji and I checked that our apartment was locked like three times before we left. I had anxiety as we arrived that our house wasn’t locked (anyone who has experienced anxiety or OCD knows how much it can trick your mind), so I had to call a friend to go around to the apartment and check it was locked so that I could relax and enjoy the trip!! I can also struggle with reoccurring thoughts which you cannot help, which is a form of OCD, but I’ve learnt a lot of coping mechanisms for this.
Anxiety and OCD may always be a tiny part of my life, but I’ve accepted that a long time ago. For many people, their childhood is blissful and carefree and their adulthood is when they develop anxiety, but for me it has been the opposite. I feel so thankful that my mental health is flourishing, but my past experiences have taught me to really take care of myself and my wellbeing. The feelings I had with pulling my hair out are so hazy and bring up no emotions whatsoever, so I know it is something I won’t struggle with again.
Thanks so much for reading this, and I hope that you learnt the signs and symptoms of someone struggling with OCD and trichotillomania, you never know when it will come in handy. Here’s some links to know more about anxiety and OCD.