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Keep your hands down, chin upPosted Wednesday, October 3, 2012, at 1:28 PM
This week, Oct. 1 through 7, is Trichotillomania Awareness Week.
It's a week I wish I'd been made aware of more than a decade ago. An awareness that didn't exist as I began to build my own personal prison in my head.
A time in my life where my entire perspective of myself changed for the rest of my life. As a 12-year-old I somehow found myself pulling out my hair.
I've been arguing with myself for days about writing this column. On one hand I'm not sure if I'm ready to tell everyone the secret I've been hiding for years.
On the other, I would hate for another young girl to have this same experience without knowing there is a name for what feels like insanity, and eventually a cure.
As a sixth-grade student, I didn't understand the pulling, and neither did my family. At that time, neither did my doctor.
At 13-years-old, the doctor thought I just had severe dandruff.
It would be another decade before I learned there was a name for my disorder, and I wasn't actually crazy. I spent years suffering in silence, as my family didn't know how to approach the subject and I preferred to not talk about it.
I couldn't explain to myself, let alone those around me, why I literally pulled out my own hair.
I've spent half of my life battling Trichotillomania, and it wasn't until this year I gathered the emotional strength to get myself to the doctor's office for an official diagnosis.
The trip to the doctor was the most difficult one I've taken in my life. With my sister by my side I walked into the doctor's office to reveal the secret of the nearly completely bald patch on top of my head, and the sparse lashes on my eyes.
The worst part? The nurse scoffed at me and said, "Well, that's different." My eyes instantly welled up with tears.
From the time I was 12-years-old until an exhausted Internet search after a bad pulling spree and self-loathing, I didn't know other people experienced these same feelings I did.
The day I found a blog detailing a young woman's experience, I could do nothing but cry. My first thought was, surely if there is a diagnosis there is a cure!
I spent so long suffering in silence. Dealing with the emotional strains and anxieties that came along with this disorder.
The anxiety was the hardest part. So many things in my daily life nearly forced me to the brink of tears that most people wouldn't even consider.
I hate the rain. When I was younger my sister and I would beg our parents to let us go out in the rain. Now, a rainy day starts off with anxiety and extra hairspray.
I haven't been swimming in years. One of my favorite past-times has been eliminated in fear of someone finding out my embarrassing secret.
I lost a stick of eyeliner recently. To most people it wouldn't seem like a big deal, but I couldn't face the outside world knowing a stranger -- or worse, someone I knew -- noticed half of my eyelashes were missing.
I was nearly to the brink of tears, searching frantically for make up. I felt ridiculous, which further sent me into the wave of anxieties.
The anxiety is the worst part because often times it directly correlates to a wave of depression -- linked to the Trich.
I am so hard on myself. Those moments I am in the midst of a bad pulling spree I want to stop so badly, but when I try sitting on my hands or distracting myself I get fidgety. My heartbeat quickens and I can feel the tears stinging behind my eyes.
I yell at myself, sometimes internally and other times aloud, why can't you just stop? What is wrong with you?!
The sad part is, I don't know what's wrong with me, or why I can't stop. I don't have the answers, and that pains me so much more. It's a vicious cycle.
The worst feeling in the world is after doing well for so long, then seeing your hard work shattered. It just takes one overly stressful moment, or a feeling of anxiety, for a month's worth of minimal pulling to be pointless.
I've tried to describe the feelings surround the pulling. The one thing I've never understood is why it feels good to pull my hair out. It's like ... a release of every moment's stresses through a hair follicle.
I've been told my form of Trichotillomania -- which is different for everyone -- seems to be a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Sometimes it feels as if there is a single misplaced hair on my head. As if, there is an electric impulse radiating through that single strand begging my fingers to remove it from its foreign placement on my head. I pluck and I pull until I can get that single strand, which usually sacrifices all the hairs around it.
I get the same impulses with my eyelashes, and occasionally my eyebrows.
In high school I played basketball. While all the other girls were fixing each other's hair I had to make up an excuse to keep their hands away from the growing bald spots. I always worried the sweat from running or shooting baskets would show the void in the hair on my head.
In junior high I tried to mask my issue with bandanas, until the school eventually banned them. I burst into tears when I arrived at school one day with the bandana on, and I was informed I needed to take it off. I didn't have a hair tie, or another way to mask the limited number of hairs on my head.
I've spent most of my life ashamed of how I look, and now I'm ready to take back my perspective of my image. I'm not alone in this fight to keep my hands down and chin up.
Trichotillomania effects 2 to 4 percent of the entire population in the United States, so I am joined in this struggle by upwards of 12 million people.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from Trichotillomania, advise them to visit their healthcare provider to seek a diagnosis and see what treatment is right for them.
Or if they aren't ready to reveal their secret, visit www.trich.org . It's an online community built to help each of us Trichsters keep a full head of hair.
Sabrina is a reporter for the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 847-4487.
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