I was twelve, sitting on my grandmother’s couch in the heat of summer. A slight breeze blowing outside, and the whir of grasshoppers shrilling in my ears.
then a pile.
A pile of hair. On the couch next to me. Frantically I hide it, running to the bathroom to see what damage I’d done.
This would become a familiar occurrence in my life, as would be a familiar feeling of shame. Just as pulling the hair out of my own head would become normality.
I have Trichotillomania.
Conscious, and in my case more often the unconscious pulling out of the hair from my head, from eye lashes and eyebrows. A mental illness related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders but more recently classified as a Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB). Trichotillomania affects millions of Canadians, mostly women but men also. The illness tends to begin in adolescence; as it did for me. I grew up being told it was “just a habit”, trying my best to fiddle with anything but my hair, developing other habits like biting my nails or chewing on the inside of my cheek as replacement. I know how to hide bald spots with expert ability, fill in my eyebrows, and wear fake eyelashes when times are really bad. I pull in times of stress, but also in times of idleness. Often I don’t recognize I’m doing so until it’s too late, until I see a pile of hair beside me. Everyday I struggle, everyday I feel regret, EVERYDAY I obsess about my hair.
I’ve spent most of my adult life hiding from those around me; sharing with few. Only those I truly love, those closest to me, and a few counsellors have known my struggle. There is stigma attached to being different, and struggling- it shouldn’t be this way, but it is. Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Schizophrenia, PTSD and many others are all illness we hear about; we cry-out for help for those affected- we support. I’ve rallied to end the stigma associated with mental illness, while all the while holding back in sharing my own struggles.
Trichotillomania is strange, it’s unusual and it’s rarely talked about. 2-4 percent of Canadians have trichotillomania but few talk about it due to shame. Stigma regarding Trichotillomania and other BFRBs has come from me as I’ve kept the shame I feel as secret for far too long. I’ve lived with this secret for eleven years now. Hiding in shame, not sharing my experiences despite the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve avoided explaining Trich to the utmost of it’s reality.
Eleven years of hiding is simply too many. Although I can’t take those years back- I can talk now. For those little girls and boys who feel shame as I did, as I do.