For many girls, our hair is one of the things that makes us feel feminine. We can color it, style it, accessorize it—all sorts of stuff. Oftentimes, many of us take our hair for granted and we know it’s something that we will always have. Wrong.
It all started in the fifth grade. I was standing in front of my full-body mirror one day, and like most pre-teen girls, I began to feel self-conscious. My eyebrows just seemed way too bushy. To solve this dilemma, I started pulling out the hairs, strand by strand. I thought that the less hair there was, the better (of course, not realizing that eyebrows help define your face). The funny thing was, it didn’t hurt. So I kept pulling and pulling.
Eventually, my parents noticed how sparse my eyebrows had become. They asked me if I plucked my eyebrows and sheepishly I replied, “I pulled them out.”
Immediately, my parents began the quest of figuring out what their ten-year-old daughter was doing to herself. This just wasn’t normal.
They came across a name which fit my behavior perfectly: trichotillomania, which is when someone is compelled to pull hair their hair out from anywhere on their body.
Trichotillomania isn’t rare; is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) that affects approximately one in every twenty-five people.
I quickly began seeing a therapist, all while you could count on your hand the number of eyebrow hairs I had. It was embarrassing to be seen. My friends tried pulling out their eyebrow hairs and said, “Ouch, that hurts! How do you do that?” My friend’s mom asked my younger sister, “What happened to Mackensie’s eyebrows?” (to which she replied, “None of your business.”)
I didn’t think my trich would get any worse. But I was wrong.
In sixth grade, my hair-pulling switched from my eyebrows to my head hair. Even though I knew my pulling was something I couldn’t control, I was so disappointed; I loved my thick curls. People used to always compliment me on my hair. Quickly, these compliments began to fade, as did the amount of hair I had on my head.
I would pull nonstop: in school, at home, in the car, everywhere. People would be constantly telling me to stop pulling. It was so aggravating, especially because half of the time I didn’t even know I was pulling.
Eventually, over winter break, it got to the point where my family and I decided it would just be better to shave my head, since the majority of my head was bald, anyway. To this day, seven years later, I can still remember sitting on my parents’ bathtub as my dad shaved my head. I remember seeing what was left of my brown curly locks fall to the floor, soon to be picked up and put in the trash. I didn’t know my hair wouldn’t be that long again until the middle of ninth grade.
When I came to school bald, my beloved guidance counselor informed my grade (with my permission) about my trichotillomania and told them not to bother me about it. Since I go to a K-12 school, I still go to school with the same people now. I’m currently a senior, and to this day, no one has bothered me about it.
That’s not to say being a bald 12-year-old girl was easy. It sucked. While my friends were experimenting with new types of hairstyles (straightening your hair was popular), the only new thing about my hairstyle was what area would be patchy next. In public, people stared at me. Hats quickly became my new best friend. One time, I even got called a boy in front of my entire family and cousins. It was mortifying.
Soon, though, my dad heard about the Hair Club for Kids—a nonprofit organization that provides free hairpieces and wigs to children under 18 years old experiencing medical hair loss. I was ecstatic to go in for a consultation, and I counted down the days until my wig would come. And when it came, it was amazing. I had hair for the first time in months! I can’t even tell you how many compliments I received on it.
Around that same time was when I attended my first TLC Foundation conference. The TLC Foundation for BFRBs is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for BFRBs, and they host an annual conference every year. Going to that conference was a life-changing experience. I met over 500 people just like me, and I’ve gone back every year since. In fact, I even got to give the opening welcome at the 2015 conference. I’ve made some of my best friends through TLC and have learned that I have a passion for volunteering. As a member of the TLC Millennial Task Force, I dedicate multiple hours a week to creating new initiatives for the foundation, running an advice for people with BFRBs, running TLC’s Instagram, and editing and creating content for the foundation.
I could write for days about my experiences with trich. It’s something that I still deal with on a daily basis. While I can wear my hair down (most of the time), I haven’t gone a day without eyebrow makeup in over three years. Trich is a hard thing to stop because while you’re pulling, you enjoy it so much that you just don’t want to stop. At the moment, I’m trying to work on overcoming this feeling.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be pull-free, and I’ve accepted that. I just need to take life day by day and remind myself that you can always start over. Even if I only go one day without pulling, that’s still an improvement because I found the willpower to stop myself. I just have to keep working on that.
If you are affected by trichotillomania (or another BFRB), or know someone who is, please remember that you’re not alone. Support and treatment are available at bfrb.org.