CONFESSIONS OF A COMPULSIVE HAIR PULLER
Hello, my name is Ellen (name changed to protect identity), I am 23 years old and I am a software engineer. I have been doing well just like all others of my age. I am ambitious and I hope to start my own software company sometime soon (as soon as I have the funds ;)
Well we all do have some or the other skeletons in our closet. As I said I’m no different, I do too.
I have this strange condition I suffer with. I have an irresistible desire of pulling out hair from my scalp. This hair pulling habit started picking on my hair after my Graduation results were out. The constant worry and anxiety of good grades and admission triggered my urge to pull out my hair. I usually picked on the crown area as it was easily accessible to me. I would do it any time I had nothing to do or when my hands were free. It would be sometimes when I was working, or while I was stuck in traffic while driving back home or while watching the television. This soon became a habit until I noticed a bit of a bald spot on the top of my head. I would try ways and means to disguise it but it slowly progressed to a state where it was getting increasingly difficult to cover up.
I tried hard not to indulge in this strange hair pulling but unknowingly I would and before I could do anything I had already pulled out a big bunch. One fine day while I was out for a coffee with my boyfriend he mentioned how we had been together for so long and we needed to settle down. I was truly happy at that point until I realised he had no idea about this obsession of mine and I was terrified at the thought of him seeing my bald spot. I decided I had to do something about it. I immediately went home and looked up the internet searching for the best hair treatment in town. I came across Dr Batra’s Homoeopathy Clinic in Mumbai, about 2 kilometres from where I lived. The next thing I know, in the morning, I am at this beautiful spacious clinic which looked relatively busy. I was made to sit in the waiting area. Sceptical and nervous, my fingers were already reaching for my hair! Whenever I find myself in a stressful situation, a typical kind of a tension develops and I have an urge to pull out my hair. Pulling it really makes me feel good and gives me relief. Looking at the damage that follows makes me guilty, but by then it’s usually too late.
The receptionist then escorted me to the homoeopath in charge. I had done some amount of research on homeopathy medicines for hair loss but wasn’t sure if they could help me. The doctor examined me and asked me some questions, many in fact! After a thorough history, he told me I was suffering from a condition called Trichotillomania. Also known as TTM or simply Trich, it is a disorder characterised by an overwhelming urge to repeatedly pull out one’s own hair, resulting in repetitive hair pulling and subsequent hair loss. It could affect the scalp, eyebrows, eye lashes, body hair, beard or moustache and pubic hair.
If we talk about Trichotillomania causes, the exact cause of it is not known but stress triggers the hair pulling behaviour. It is a way of dealing with anxiety, anger and even boredom. It is a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
IMPACT OF TRICHOTILLOMANIA
Trichotillomania can have a major negative impact on one’s life. Some complications include:
- Emotional Distress: This involves feelings of shame, anxiety and embarrassment due to their condition making them easily susceptible to substance abuse, suicidal tendency, depression and other conditions.
- Social Isolation: The thought of what others might say or think about them makes them stay isolated and by themselves.
- Hair and Skin Damage: Pulling out hair repeatedly can cause scarring or even infection which could affect further hair growth.
- Trichobezoar: Eating your hair may lead to a large matted ball of hair in the digestive tract which can be life-threatening.
Besides giving me medications my doctor also asked me to keep a diary noting down the time and place where I had this impulse to pull out my hair, any specific triggers that made me do so. This has helped me as I am now more aware that I am doing it.
HELPFUL TIPS TO DEAL WITH TRICHOTILLOMANIA
Of course I too did my side of research and found a few helpful tips that were extremely helpful for me:
- First, accept your condition and work on ways to correct it. Self acceptance will help to manage it.
- Maintain a chart, noting down the time and occasions on which you have indulged in pulling your hair. Also note down the emotions you felt at that time. This will make you aware of your actions and the potential triggers as well.
- As it is part of OCD, try and keep yourself constantly occupied. Indulge in activities that would keep your hands busy and would keep them away from going to your head. For instance, crocheting, knitting or even nail painting. Use fidget toys or a stress ball to keep your hands occupied.
- Wear a head bandana, hoodie or a wig to act as a barrier from reaching your head easily.
- Reward yourself for the days that have been pull-free. This will make you feel good and boost your confidence.
- Try a nice hairstyle that you would not want to mess by putting your hands onto it.
- Seek help from friends and family. Talk to your loved ones. Many times we require that external motivation to keep us going. Ask them to tell you when you are pulling your hair.
- Use oil on your lashes or hair so it gets slippery if you attempt to pull them.
- Clip your nails short. This will make it difficult to grip your hair.
- Cover your fingertips with band aids or use gloves.
- Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can help in calming down your anxiety and urge to pull your hair.
- Keep away from tweezers or anything that fuels your urge of pulling out hair.
- In extreme cases you can get help from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy where you focus on learning new ways of regulating one’s emotions.
These little tips have been useful to me and now I feel so much better, so much more confident. I began socializing more. I spent lesser time in front of the mirror ensuring all my head was covered up with hair properly. I restarted my favourite activity of swimming, something which I had long given up. I am my normal self again.