I’m starting this blog as a coping mechanism, to deal with my collective mental illnesses and, hopefully, spread awareness. Although, mainly it’s just a coping mechanism. I figured my first post should be about explaining one of my conditions. (Originally I was going to explain them all but it ended up taking longer than I should have so I figured I’d do a post a day explaining each one.) My first one is one that’s plagued me all of my life and I’ve always been desperate to get rid of – for a few years I assumed everyone did it… then I spend the rest of my life trying to hide it. So my first post is going to be about trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is, simply put, a condition where someone feels a compulsion to pull their hair out. It is a form of impulsive control disorder which basically means: you can’t physically stop yourself from doing so. It’s often connected with anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. The former two I have by the bucket full. Some people, like myself, also end up picking/scratching at the skin, I tend to do the scratching. Now I use my nails but I have used sharper implements in the past causing a lot of blood in most examples. The latter themselves are usually given different names, as they are different conditions (such as dermatillomania) but they can be connect, and one often leads to or is combined with the other. For example, I myself tend to avoid pulling out the hair on my scalp by scratching at my skin. Sometimes, when this isn’t enough I pull at my underarm hair, leg hair – anywhere this isn’t noticeable. I started doing this when the bald patches on my scalp were becoming noticed by my friends and family. I figured it wasn’t really a problem if no one could see it. I also, wrongly thought, if I was doing this instead of cutting my skin – it was definitely an improvement.
Another compulsion I have, which is related to hair pulling is biting my nails. This is a tricky one onychophagia (nail-biting) isn’t harmful in itself until you are doing it the point where you’re almost biting the skin, you can’t control doing it under stress and your nails are permanently damaged.
I’m unsure as to when I started pulling out my hair, scratching at my skin and biting my nails but I’ve been doing it for a very long time. Cutting is easier to pin down: I started when I was about 11 and haven’t down so since I was 19 (that’s two years ago.) I’ve managed to get over that habit. The trichotillomania is significantly harder. I think I’ve had it since I was very little but never realised how bad it is – one of the early signs of it is chewing your hair and I definitely used to do that when I was very little. I think most of the time it’s a compulsion under stress or anxiety, I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I’ve been known to pull my hair or scratch myself whilst I sleep – waking up sore and confused.
I don’t know why I do it – I know it helps me calm down. Sometimes it’s like I feel this itching in my scalp, like there’s something underneath my scalp that i need to pull up. That’s when I’m conscious of me doing it, sometimes I won’t even notice I’m doing it until someone points it out.
It’s the same with scratching: it’s like there is something underneath my skin and I need to get it out. That’s why I used to cut although that was more of a conscious decision – it was like I could feel the depression and anxiety running through my blood and I need to get it out. Before I cut I’d feel agitated, unclean and it was the only way I’d feel better. I convinced myself for a long time that as long as I was scratching and pulling at hair no one could see: it would be fine. That was much better than other forms of self harm.
Of course, every time I go through a stressful time the uncontrollable hair pulling from my scalp comes back: the relationship with my abusive ex-boyfriend, arguments with my current girlfriend, exams, doing badly at university work, family problems… Every single time I’d impulsively pull at my hair. In fact, whilst I’m talking about this at the computer, I’m absentmindedly doing it – but I didn’t even realise until I stopped and thought about what I was writing. I guess the reason I’m writing about it is because I really need to admit that I have a problem.