Why Do You Pull Your Hair Out? My Trichotillomania Story

I have been stressed out for as long as I can remember. I began biting my fingernails as soon as I could chew. I think in my 26 years, I have been able to quit biting them a grand total of 3 times. I was encouraged by my parents and grandparents, who promised me a cash reward if I could grow them past my fingertips. I managed to grow them out, get my money, and just as soon chew them to the quick three times before they caught on. I have tried that icky flavored nail polish in an attempt to deter my gnawing, only to become quite fond of the putrid flavor. I have shelled out $40 for acrylic nails, sometimes even $60 for the solar upgrade. I would enjoy them for a time, tapping and scratching to my heart’s delight, only to rip all 10 off one night in a fit of panic.

I was always the perfect student. The teacher’s pet. Top of the class. Leader of the pack. I prided myself on this. Nothing pleased me more than hearing the teacher call my name to read a passage or answer the next question on the dry-erase board. (I just loved the squeaky way they wrote.) Making straight-A’s was never a struggle. I eased through grade school and middle school with no problems at all. (Aside from the typical awkward phase. You know, that weird gothic phase when your entire closet consists of nothing but black and camo 2nd hand clothing? And the names of your favorite bands completely terrify your mother. But who could blame her. Godsmack does sound pretty harsh.. though Satanic cult music it was not.)

Come high school, I was challenged by numerous AP and Dual Credit classes. Prepping for college became the top priority. I excelled in extracurricular activities like drama, FFA, Student Council, and was the undefeated Class President all four years. I prided myself on being a well-rounded individual, despite my lack of athleticism. (Blame it on the asthma.) Pretty much everyone in my school knew who I was, based on my academic and extracurricular achievements. However, starting my sophomore year, I began living a second life, a hidden life, that I dared not allow anyone, not even my closest friends, know about. I was 15 when I started pulling my hair.

I don’t remember the exact moment it started, just the point when I realized it had gotten out of control. I was sitting in the corner of the room I commandeered from my oldest sister. (Having moved away to college previously, I took over the room with the walk-in closet and it’s own bathroom. Returning from college after a few years left her with my old childhood bedroom.) I was at the desk, my AP world history book open over a pile of notebooks. I anxiously tried to read and take notes, my thoughts elsewhere, and my left hand above my head – pulling out hair. I looked beside me to see a growing pile of tendrils, each plucked individually from my scalp, which was beginning to show a baby bald spot. I burst into tears and went to my sister’s room.

“I’ve been pulling my hair out and I don’t know how to stop,” I managed to say through the youthful sobs. My sister embraced me and held me tight. “We’ll figure it out. It’ll be okay. Let’s go tell mom.”

The first place I went was a family practice. I remember sitting on the examination table as the lounge-lizard looking practitioner walked in.

“So you’ve been pulling your hair out.. Why have you been doing that? Why don’t you just stop!?” He angrily hissed at me. I burst into tears. Obviously, this was not the right approach. He faked soothing and wrote my mom a prescription for Effexor.

That was the beginning of the bad stuff. After the Effexor left me with suicidal thoughts, I was taken to the local MHMR for low-income counseling. The first few case-workers I met were nice enough, and gave me an abundance of hope. It wasn’t until I began meeting monthly with their on-site psychiatrist that things took a turn down shit-highway.

In my experience, psychiatrists are all too eager to put you on medication, as soon as humanly possible. Keep in mind, I’m only 15 at this time. First we tried Wellbutrin, but that wasn’t causing any improvement. So he added LITHIUM. To this day, I’m still not sure what he was thinking, the man in the dark room with the soft voice. He still hadn’t properly diagnosed me with anything. His excuse was that he didn’t want to place a stigma on someone at such a young age. To my knowledge, lithium is used in SEVERE cases of bipolar disorder, where there’s an apparent manic and depressive side. At the time, I was only experiencing depression and anxiety. No mania. No need for lithium (in my book). Nonetheless, he was the one with the medical degree, so who were we to question him? I took the pills as prescribed. I feigned amusement when the male nurse at the family practice joked about eating batteries when I went to get my lithium levels checked. (Shouldn’t I be the one making jokes about male nurses?)

After about 6 months, the hallucinations began. I would see creepy crawling bugs climbing my walls at night. I would hear unexplainable noises so much that I saved up and got a ferret, so I would have something to blame the noises on. The answer from the quiet man was to take more drugs, obviously. Instead of taking me off the lithium, he added Seroquel to help me sleep. The same stuff that is prescribed to schizophrenics was being given to a now 16-year-old me. Let me mention, during this time my hair-pulling ceased slightly, though it was most likely due to the fact that I had become a depressive zombie, too consumed by my pills and dark poetry, to manage to lift a hand to head.

I stopped caring about my grades, the one thing I prided myself on practically all of my existence. Somewhere around junior year I got my first B (in Spanish III, no less). After that, achieving high marks became less and less important. I started getting C’s and D’s on report cards. I didn’t even recognize myself. I stopped the triad of pharma poison cold turkey, as became a trend over the upcoming years. This made the struggle even worse. I began seeing other psychiatrists that I knew my parents couldn’t afford. I didn’t care. I felt like it was their responsibility to fix me. (I was their child after all. They created me. I am theirs to repair, and I was so obviously broken.)

Mental illness is an incredibly selfish disease. The years I was on pills and in therapy, I was an awful daughter and friend. I can admit that now. I’m not proud of the way I acted in my adolescent years. I hated myself and I couldn’t understand why, so I took it out on others. I am still struggling to forgive myself for all I have done.

By college, I had a pharmacy’s worth of pills under my belt. Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, SSRIs. Even some medicines not even specifically for mental illness. Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Lamictal, Abilify. Names that I can’t even remember. I was in a constant cycle of taking pills and quitting them when the side effects were overwhelming. Still pulling my hair all the while.

The health center at the university was a pill-poppers dream. A candy-store for codeine. You could practically go in, say a little story, and come out with whatever you please. First, it was tranquilizers.

I had used Xanax briefly in high-school, but always such a small amount that I couldn’t tell any difference. In college, they gave me Klonopin, Xanax’s benzo-brother. It was love at first swallow, and a dangerous affair followed.

The years I was on Klonopin are mostly a blur. Blacked out from mixing it with alcohol, I spent most of my nights partying in the oblivion. Bad things happened. Things I won’t discuss (just yet at least) because of the traumatic nature. Because I still struggle to accept that those things happened to me.

College life created even more reason to hide my trichster nature. A whole new group of people, and I could be whoever I wanted. I didn’t want to be the depressed girl in therapy like I was in the latter-part of high-school. I was fun, spontaneous, and least of all – bald. I did quite well for a while, as the brand new popular girl. I even managed to grow my hair out enough that I could sport a cute inverted bob. I was full of self-confidence and had a flourishing relationship.

Then a break-up, followed by the stalker ex, caused my stress levels to sky rocket. Once again, I was pulling my hair and depressed. I ate more pills than I needed. I was involved in multiple car accidents. I saw therapists that put irrational fears into my head. I drank too much and put myself in dangerous situations. I faked ADHD so I could get uppers (Ritalin). I was definitely not on the right track.

After 3.5 years of college, I came home with massive debt and no degree to show for it. I was tired of keeping up the charade. I was tired of living a double life. I couldn’t be the party girl I once was. I was back to my old trichy ways.

Home was like rehab. I gained weight (too many Totino’s pizzas), but I also gained perspective. I sought meditation and yoga to help me get off the pills. I used affirmations. I began visualizing myself living in Austin, the city I always wanted to be. I got a job at Quizno’s to save up money. I read in a self-help book that if you want to get out of your current situation, you must be prepared and plan it out way before it even becomes a reality. So, I packed up my suitcase and within a month I was living in Austin.

I’ve been off pills since 2008, and I have no intention of getting back on them ever again. Therapy, to me, is a scam and you’re better off just talking to a close friend. I met a boy in 2010, and now we’ve been together going on 4 years. He accepts me for who I am, even with the waxing and waning of my baldness. I am still coping with my trichotillomania. I doubt it will ever be cured, and I am learning to accept that. I spent my entire adolescence searching for the answer to an unsolvable question.

Why do you pull your hair out?