Bad Hair Life

By Emily Topper |

I’ve been pulling out my hair for six years. Not twirling it around my finger. Not running my hands through it. Wrapping my fingers around it and pulling it out of my head, multiple strands at a time.

I have trichotillomania: A hair-pulling disorder caused by stress triggers and a chemical imbalance in the brain. A disorder with no cure.

I remember pulling my first hair the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I sat on the couch in my living room, working on a summer reading assignment. Slowly, cautiously, my hands crept up to my scalp and plucked a single hair, root and all. It was an effortless action that felt completely normal. I thought nothing of it as my hands continued to diligently work across the top of my head, the same way they have for so many days since—back then, I was still normal.

By the middle of my sophomore year of high school, the disorder, also called “trich”, was starting to take over my life. My daily pulling had led to a very large bald spot at the top of my head; I wore hats to school to cover up the spots on the crown of my head, but my hands would still tug at the hair that reached my shoulders during a particularly hard question on a test or a boring lesson in class. At night, I would lie in bed, pulling out my hair in massive clumps at a time; sometimes willingly, sometimes without realizing it, but mostly because I didn’t think I had a choice. I was at war with myself.

I remember instances from the two years that followed as though they are snapshots hanging from the walls in my room: A hair-covered keyboard after a long night of homework; a hand covered in calluses from clenching the strands far too tightly; a bottle of hairspray that lived on my bathroom counter, my weapon of choice in keeping my greatest secret: an array of colorful, beautiful hats; piles of hair on the floor.

So why not just stop? Why did I continue to pull for so long, aware of the destruction I was causing myself? Couldn’t I see, the way everyone else could, how pretty I would be if I just let my hair grow?

Of course I could see that. I could see nothing else. But it was of no use. I stopped trying to explain to the people around me that I simply couldn’t stop, that I needed to pull my hair to get through the day the same way a drug addict needs a fix. We are all granted tunnel vision into the lives of those around us—everyone has it easier than we do. If someone doesn’t want to fix us, they want to be better than us. We are never simply enough, but falling from the great heights of the pedestals that we’re placed on.

It was these relentless efforts of the people around me that were my main reason for getting a wig my senior year of high school. I would finally fit in; I would finally be normal. I shaved my head, donned a new safety net and expected everything to fall into place. For a while, that worked—the compliments I received on my hair, which everyone believed to be natural, were enough to make me believe that I had some worth.

And maybe I did, to the people around me. I looked like they did, on the outside. But I wasn’t being true to myself. I hid my pulling from my friends and peers more than I ever had before. I kept my secret to myself, aside from those who were closest to me.

But secrets are exhausting.

It’s finally time for me to come clean. I still have trich; I still pull my hair out on a daily basis and wear a wig to cover the destruction of my own scalp. I’ve come to terms with this. I don’t know if I’ll ever defeat this disorder, but I’m not letting it consume me the way it once did. I’m not hiding the flawed parts of me anymore to gain approval from people who know nothing about me. I shouldn’t have to.

When we use our tunnel vision to look into the lives of others, we don’t see the whole picture. We see only the highlights. But every single person has something in their life that they are ashamed of, that they feel they must keep concealed from the rest of the world. The kicker is that the rest of the world doesn’t have to live with my disorder: I do. I’m ready to let go of my secret. Though it’s taken me six years longer than it should have, I’ve started to learn the importance of accepting yourself wholly, flaws and all. My hair does not define me, nor do the thoughts of small-minded people.

I’ve realized through this process, through every hair and hat and wig that I could spend my whole life trying to be enough for other people or I can choose to be happy. Though it’s new and exciting and downright terrifying, I’m choosing to be happy. I’m choosing to like myself. I deserve to, I want to, I’m going to.

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