More Than Just A Bad Hair Day
Like with my self care post earlier this month (in which I referenced what would be this post), I have also been denying something else for almost an entire year.
Last year when I was interviewing for elementary jobs, I went in and got all my hair chopped off. It was two-fold: I donated 16 inches (again!) and I also needed “elementary teacher hair.” Typically, this is short hair. [Because lice, y’all.] I didn’t realize how short the stylist cut my hair until days later. It was also uneven!! Not like anything could be fixed, but this was when everything started.
Y’all, my hair is shorter now over a year later than when I got that haircut. I can’t tell you how many times I heard from coworkers this past year about my new short hair or hair cut. I got my hair cut on June 13, 2017! I hadn’t gotten it cut!
What they saw was what I was trying to cover up.
With the impeding school year approaching and the mounting fear that I would have to return to my school and not get one of the jobs I interviewed for and not be with The Man (that Dick!)…I began pulling my hair.
It wasn’t a big deal at first. Until September rolled around and I had a bald spot on the crown of my head. I could not wear my hair down. But I continued pulling. Not as bad, because hair grew in and the bald spot was no more. But in the process of waiting and as the year went on, my hair was all janky, so I took the well-meant advice of my school secretary and trimmed it up myself.
UH. NO. NEVER DO THIS.
I ruined it. l definitely could NOT wear my hair down now. So I wore my pitiful patch of hair up in a teeeeeny pony tail all year as another bald spot near my right temple began to show scalp.
My two closest coworkers zeroed in. My mom slowly caught on. Even my youngest brother noticed. My mom’s friend/my health coach noticed even though she hadn’t seen me in months, maybe a year or more.
I refused to acknowledge that there was anything to this. I just kept saying it was like a compulsory behavior when I would get stressed (reality with my diagnosis of anxiety and depression: overwhelmed).
Except I was trying to lie to myself, knowing full well I had seen someone talk about trichotillomania on social media before. Hair pulling, not hair eating. That is exactly what I had. Exactly what I was doing. Exactly what I was ignoring. What I was hiding and pretending was not a big deal. Trichotillomania is a body-focused repetitive behavior classified as an impulse control disorder which involves pulling out one’s hair. Hello, girlfriend.
When The Man and I split in March, I immediately started looking into stylists for hair extensions. Easy fix! No one will ever know because it will all grow out while looking great, was my thought process. UH. NO. My hair was so short, extensions were a no-go. I had to wait 8-10 weeks to check again. In the meantime, I started on a fancy hair shampoo and conditioner to help. My May visit came…and still a no-go. But there was growth, not like I could tell. Another 8-10 weeks and I should be ready to go.
Except…no. I kept pulling until I essentially was almost shaved on the right side of my head. Like short, stubby scrubs on the ground. I couldn’t even hardly put up my hair anymore because it wouldn’t stay in the ponytail. I had to use so many barrettes and bobby pins it looked ridiculous, and still the hair would slide out and pouf up, making me look some kind of scary diabolical. Do not even get me started on when I wake up in the morning. It first was like a finger in the light socket, but as it grew and thickened, it was straight up Chewbacca in the light socket.
Fast forward to July. I thought by now my hair was thick enough we would be ready to go. It is really thick, I just didn’t think it was growing out. My stylist said it was, she could tell, but she was crestfallen at what she saw. Y’all. She almost cried. And she talked about her own fight with bulimia when she was in her 20s and urged me to see someone, and if not that, to at least riddle out what my triggers are.
Except…I don’t know what they are. Honestly, I don’t even think I have any anymore. The initial catalyst was the idea of returning back to my school. Yes, I’m still there, but things regarding the circumstances have changed:
- That principal is gone. The new one is leaps and bounds supportive and despite his hard poker face, he is very personable and supportive. I know it bothers him a lot when there is something going on with one of his employees.
- I am no longer with The Man and driving back and forth, back and forth every weekend with all the stress and anxiety tied to all of that.
- I no longer live where I did, renting a single room. I have my own space and nothing is crammed.
- I now have a lab for my yearbook staff. We do not have to do everything 100% after school in the evenings to get the entire yearbook done in increments of one meeting each week. I can now actually teach my class as it should be during the actual class time during the school day, every day. (I know, don’t even get me started on that mess.)
There are some specific symptoms, and I don’t have all of them. I have tried to stop, and even when I try…I can’t. Like I said, it is like an obsession. And that’s also why I said I don’t have any triggers anymore because I do it almost all the time now: driving, sitting at work during my planning time working on stuff, at home watching TV or reading or on my phone, while I’m talking to people face-to-face (my mom and two favorite coworkers). I definitely feel embarrassed and ashamed and it is out of control, so I don’t want to go anywhere I strictly don’t have to. And I want to wear a hat ALL the time, no matter where I go. While I was diagnosed in December with anxiety and depression, I believe I have had those for years and was never diagnosed because I gave no signs to my doctors and I didn’t seek out information about it until December, and I went for other reasons. I knew I had anxiety and I wanted to be medicated and it was unrelated to the hair pulling. When I do pull, I definitely have a behavior: first, it is the hairs that don’t feel right texture-wise. The coarse ones that stand out or have some other anomaly. Then, it is the ones that are too long in that section. Stupid, I know. Trich is like the cousin of OCD, but I don’t have any OCD behaviors like counting or washing hands.
- Recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in noticeable hair loss
- An increasing sense of tension immediately before pulling out the hair or when resisting the behavior
- Pleasure, gratification, or relief when pulling out the hair
- The disturbance is not accounted for by another mental disorder and is not due to a general medical condition (i.e., dermatological condition)
- Repeated attempts have been made to decrease or stop hair pulling
- The disturbance causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Distress may include feeling a loss of control, embarrassment, or shame and impairment may occur due to avoidance of work, school, or other public situations.
- Hair pulling may be accompanied by a range of behaviors or rituals involving hair. For example, individuals may search for a particular kind of hair to pull or they may try to pull out hair in a specific way.
The other thing about distress in other areas of functioning is intimate relationships. People with trich can avoid intimate relationships for fear of having their secret, which is very shameful to me, exposed. This is true for me. So true. I went on a few dates until the one I liked acted like he died back at the beginning of May. Since then, I have talked to guys and wanted to go do something fun but at the same time I don’t. What happens when my tiny ponytail falls down and the barrettes and bobby pins start hanging by threads? I can’t wear my cap everywhere with every type of attire.
I am facing the fact that I have trich. I have it. I can’t lie. I can’t hide it. I can’t pretend it’s not happening. I was just lying to myself for almost a year. I still want to get the extensions, so here’s to hoping for September! In the meantime, I have bought a silk cap to wear to bed so my hair isn’t as insane in the mornings, especially with wearing my CPAP, and I also realized I can wear it around the house during the day too. It keeps me from pulling, so who cares? No one’s here anyway.
I am also looking into buying a special bracelet to wear that tracks your movements for the behavior – so behavior therapy, which is the recommendation besides medication. I predominately pull with my right hand (and I have figured out it is because I have more muscle on my right arm and better motor control in my hands than my left side). Originally I thought of getting a band for each hand, but they sell separately and are quite pricey. Since my right is the source, I’m only going to get one band. I hope and pray that it works and helps me.
It is more than just a bad hair day. But what do I say when coworkers give me the questioning looks or a gentle inquiring comment without giving away too much personal information?