I have been living with a shameful secret for over 20 years. I rarely speak about it and when questioned, I lie. I make up excuses to not talk about it. I deny it. I cover it up. I have been through depression, anxiety, and OCD tendencies. I have recovered or am working through all those things. This secret is even more shameful.
I have trichotillomania and dermotillomania .
Tricotillomania is the obsessive or automatic urge to pull out your own hair. It is considered an impulse control disorder which is a part of the obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum. Also on the same spectrum is dermotillomania; the obsessive urge to pick at your own skin. It is believed that these disorders generally start showing in children between the ages of 9 and 13, although they can be present in any age from infancy to adult. Doctors and psychologists believe that it is onset by stress, depression, or anxiety.
It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie or even something made up. It is not diagnosed very often because people afflicted with these disorders do not come forward due to embarrassment and social repercussions. However, I am coming forward. I am learning to deal with the fact that I cannot hide from this disorder any longer and I am reaching out for help.
This is my story.
I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade. My parents were not doing well in their marriage, I was being picked on at school, and just finished a really rough school year with a teacher who singled me out and made me her “example”. I was depressed, anxious, and really angry at the world. I am not sure how it happened, but somehow during all this emotional turmoil, I started pulling out my hair. I don’t know why I started doing it but I started to like it. It felt weird and there were so many types of hair to pull. Sometimes I would pull out a strand that had a hard white bulb on the end. Other times there was a clear layer that wrapped around the hair. I found it all very fascinating. When I had a split end in my hair, I would yank the whole hair out and study what it looked like. If it had that clear layer I would stick it to the wall just because it would stick.
Even though I enjoyed this ritual, it embarrassed me. By the time I was in 7th grade, it was starting to become obvious that I had small bald patches on my head. Even with the big hair dos of the decade, I was unable to hide the bald spots and small patches of hair that were trying to grow back. I began to get teased and the teasing slowly turned to bullying. I was a very angry and upset child.
I wasn’t getting much help at home with the matter either. My parents were engaged in a rather difficult divorce and there was lots of fighting. My mother fell into a very dark depression and suddenly money, or the lack there of, became a large problem. Rather than having parents who wanted to reach out and give me help and support, I received punishments when my hair was found. A few times I received a smack to the back of the head if I was caught pulling my hair out. It only added to my embarrassment and anger.
In 9th grade the bald spots were so severe that I started wearing a hat to school every day. If I didn’t wear a hat I was asked “where is your hat?” and called “stubby” even by those who I considered friends. It was so hurtful that I made a promise to myself to stop. That is when I discovered the ingrown hairs on my legs. Dermotillomania had begun.
If there was an ingrown hair, or even a hair that looked different than the others, I would use a pair if tweezers to remove the skin and pull out the hair. This usually created a small scab on my leg. Teenage acne had started to settle in as well and I would pop every single pimple or blemish on my face. My hair started to grow back and I was able to cover up any bald spots with my long hair and precise styling. My legs healed quickly so I could still wear shorts and blame any scabs I had on a shaving accident.
My trictillomania and dermotillomaina continued on in this fashion into my adult years. I am now 30 years old and still suffer from both. I pull out hair on every part of body and pick at any scab, pimple, or mole on my skni. To this day I have no idea why I do this or what causes it. I cover up my bald spots with hair styling and I never shorts or skirts. Even in the middle of July I wear pants because I am so embarrassed of my legs. If people saw them they would assume I was on drugs as all the scabbing and scaring looking similar to all the ads on TV for the Colorado Meth Program. I still have no idea how to fix this.
I have become more vocal about my disorders. I tell people that I have trictillomania and dermotillomania and most understand that it is not something that I deliberately choose. Others are a little shocked and avoid the subject all together. With my new found voice I mentioned it to my doctor. I scheduled a visit to discuss depression, anxiety, and OCD with her. She placed me on Paxil to help correct these problems. My anxiety and depression have dwindled and I feel much more like myself again in that respect. Even my OCD tendencies have calmed down with the exception of the hair pulling and skin picking. The hair pulling occurs in almost a trance like state. It is a subconscious thing that I do and rarely notice I am doing it. The skin picking is an impulsive urge that I cannot shake. If I see a bump on my shin, I have to pick it and get rid of it. It does not belong there and even though I know it will look worse after I pick it, I don’t want it there and it has to go.
I am currently seeking therapeutic help with a licensed therapist. I am hoping to not only figure out and heal from what triggered this, but to help recognize and stop the behavioral impulse that causes me to do these harmful things to myself.
If you, or anyone you know, suffers from tricotillomania or dermotillomania do not hesitate to seek help. I know that it is embarrassing and hard to talk about, but you need to do it. A medical professional has a confidentiality agreement that does not allow them to talk to anyone but the patient about this. They can help set you up with the help that you need and support you through the process. It only gets worse as you get older. It is imperative that you talk to your doctor today and try to stop this vicious cycle of emotions and self destruction.
Wikipedia on Trichotillomania http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichotillomania