Growing up I had long, thick, voluminous hair. I’d get compliments on it from strangers. A woman once ran her hands through my hair while walking by me and said she wished she had my hair.
When I was 16, I got my first bald spot.
For months I had been picking hairs out of the back of my head, in the same spot night after night until my wrist hurt. By the time I was done there would be clumps of hair the size of quarters on my floor and loose hairs stuck to my pillowcase.
I didn’t just pull my hair out at home. I did it during classes. And when the bell rang and I got up, I would gather the hairs under my desk and toss them in the garbage bin on my way out.
I was able to hide the extent of what I was doing until my brother noticed my bald spot at dinner and pointed it out in front of our parents. They rushed to my side to inspect my head and immediately started theorizing what had caused the bald spot to appear.
My mom, who had noticed me picking hairs out on occasion, put two and two together.
I have Trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is a body-focused repetitive behavior that involves pulling out body or head hairs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Trichotillomania is a chronic condition and doesn’t have a clear cause but there are certain contributing factors, like stress and depression, both of which I had in spades.
Even though it was against school rules to wear hats, my parents made me wear a beanie each day and would snap at me if my hands went anywhere near my head. They also started buying me modeling clay that I could roll around in my hands, thinking that would keep them out of my hair when they weren’t around.
I gave myself a second bald spot in February 2016.
I continued pulling my hair out through my senior year of high school. The urge to pick finally started to fade after I cut my hair short freshman year of college. I thought that part of my life was over and I didn’t look back until last year.
A few months before the pandemic, the picking urge came back, but this time I went for my eyelashes instead of head hairs.
I’d be sitting on the couch and trying to grab my eyelashes with my fingers and yank them out. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I wasn’t.
But with time and repetition, I got better at pulling out my eyelashes and my eyelids became bald.
My parents gave me grief about it, told me it looked weird and said that bald eyelids freaked them out. That hasn’t stopped me from pulling out my eyelashes whenever they grow back in.
There are days when I wish I could stop pulling my hair out, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.
And that’s what’s important to me, not my hair or lack thereof, but being able to accept that I have Trichotillomania. Even though it’s not going away, it’s not something I need to try and hide from other people.
When I was younger, I was shy and my goal was to get through school as easily as possible without drawing attention to myself. Wearing the “Beanie of Shame” helped me blend in, so I wore it.
Going to college and getting involved with different organizations forced me to interact with new people because each semester I’d have class with brand new people.
The more I interacted with people outside of my friend group, the more I realized that other people were just people and that what they thought of me wasn’t the end all be all, especially if they were only going to be my classmates for a single semester.
And even though my parents still comment on my lack of eyelashes and tell me I look weird, I’m not a 15 year old anymore and I can decide for myself if I want to hide my disorder or not.
I’ve already lost my old “Beanie of Shame” and I’m not going to put any time or money into disguising my bald eyelids.