We’ve all heard it or have said it:
I’m so stressed/worried/frustrated that I’m pulling my hair out!
My son suffers from trichotillomania.
What a freakin’ long word.
For those of you who don’t suffer from this, it is the compulsion to pull your hair out. Oftentimes, it is due to anxiety…and sometimes the sufferer has a history of OCD. Only 1–2% of adults and adolescents even have this condition; my son won this jackpot.
In the Beginning
It first began in early 2015 when he was a 6th grader. I received an email at work letting me know that he had pulled out some of his hair; the teacher found some hair on the desk where he was sitting.
I thought it was odd to receive such an email. A little hair, no big deal. I wasn’t prepared, though, to see the full extent. Pulling through the carline at school dismissal, I see my boy walking briskly to the car; and my eyes take in the full scope of what has happened. Tears fight to be released, yet I desperately attempt to hold them in.
I begin talking to him, asking about what had happened. He didn’t realize initially that he was doing it…it was an unconscious action. In the aftermath, his scalp is sore and the embarrassment sets it. Soon, medications were adjusted. Yes, he, too, suffers mental health struggles: anxiety, depression, ADD, and OCD.
I recall my younger brother having a slight issue with hair-pulling when we were young, but nothing that seemed to be a big issue; he got past it after a short while and it never returned.
Eventually, my son got past it too.
It subsided, and life reverted to normal.
It began yet again.
This time, he pulled from the top of his head…and his underarms (ouch!)
These compulsions are often anxiety-based…they help calm the inner turmoil. He mentioned how anxious he is about school…keeping up with his work and worried about upcoming exams…and even concerned about getting into college. He’s a freshman in high school, yet life’s troubles weigh heavily on him.
As I read up on trichotillomania, I learned that sometimes other compulsions emerge before hair pulling…picking at the skin, biting nails, chewing lips. Sometimes pulling hairs from pets, clothes, blankets, or other items may be other indications something is wrong, as well. With trichotillomania, the most common places to pull out the hair are the scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
I began contemplating what, if any, mannerisms my son may have had. The only other quirks I noticed in my son that could have been red flags were constantly sucking/chewing on a necklace he wears and playing with his eyelashes. Before the necklace, he’d chew on the neckline of the shirt he was wearing…or even his bed sheets; a hitch we struggled with for years.
Trichotillomania is a form of self-injury.
We often hear of “cutters”, especially as a teacher. I’ve had numerous students who have dealt with this, along with other ways of attempting to calm emotions, frustrations, and anxiety. Self-harm also helps a person feel in control or is used as a distraction from a difficult life circumstance or simply to feel something rather than feeling emotionally numb. Unfortunately, these habits can become addictive or cause bigger problems later on.
Call to Action:
If you notice any small behaviors within yourself or others that may be related to self-injury, take action now.
- Confide in someone.
- Determine the triggers.
- Find a new coping technique.
- Seek professional assistance.
Don’t allow yourself or others to suffer alone.
Copyright © 2019 Alicia Rust. All rights reserved.