This is a deeply personal post. Since starting Worry Warrior, I’ve shared information, insights and research on anxiety. I’ve built it up to be a safe space for sharing your worries. And yet I’ve shared little about my own. Fearful of rejection and ridicule, I’ve acted as if I have anxiety licked. But I’m still discovering, still tweaking, still stumbling. Thank you for reading my story below with a full heart and open mind. Thank you for being here.
Like anxiety, I’ve been pulling my hair for as long as I can remember. It started in my teens and has been a compulsion ever since.
I have felt deep shame and excruciating embarrassment. I’ve lied to many hairdressers over the years, either feigning surprise (“What?! My hair is broken at the back?!”) or blaming my hair straightener (“Maybe I have the heat up too high?”) I can only assume they believe me…or are too sweet to suggest the snapped ends are my doing.
Because it’s all my doing.
I even lied to my mum about it once. When I was 12, she spotted a bald patch atop my curly mop. I told her the cause was an all-natural lice treatment my friend’s mum had used. That part was true – she’d been worried my friend and her sisters had lice, so decided to douse me too – but I doubt it burned my hair off.
It took another 19 years to admit the truth to my lovely mum.
And now I’m ready to admit it to the rest of the world: I pull my hair and it’s really hard to stop.
Sometimes, I don’t even realise I’m doing it.
I’ve asked my partner to gently pull my hand away from my hair and hold it when we’re on the couch (I often twist my tresses while reading or watching a movie).
In the fifteen minutes since I started drafting this post, I’ve pulled the strands at my hairline at least four times.
I often catch myself before doing any damage. But sometimes I twist the hair until it makes a little knot, and either bite that off or pull out the entire strand.
I really want to delete that last sentence. OK, let me take a little break from vulnerability to share some info on hair pulling…
What is hair pulling?
Ashamed of my compulsion, it was only in the last year I felt empowered enough to consult the interwebs.
The official term for hair pulling is ‘trichotillomania’, or ‘trich’ for short.
Here’s how the NHS defines it:
“Trichotillomania, also known as trich, is when someone can’t resist the urge to pull out their hair.
“People with trich feel an intense urge to pull their hair out and they experience growing tension until they do. After pulling their hair out, they feel a sense of relief.
“A person may sometimes pull their hair out in response to a stressful situation, or it may be done without really thinking about it.”
Tick, tick, trich. It all resonates with me.
I know trich is linked with my anxiety. And that’s because my anxiety often bubbles away under the surface. I’ve had my fair share of panic attacks, sure, but I have everyday anxiety that’s ingrained in my identity. It’s just there. I’ve learn how to deal with it, and use it to lead a fulfilling life, but it never goes away.
That’s why I mindlessly twist my hair while watching TV or reading. It looks like I’m all chill and tuned out, but my brain and body are firing on all cylinders. Somewhere, deep inside, I’m worrying about something. I’m on alert. I’m never, truly, 100% relaxed. And so, my compulsion to twist and pull my hair remains.
Over the years, it’s become less intense. And thankfully, I do it less. I remember reading an article in my 20s about a girl who died from a huge hairball in her stomach that got infected. That scared me off for months. But I soon forgot the tale and went right back to tugging and twisting.
My poor hair has never been the same. I used to have long, thick, corkscrew curls. Now my mane is thin, scraggly, and won’t grow past my shoulders. The photos you see on this site? Say hello to hair extensions, which I put in so I would pull them instead of my real hair. It worked…for a bit…
This year, I’ve resolved to get my hair healthy. I’m growing out the drying highlights, have bought a silk pillowcase, stocked up on hair-growth oils and treatments, and give my scalp daily massages. I’m finally treating my hair with love and kindness, not hate and agitation.
I also plan to try some strategies outlined in the NHS article quoted above. Like squeezing a stress ball, instead of hair pulling. Or keeping a diary of my compulsion.
I hope, I truly do, that this is the year I get on top of my trich.
That this is the year I am more mindful than mindless in every moment.
To be honest, writing this post feels more like a T-rex sized step than a baby step. I haven’t dipped my toe in the water – I’ve plunged headfirst into a freezing, pitch-black hole, and I can’t see the bottom to rest my feet. It feels like I’m floundering.
But I needed to write this. To share my story. My struggle. To be real and honest and raw. To say, “Hey, I’m flawed people. But every day I’m battling to do better.”
Because one thing I know is we are all flawed. And we are all battling to do better.
Let’s battle together.