Hi everyone! Welcome to The Hairy Truths. I’m starting this blog because I have two obsessions in life: writing, and pulling out my hair. I’ve been noticing a strange synergy between these recently, which has prompted me to chronicle my journey with both: writing about pulling out my hair, pulling out my hair over my writing, and generally the ways that these experiences weave themselves together around the scaffolding of my life. First of all, it’s worth clarifying that when I say “pulling out my hair,” I’m not using the common English idiom. I don’t mean that I’m stressed, or crazed, or anxious (though I am, oftentimes, all of these things). I mean that I quite literally pull out my own hair. I am 24-years-old and have been plucking since the age of eight. This is part of a little known, but alarmingly common, disorder called trichotillomania (trick-oh-til-oh-mania). Trichotillomania is classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), and it affects 15 million Americans alone. 2 in 50 people have a BFRB, most commonly either hair pulling or skin picking.
The New York Times reported that the average American knows 600 people. This means that you probably know 24 people who pluck their hair or engage in similar behaviors. Don’t believe it? I didn’t either, until I began opening up about my hair pulling, and discovered that nearly every person I talked to either pulled his or her hair, had tried at some point, or knew someone who did.
It’s shocking how things that seem rare, the things we figure we don’t have to worry about, are actually just extraordinarily well-hidden. Sufferers of trichotillomania almost always feel the need to hide what they do. My theory: society tells us to hide because our behaviors are deemed unacceptable, which compels us to hide, and that in turn reinforces society’s view of their unacceptability. In fact, disorders like trichotillomania are three times more common than anorexia. And yet the issue has gotten hardly any attention, neither in the public nor in scientific communities.
I used to think that, for the most part, everything that could be said had been said, in one way or another. Or, at least, every salient topic that existed had some degree of written work associated with it. But when I began to integrate myself into the BFRB world, when I realized that these disorders are common and debilitating, it became clear that there is a mismatch in the trichotillomania narrative. Hair pulling is prevalent, the suffering it causes immense, and yet it has gotten almost no documentation.
It’s important to note that I did not go down the jagged path of a writing career so that I could fulfill this need for literature on compulsive hair pulling. I write because I go crazy when I don’t. Also because words fascinate me, move me, make me laugh and cry and scream at any given point during the day, sometimes all at once, and often so that I become so whiplashed that I end up collapsing in bed each night in a heap. And I’d go nuts if I didn’t.
Maybe I sound crazy, and maybe you already thought that the moment I owned up to obsessively pulling out my hair. Either way, writing for me is a bundle of a million motives and moving parts, most of which I still don’t understand. But I have the itch—what more evidence do I need that this is what I should be doing?
My struggle with hair pulling is not the impetus behind my writing. But, at least in this moment, it’s what I’ve been moved to write about. Writing is all about urgency—if we don’t have a pressing need to spend lonely hours yanking words out of our guts and onto paper, then we won’t—and the hair pulling community that I’ve found provides just that. I understand that I have the ability to help many people who would not otherwise be helped. Simply through the succinct message: You are not alone. The vast majority of the struggle with trichotillomania relates not to the behavior itself, but to the feeling of shame and isolation that having the disorder brings on. These ailments (shame and isolation) are one hundred percent curable.
I’ve been given huge amounts of privilege in my life. The privilege of attending the schools I’ve wanted to, of getting support for my hair pulling from friends, family, and clinicians, of having the time and space and financial support to be able to spend my days doing what I love and not what allows me to survive. It’s hard for me to not feel, at least in part, responsible for bringing words to this issue.
I’ve often been asked if writing helps me manage my own hair pulling. The truth: absolutely not. In a behavioral sense, writing actually worsens my hair pulling, because writing involves being alone and thinking and feeling at intense levels, which tend to be key ingredients for my plucking. But, as I mentioned before, trichotillomania for me is way more than a behavior—the hardest part of living with it has to do with the emotional consequences. And, in this respect, writing does a beautiful job of helping me to cope. Again, I don’t write for the purpose of catharsis. And yet, catharsis does inevitably happen. It’s one of the most gorgeous, deeply spiritual aspects of the process. Even when writing sucks, as it almost always does, it’s impossible to deny that I’m healing.
Maybe the most magical part of collapsing my two obsessions—pulling my hair and writing—is that is has allowed me access to the most intimate, sticky, aching parts of myself on a daily basis. Creating a narrative for my life, assigning words to my internal murmurings, forces me to peel back the layers of masks, pride, and insecurities, exposing that part of myself that is most true. But even more than that, it forces me to translate it into a form that is accessible to others, which is essentially a process of universalizing (and humanizing) my individual experiences.
That process is, at its core, humbling. It insists that I see not my life versus yours, not me or us versus them. 48 out of 50 people are unlike me in a fundamental way: their lives aren’t dominated by a disorder like hair pulling. And yet, writing encourages me to connect to something much larger than that—that thing is not characterized by circumstance, but by story. A story that everyone, every last lonely, ashamed, terrified, self-loathing person out there, shares. Which is that we all experience the same feelings. The same fears. The same joys. My hair pulling, which used to alienate me, now connects me to humanity in a more meaningful way than ever before. All thanks to my writing.
A mentor once told me that you have to look for that one thing that you least want to write about, and then to charge into it headfirst. Writing, at least good writing, is about vulnerability. The places where we feel least comfortable, the least socially acceptable, are those that we must embrace. That’s where the heat is.
Right now, my formerly secret hair pulling life is the hallmark of my vulnerability. I plan on using this chronicle as a means of support and sharing as I charge into it headfirst.