There’s so much more to recover from than just substance abuse. Previously, Rose Lockinger has contributed personal essays about bulimia. Now, Becca Jade shares her story on recovering from trichotillomania:
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair. This leads to hair loss, balding, distress, and social or functional impairment. People with this disorder know that they can do damage by acting on the impulses, but they cannot stop themselves. I strongly believe that in life, we are often faced with challenges that we can handle. At times, we might bend, but we will not break.
My first trigger was at 12 years old. That was 10 years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. My parents have been divorced since I was 2, so having my father physically absent from most of my life was the norm for me. He had a dark past mixed with drugs and bipolar disorder. One afternoon, I received an unexpected call from him. He was driving from New York to Washington D.C. for no apparent reason. All he said to me was “I will always be watching you from above”.
Later that evening around 1:00am, the FBI called my home stating that my father was near The White House. He had gotten into a car accident and was chanting “My daughter is dead!”. Unbeknownst to me, he was on PCP throughout that entire day. This was my trigger. I ran into my living room, sat in a ball, and began to violently pull my hair. I was scared, lost, and confused.
I still don’t know why I resorted to pulling my hair out as a way to deal with what was happening. From that day on, pulling my hair became my go-to stress reliever. When I was bored, I pulled. When I was upset and anxious, I pulled. When I was alone, I pulled. Within a month, a bald spot the size of a baseball appeared on the back of my head. I picked to the point where the hair on the right side of my head was 6 inches shorter than the hair on the left side. Once my friends began to take notice and ask why I had a bald spot, my self esteem plummeted severely. Insecurity took over me for the next 10 years. It seemed to have gotten worse as time went on… as did the amount of pulling.
My first 2 years of high school were challenging to say the least. I went to an elite all-girls catholic school. My father promised me I could go there and he would pay for it in full. My mother was against me going. She didn’t trust that my father would pay the $3,000 yearly tuition. She was right. After 2 years of him not paying the tuition, financially, my mother had no choice but to take me out and send me to public school for my junior and senior year. My self-worth and confidence fell to an all-time low, and my social anxiety grew to an all-time high. I became this extremely shy, timid girl. My anxiety became uncontrollable. I couldn’t last longer than a minute without fiddling with my hair. I had no choice but to keep my hair shorter then my shoulders. I needed at least 5 bobby pins to keep my spot covered.
At home, I would spend hours sitting in my room and picking at my hair. Mounds of hair piled up on my floor. If I walked passed a mirror, I couldn’t go by without picking through the refection. I was trapped in this mental prison, with no hope of getting better or escaping. I felt depressed, abnormal, and deprived of the beauty that had once belonged to me. As far as I was concerned, nothing was going to keep me from pulling. I fell into a dark, depressed state, where picking my hair turned into a 24/7 ordeal. I found myself crying often, I gained 30 pounds, and felt like giving up with everything. I tried seeking help from both a psychologist and psychiatrist, but I felt misunderstood. I was prescribed medication, but decided against it after a few days. I didn’t feel comfortable relying on medicinal sources that weren’t promised to cure my Trichotillomania and emotional weight gain.
My mother and stepfather had spent over $2,000 on hair extensions and hair fixtures for me in the hopes of covering up my bald spot. Less than 3 weeks later, they were all pulled out. Throughout the years, I myself, have spent over $1,500 on hair extensions that I couldn’t let myself keep. Unfortunately, the urges to pick were too much to control.
In May of 2013, my father suddenly passed away. Two days before his passing, he texted me to clear up any questions that I had for him. I had what happened years ago when he drove down to Washington. He had confessed to me that PCP was involved. He opened up about many things that have happened throughout my life involving him. The last thing he told me was to always remember the times we shared together. Though not recent, I tried to remember the times we went to the zoo, baseball games, and trips to the city.
Was his plan to take his life 2 days later? I don’t know, but that was another trigger for me. This time, it was a trigger for me to stop. Right then and there, I told myself I will no longer be a prisoner of Trichotillomania. Life is too short to be wasting so many hours and days picking away and hurting myself both physically and emotionally.
Currently, my hair has grown a few inches past my shoulders. My ultimate goal is to grow it down to the length of my waist. For the most part, I am bald spot free, minus a small scar on the top of my head where hair refuses to grow. I look at it as a reminder of how far I have come, and how much further I have to go. Still, I find myself picking at my split ends and brushing through my hair, but the progress I have made is astounding. I know that I can do it, and I will overcome Trichotillomania for good.
Slowly but surely, I have been taking my life, insecurities, social anxiety, and self-esteem all back. It took me 10 years to finally open up and spread awareness about Trichotillomania, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. Getting to share my story and listen to others has given me such inspiration and happiness. Knowing that I am not alone is such a wonderful feeling that can’t be replaced. After everything that I have been through, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has made me the strong woman that I am today. In most aspects of life, mind over matter is key.
Becca Jade is a 22 year old New Yorker. She is currently studying Business Administration and working towards spreading Trichotillomania awareness and ending the stigma. Support her mission by following her on Instagram.