Step out of your shoes for a moment. Imagine that you're sitting in a room studying for your final exams on a crisp autumn day. You can see auburn leaves adorning the trees right outside your window. You turn and face your computer screen and you see the dreaded notification: "Exam three has been graded."
You take a deep breath and click on the link.
A 64. Again.
You reassure yourself. You need to work harder this time, and you need to keep studying immediately. You reopen the tab to your online physics textbook and run your fingers through your hair.
You feel one hair that is coarser than the other on your scalp. You run your fingers over the length of that hair again. You can sense that it's bent in so many places and shorter than the hairs around it. You tell yourself to let go of the hair and keep studying for physics, but every moment you let go of it, you feel the need to run your fingers over it again.
It doesn't belong there.
You need to get rid of it.
With a sigh, you pull it out.
For a moment, you feel a tinge of satisfaction. Of relief. You tell yourself that this is it, you won't pull out any more hairs. You try to go back to study physics but your hand goes back to your scalp, feeling around for another coarse hair. You can't find one, and your arm hurts from looking, but you can't stop. Soon, textured hairs pile on the floor next to your desk and the view from your window is now the haziness of dusk, the autumn trees no longer illuminated with a scarlet light, but rather menacing shadows in the night.
Now, imagine how isolating this situation must be.
You don't understand why you can't stop pulling your hairs out, and you can't even control such a seemingly simple behavior. You're scared of losing your hair, but it's hard for you to tell anyone because you fear he/she won't understand. You know they'll tell you to "just stop" or that it's "just a bad habit."
You know it's not.
That's just one of the experiences a person with trichotillomania may have.
Trichotillomania is a compulsive hair-pulling condition that may lead to an individual pulling out hair from any body part, including their head, mustache, beard, or legs.
Urges to pull are oftentimes uncontrollable or feel as if they are unconsciously driven. People pulling may be fully aware of their behavior or may not even know they are pulling their hair out.
Hair pulling may be linked to tactile cues like textures or coarseness, as well as other examinations as length, the presence of split ends, or whether or not it "belongs" with the hairs in that region of the body. Pulling hair out me feel satisfying or as if some sort of burden is relieved and may involve feeling or examining that hair before pulling it out.
It may lead to feelings of isolation, not being understood, or confusion about why this behavior cannot be stopped. It may feel embarrassing to pull in front of people or to reveal their resulting bald spots to the outside world. Trichotillomania may damage self-esteem and lead to one thinking lowly about themselves.
There are numerous treatments for trichotillomania, but an efficacious cure has yet to be found.
Trichotillomania has been treated by cognitive behavioral therapy, medications (like antidepressants), hypnotherapy, and some habit-quitting devices (such as bands or apps like Quit That!), even though it is not a habit. Even so, even if trichotillomania may be absent in one's life for months after these therapies, relapse behavior may be prevalent, unfortunately.
Treat people with trichotillomania as human beings.
Don't demean them. Don't tell them that they just have a bad habit and they need to stop. Don't tell them that you find their behaviors annoying and that they need to "quit." Treat them with respect and show support for them, it truly is an isolating condition. Be understanding and encourage them to see a mental health professional, if possible! Show them love, support, and encouragement.
Let's help make this world comfortable for everyone to live in!