June 28, 2013

EmilyWarning, some readers may find this post triggering.

I have a confession to make. I pull my hair out. Voluntarily. To the point where I have a bald patch.

Why on earth would you do that, you ask? Well, have you ever bitten your nails or picked at a spot? It's like that; the sensation produces a strange comfort – one that's easy to get addicted to.

It started when I was a teenager, and has got worse, prompting me to break down and finally seek help after almost a decade of living with the condition.

The technical term for my condition is trichotillomania

The technical term for my condition is trichotillomania. It took a while to admit to myself I had it, let alone anyone else. It was only when I gave myself a bald patch that I told my family, and that was only last year. To this day, I haven't even admitted it to some of my closest friends, even though they know everything else about me. Why? Because it's embarrassing. I used to enjoy going to the hairdressers, and now I dread it as I have to explain why my hair is the way it is.

It may sound ridiculous, or silly. You may think “why don't you just stop?” Believe me, if I could that easily, I would have by now. I'm getting help, but it's not that simple. Just like you can't tell a depressed person to “snap out of it”, you can't tell someone with trichotillomania to “just stop”.

It makes people embarrassed, ashamed

There are underlying issues at play – for me, I live with anxiety and depression, which means trichotillomania is a way of coping; just an extremely bad one, which is why I'm currently getting therapy to help with it. And this condition ruins lives. It makes people embarrassed, ashamed and scared to leave the house for fear of judgement. They spend hours trying to style their hair to cover bald patches so they don't get weird looks, and time that could be better spent pulling out their hair. It may not sound serious, but it is.

The condition is a form of OCD; a compulsion that you can't stop. It's also self-harm. It usually begins in the teenage years, and is apparently more common in women than men.

It's not a condition that's spoken about often

It's not a condition that's spoken about often, however a few people have – Sam Faiers from The Only Way is Essex recently spoke up, as did Olivia Munn from The Newsroom. An episode of Grey's Anatomy recently touched upon it, although not in the amount of detail I'd ideally have liked to raise awareness.

It would be better if more people could talk about it, but it's hard – I know, because even writing this post is difficult, let alone the fact I'm not going to publish it anonymously. I think it's incredibly brave for people to speak up about it, given it's something not many people know about let alone understand – the fear of being thought of as a “freak” and “weirdo” is high.

I've decided it's time I went public about it

However if more people were open about it, it would be easier for others to speak up and get help, which is why I'm now doing it myself. I've decided it's time I went public about it – I wanted to write this post to let others out there like me know: you're not alone.

Please speak to someone about it, go to your doctors and get help. They'll be a lot more understanding than you anticipate. I am so grateful for the friends and family who have supported me and it's made me even more willing to stop. I haven't beaten my condition yet, but I'm working on it – and speaking up about it is the first hurdle.

What do you think about the issues raised in this blog?

Share your views with us on Twitter >>

Or sign our pledge wall to show your support and find out how talking tackles mental health discrimination.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.