Recently, on Monday, September 11th, I showed up to school with my head shaved. As I am a female, this is probably taboo. People asked me why, and well, this is why.
When I was seven, I was diagnosed with trichotillomania, a compulsive desire to pull out one’s hair. I started three years prior, though. I know it sounds really weird and disgusting, but it was normal for me. For as long as I can remember, I had reached for my hair when my hands weren’t busy, and I don’t know why, but I didn’t really bother trying to stop myself. When I was young all I did was pop the ends of my short, red hair. But I figured out a different way to yank the strands from my head just as sixth grade year came around the corner. I began ripping follicles out, and even though I read that if the root at the end of the strand was a blood red, it wouldn’t grow back, I kept pulling and pulling, until there were patches in my hair.
I didn’t want to admit it to myself but I had never really tried to stop pulling. Of course I wanted beautiful, long, luscious curls. Really, who doesn’t? However I didn’t want to put in any effort to stop myself. I wanted results immediately, and since that was impossible, I felt as if growing out my own hair was just a dream too far out of my grasp to achieve.
When I started sixth grade, I had kept a headband on my head at all times to hide the damage I’d done. People asked me how I got my hair so thin. Then came Christmas break, when my mom took me to a boutique to look for wigs, generally for women with cancer. I was horrified by the suggestion, and then I tried one on. It was synthetic, of course. I felt pure glee that I had a full head of thick hair, again. We immediately purchased it, and I showed back up at school with hair. Every year since then, I’ve got a wig before the year started and during Christmas break.
Three times in those four years I’ve shaved my head because of how ugly my real hair looked from me pulling. The first two times we left a little mohawk strip so I wouldn’t be completely bald. My hair grew back and I kept pulling. The wig became not only a shield to hide behind, but an excuse for me to continue pulling. But it was also a hindrance. It prevented me from doing social things like going swimming, which I love, without showing off the disaster that was my hair. Not to mention, without hair, I felt like a potato. I couldn’t style it like I would normal hair because the cap under the hair would show. I had to be careful with my every move because one little thing could cause the wig to slip and show my real hairline. One time in P.E. I had tried to catch a ball flying at my face and instead caught a lock of hair and nearly pulled the wig off my head in front of all the other girls. Another time someone called me out at lunch and shouted “Nice wig!” from the next table over. I look back at it all now and find the whole situation hilarious.
Then about four weeks ago I asked my mom to shave all my hair off, so I could start completely new. As I watched my hair grow back I never felt the urge to pull it out. My head became covered in red, and I was very pleased with myself. I had even thought I looked better without it a few times. I had broken my previous record of six days without pulling (which was when I tried therapy in sixth grade) and made 19 days. It appeared bald was just what I needed. The morning of my 20th day, Monday 9/11 before school, I looked in the mirror and considered going without my wig. My family encouraging me, I walked out the house, heading for the bus stop with nothing covering my head. I was so excited that I was revealing myself, nervous about how people would react, and scared if people would think differently – worse – of me, that I even cried at the bus stop.
But all I got was praise, especially from my amazing friends, and judgmental glances, which were to be expected. While I’m writing this I’ve started my 24th day without pulling, and I continue to amaze myself. For so many years I thought I would never be able to quit, and even though I’m not quite clear yet, I believe I can keep going, now that I’ve actually gotten this far. I can see a girl with long, red, curly hair in my future, and I won’t ruin that vision.