Well known psychologist Erik Erikson once said, “Doubt is the brother of shame.”
I read that once in a psychology class years ago. Probably sitting in the back row corner rattling down some scribbled notes, I knew I wouldn’t use later. These two words have plagued most of my life.
Doubt and Shame.
They are cut from the same cloth, once almost always latches on to the other.
This is what I was feeling tonight. Doubt and Shame. Like two mean friends who never seem to leave me alone, poking me in the back... over and over. Reminding me that they are there.
Tonight, I give up all of that shame and doubt. Yes, shame and doubt will now become little “s” and little “d,” as I can not allow them to rule a very hidden side of who I am.
Fifteen years ago, at the age of nine, I was diagnosed with Trichotillomania. Literally meaning “crazy hair puller.” It started out harmless and suddenly I found myself on a flight to a medical center in Minnesota sitting in a big leather chair as a fourth grader, staring at an older woman doctor who kept asking “Why do you keep pulling?” I just stared out the window.
I didn’t know why I pulled my hair out. I didn’t know why my arms would go numb from pulling patches upon patches of hair at the top of my head. I didn’t know why my little girlish body had bald spots on her head. All I knew was the shame and doubt of ever getting better, of ever being normal like the other girls.
My mom made charts, gave me rewards, took me to therapists and got angry. I don’t blame her. She didn’t understand. She just saw me hurting myself before I even left elementary school.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this disorder here are some facts.
Trichotillomania is hair loss from repeated urges to pull or twist the hair until it breaks off. Patients are unable to stop this behavior, even as their hair becomes thinner.
Trichotillomania is a type of impulsive control disorder. Its causes are not clearly understood.
It may affect as much as 4% of the population. Women are four times more likely to be affected than men.
Symptoms usually begin before age 17. The hair may come out in round patches or across the scalp. The effect is an uneven appearance. The person may pluck other hairy areas, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, or body hair.
- An uneven appearance to the hair
- Bare patches or all around (diffuse) loss of hair
- Bowel blockage (obstruction) if people eat the hair they pull out
- Constant tugging, pulling, or twisting of hair
- Denying the hair pulling
- Hair regrowth that feels like stubble in the bare spots
- Increasing sense of tension before the hair pulling
- Other self-injury behaviors
- Sense of relief, pleasure, or gratification after the hair pulling
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Poor self image
I was young and intuitive. Mad at myself for being different. Mad at myself for not knowing what was wrong with me.
I remember one day in fourth grade when I was pulling (it was also a subconscious turned conscious issue). I looked down on the floor and realized I had probably pulled a good 200 hairs out of my head. I raised my hand to go to the bathroom and took my scissors. I stood in front of the short raised mirror in our elementary school bathroom and stared at all the little hair trying to go back at the top of my head. I cut them all off with my little scissors. I sobbed chopping off the little hairs on my head. I felt ugly and broken. Something a ten year old should never feel.
Shame. Lots of shame.
My Trich ebbed and flowed. I would have seasons that I wouldn’t pull at all and others where I would have massive bald spots on my head. I hated myself. I hated my body. I had one doctor tell me that Trich has been considered in some circles as “self mutilation.” I kept asking myself why I just couldn't get it under control. And here I am, an educated almost mother of two children, who still suffers from it.
As I got older I looked for a reason, a “why” if you will. I never truly got an answer to why this was happening to me. The Mayo Clinic states “The cause of trichotillomania is unclear. But like many complex disorders, trichotillomania probably results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Also, abnormalities in the natural brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine may play a role in trichotillomania.”
My nature and personality that makes me prone to depression and anxiety, mixed with trauma and a genetic predisposition created a recipe in my brain to pull the hair off my head.
I’ve kept this secret for fifteen years. Though I’m grateful I have done enough therapy and self care to prevent myself from losing all my hair or making it really noticeable, I live with it everyday.
Thankfully, most of my adult life I have had my Trich under control. In fact, I didn’t tell Zac that I struggled with it until late last year. My pregnancies have made it worse, which is why I now reminded of it more. Hormone levels? Increased anxiety? I’m not sure but I do know it has gotten worse. You know the seemingly never ending battles of life? This is one of mine.
The big Shame and Doubt plague once again.
I’m one of the five percent of the population who feels like they are bizarre, strange and unable to really accept the reality of life.
It’s an on going struggle. For fifteen years I have had this impulse disorder seeping its way into every part of my life.
So why does this matter?
I suppose I want to be a beacon of light for others who have struggled, for others who battle this very shameful impulse disorder and ultimately who need to know they are normal and beautiful the way they are.
I spent a lot of time years ago trying to diagnose myself with other problems, blame my parents, blame myself, blame my genetics, blame my circumstances but ultimately, a lot of this was out of my control. What I do have control over is how I respond to the sadness, doubt and shame I feel when talking about it.
Often, we criticize what we don’t understand. Makes sense. I have had plenty of people tell me... “Well, just stop.”
If only it were that simple. The psychosomatic biochemical pathways in my brain are wired differently. Perhaps some synapse doesn’t fire correctly (who knows) but ultimately, I feel more comfortable and in control with my Trich than I ever have. It’s not perfect but I don’t let it destroy me. I don’t let it control me. I don’t sweat and cry before going to get my hair cut. I let the hair that is growing back stick up without pushing it back. I allow myself to move on from a bad pulling session and not let it hold me down.
I am learning to embrace the imperfections that keep me humble and rely even more heavily on the one who created me.
He has seen it all, every day of those fifteen years, and still just sees me apart from my own insecurities.
I have a lot of great resources for those struggling or have children who are struggling. My own advice to you if you do have children strugggling is be patient and love no matter what. I know fear can make it’s face known but someone with Trich already shames and belittles themselves enough.
I'm not sure how this helps me but I'm tired of it being something in my life that I can't talk about. I don't want to keep it a secret anymore. It's my own self care.
I accept who I am and hope that above all, that can be an inspiration to someone else.
If you would like information, advice or someone to talk to about TTM, I truly am a wealth of knowledge. Email me!