As told to Shona Hendley.
I was seven years old when I started pulling my hair out. I remember exactly because it was the year that my parents separated, and the year that I started to feel anxious (not that I knew what anxious was then).
When my dad left our home, I remember, just like a movie scene, running to the front window to watch his car pull out of the driveway. After I couldn’t see his car anymore as it drove away, I ran to the bathroom crying and locked the door.
I looked at myself in the mirror, grabbed my hair, pulled handfuls of it in frustration and screamed. It felt good.
In the days and weeks following, I began to twirl my hair around my fingers. It was the only way to rid some of my nervous energy; my anxiety. Then after a few weeks of doing this, I realised it wasn’t helping anymore, so when I brushed my hair before school, I would pull out any hair that wasn’t neatly in place. It was only a hair or two, I thought at the time, but after a while, a hair or two adds up.
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A few months later, on my eighth birthday, I had a Disney Princess dress-up party where I went as Rapunzel. I had been obsessed with her for as long as I could remember and with my own naturally long blonde hair, I felt like I was her.
By this point though, instead of just accessorising with a tiara, my real hair had to be covered with a cheap, blonde wig because there were bald patches at the back of my own head from where I had been pulling my hair out.
After this, my mum took me to a doctor and then he referred me to a child psychiatrist where I was diagnosed with Trichotillomania. In simple terms, Trichotillomania is a body focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB) which most experts believe is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD.)
While my BFRB saw me pulling my hair out, other people can bite their nails, chew their cheeks or pick their skin. The nail biting was something my own mother does even now, as did my grandma when she was alive. This family link is common because BFRB is believed to be genetic.
After my diagnosis continued to see a therapist on and off – throughout my childhood, into my teen years and still now, in my twenties. My long-term psychologist specialises in OCD using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help me, and generally speaking it has been pretty successful, although at times of stress like breakups or exams, I have had small relapses.
When I had these relapses, I would find myself beginning to play with my hair more frequently, usually inadvertently, sometimes just while I was sitting watching TV, then I would start to pull at my eyelashes as well.