When I avoid the hairdresser for years on end, I lie and blame it on lack of money. When I sit at the back of the room next to the wall, I pretend it’s just my social anxiety.

For most of my life, I’ve been a hair puller. I have trichotillomania. I don’t remember how it started, but I remember that a close friend in middle school also pulled and we would compare bald spots now and then. Did she get it from me? Did we both coincidentally have the same less popular spinoff of OCD? It’s impossible to know now and I’m not even sure if she still pulls. But I know I’ve been stuck with Trixie for almost two decades.

I do it when I’m stressed, I do it when I’m bored, I do it whenever my hands are free. I’m compelled to pull. And it’s more than a pull – it’s a incessant twisting and pulling and breaking and shedding. 

You can hear it if you’re close enough. Honestly, I’m doing it right now in between sentences.

Doesn’t matter how long I do it for, it’s never enough.

The image you’re likely picturing, of a bald woman with tufts of long strands peppered about her head, is not my kind of trich. If I do have bald spots, they look more like thinning patches that are easily hidden. Trixie shows herself more in the clumps of pulled out hair collecting by my bed or tangled in my computer chair legs. It makes living with me a pain. Hate stray hairs in the shower? Just wait until you see my room. I constantly have to hide the evidence at work so that it remains just a quirky habit that Jenna has and not an unsanitary nuisance.

So recently I cut my hair. I told my new hairdresser that it refused to grow past a certain length and the extensive damage was just normal wear-and-tear from years of not cutting it. She didn’t suggest otherwise. I thought a cute bob would prevent me from pulling to keep the hairstyle in tact, but I should have known that I didn’t care for appearances enough to give up my dirty habit.

I’d have to go shorter to get it out of reach, and I’m just not there yet.

Now I’m trying out knitting. I always liked those mini cross stitch projects from the craft store, so knitting seemed like the logical next step. The strings around my fingers mimic the tension of pulling, but without the resolve of breakage at the end. It keeps my hands busy and there’s something creative to show for it at the end. But I can’t knit while I type, and I certainly can’t take my knitting to work so it’s a partial solution.

I have never really wanted to fully stop, and I think that’s the problem. There’s too much benefit in the anxiety-building- then-quelling ritual of it. Do I want healthy hair? As a woman, I’m supposed to, right? Do I want family and friends to stop grabbing my wrist as if it doesn’t make the compulsion that much more irresistible? Do I want to end the debate over whether I politely tell my co-workers that yes, pulling all of it out is the point?

Of course I do. But not enough.

 

 

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