I'm a 34-year-old mother of two, and I would like to make a confession that may help some of your readers. Here it is: I like to pull my hair out. In my case, I pull out the hairs on my head, to the point where I often have a bald area on my crown. As bad as that sounds, some people have it much worse. I know of one man who tried to remove every hair on his head via plucking. And because he couldn't get them all, he ended up looking like a cancer victim after chemotherapy treatments. Why didn't he just shave his head, you might ask. Because it's the act of plucking the hair that we're interested in. I seem to get a deep psychological pleasure when the hair gets yanked out of the follicle, like I've just taken care of a messy problem.
The condition is called trichotillomania, and I've had it for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my mother made me wear gloves, even during the summer, so that I would be unable to twist and pull my hair. But she couldn't supervise me around the clock, and if I was left alone for a few minutes I'd be at it again. Why? I don't know. Trichotillomania is a nervous disorder akin to OCD, and no one seems to know where it comes from. But it often appears in pre-pubertal boys and girls, especially girls. Many of them quit on their own. Others, like myself, just keep going. Thanks to therapy, I've managed to keep it largely under control. But when I'm anxious or simply not paying attention to what I'm doing, I often find myself reaching back there.
The reason I'm writing to you is because my daughter, who's now four, has started twisting her hair. She doesn't pull it out (yet), just twists it, so I can't tell whether she has trichotillomania or not. I'm going to take her to a child psychiatrist. In the meantime I wanted to share with your readers this largely hidden affliction. (People who have it tend to hide their hair loss with wigs and such.) Trichotillomania isn't all that harmful, except to one's vanity, but even that can be quite disruptive to a normal, happy life. I urge anyone who engages in this behavior to seek professional help. You may not completely rid yourself of it. I haven't. But through behavioral-modification techniques and/or drugs, you can make a lot of progress.
Thanks for listening.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Hair Today: Thanks for sharing. I'm always happy to pass along a PSA when I think my readers may not have heard of the subject. And trichotillomania, TTM for short, is one of those often-overlooked impulse-control disorders. Why overlooked? Probably because ' unlike, say, pyromania ' it rarely has dire consequences. Unless, of course, you eat the hairs, which some trichotillomaniacs do, I'm told. Unfortunately, this can lead to what's called a trichobezoar, which the more feline among my readers will recognize as a hairball. So if you must pluck, try not to swallow.
A few other points:
One, the head is only the most common site for TTM. Eyebrows and eyelashes are also very popular. And I've heard of arm, leg, even pubic hairs being pulled out by the roots. Two, men may suffer from TTM more than we know and simply report it less often. (Plucking your eyebrows isn't considered all that masculine, even though it requires a high tolerance for pain.) Finally, there does appear to be a self-soothing aspect to pulling one's hair out, however contradictory that might sound. For the right person, it's like sucking your thumb. It's relaxing, a release of tension.
And, to tell the truth, it's no weirder-sounding than all the other stuff we do to keep ourselves pacified: drugs, alcohol, TV, chocolate. If I had a nickel for every Snickers bar I bought in the last year, I'd still be several hundred dollars in the hole.
And a lot more anxious.
Got a wild hair up your ass? Write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.