The Trichotillomania Learning Center featured an article in their newsletter, InTouch, titled Three Approaches that Changed My Outlook on Life with Trichotillomania written by the author of Urges. To read the article in a PDF, as published in the TLC newsletter, please click here, or read Gary’s article below.
I hid my hair pulling secret – that started at age 6 – for nearly 45 years.
As I child, I cried because I couldn’t stop pulling my hair. I prayed, yet that prayer wasn’t answered.
As a teen, I didn’t date, participate in physical activities, or do anything to risk being “outed.”
By the time I was a young adult, on my first job out of college, my hair pulling went from bad to worse. I panicked in my office when I saw hair all over my desk and the floor around me. I realized that co-workers were probably seeing me pull clumps of hair every day, and they saw that my scalp had red blotches from the irritation of pulling. And who could miss my rather odd comb-over.
When I was just 21, less than 3 months on my first job, bought a hair replacement. I wore a hair replacement for over 28 years to cover up my weirdly bald head. And while there had to be people who realized I wore a hair piece, virtually no one knew that the reason I wore it was because I pulled my hair.
I was afraid of losing friends if anyone found out. I feared the whispers behind my back from co-workers and that my career would be at risk. I was convinced that my life, as pieced together as I could hold it together, would be ruined if anyone – anyone – discovered that I was a hair puller. Or God help me if they heard that the name of this disorder was called trichotillomania. Only crazy people have something with the word “mania” in it.
Hiding trich was tiring. Caring for my hair replacement was timeconsuming. It held me back from things such as going for a walk with my wife on a windy day. Being with my daughters in the swimming pool as they grew up. Going to the gym (although later I would do these things wearing a ball cap).
Then one day I turned 50. I decided soon thereafter that wearing a hair replacement needed to come to an end. I was tired of the work required to hide my hair pulling urges. I was tired of spending a half hour soaking, washing, drying, and styling my hair replacement whenever I had an important meeting to go to. If my hair style didn’t look quite right, I’d do it over or obsess with it hoping I could make it look just right. Because of fussing with my hair, I was often late to meetings and would make an excuse about traffic.
I wanted my life back. Actually, I just wanted to live my life. I wasn’t getting it “back.” I never really completely had it after I started to pull my hair. Hair pulling was consuming me, and hiding it was consuming me even more.
Within a few days after my 50th birthday in October of 2006, I made plans to shave my head. Sure, I could just go do it and as a man it would be completely natural to have a shaved head, wouldn’t it? Well no, not really. At least not to me.
I’d be going from a full head of hair (even if many recognized it as a hair replacement) to complete baldness overnight. Many would be shocked and ask why.
I was afraid of what my family would think. Would my business suffer? Would I lose friends?
Would they all be scared of someone who – gasp! – had a wire completely loose and pulled his hair out? Would they think I was a mental case? That I should check myself into a center for the mentally ill? Would my life as I had known it completely change for the worse after shaving my head?
These were risks that I was willing to take.
I told my wife of my decision first. She had heard me talk of doing it over the years, but she was surprised when I told her that I had made up my mind and wasn’t going back. I made plans to shave my head on Feb. 1, 2007, giving me about three months to anticipate it. Lots of planning went into this life-changing step.
I told my teenage daughters with apprehension. They never knew that I was a hair puller, and when they were small children, I swore them to secrecy that they would never tell anyone that I was bald. Before telling them about trich, a big fear of mine was that because of the possible genetic link of passing along this wretched disorder to my daughters, I didn’t want to introduce that idea with them. But they took the revelation in stride and thankfully they aren’t hair pullers.
I also sat down with a handful of family members and friends ahead of time to tell them my story. All were surprised. Some were saddened when they learned that I had hid this mysterious disorder for nearly 45 years and that I felt so alone.
After I shaved my head, those seeing me for the first time with a bald head were shocked. But I marched forward and told extended family, friends and business associates my story and that trichotillomania wasn’t going to be a secret anymore. If I lost any friends – and I don’t think that I did – then they weren’t really friends.
Then I started writing a book, the story of my childhood with trichotillomania, with anecdotes of growing up on a farm straddling the Nebraska and Kansas border. Writing my story brought back memories, both positive and painful. In my book, I recount the incident in a farm field that prompted me to start pulling. How my faith in God is an important foundation in my life. And how being in 4-H allowed me to discover gifts and talents I didn’t know that I had.
Intermingled with my story are reflections and intimate personal thoughts and conclusions, all relating to my pain growing up as a hair puller.
I also have written about how I found love along the way. I share a turning point that has enabled me to feel liberated and as a result I now speak openly about having trichotillomania.
The book was written over a two and a half year period, often through tears. It has been a discovery process that has enabled me to realize that despite trich, I have been richly blessed in this life.
After writing my book, and absorbing my own life’s story, I now recognize that there were three overarching approaches that have given me strength and enabled me to move on with my life.
My faith in God and how I was uniquely created has helped me carry on. I visualize my soul as a multi-faceted piece of fabric with threads, and weaves, and colors, and shapes, and frayed edges – all that symbolize the complex person that I was created to be.
I believe we’re all on this earth for a purpose. A few years ago, I started to wonder more and more about my purpose on this earth. I realized that one of a handful of reasons for my existence is to educate the public about trichotillomania. Through being a public face, I can show the world that those of us who pull hair are normal people with families, careers, feelings, hopes and dreams.
I dream of children and teenagers and their parents not feeling isolation or being demonized for having this disorder. It’s my hope that through the words in my book I can inspire hair pullers and others with compulsive disorders to embrace who they are.
My second strategy to help me move on with my life has been my ability to accept who I am. Through my faith, I accept that trich is part of being a complex individual. No one can take trichotillomania away from me. And I’m powerless to stop pulling my hair.
This doesn’t mean that I like trich. But having trich has profoundly formed the person who I am today. I like who I am. Once I accepted that trich is one – just one – aspect of my complex fabric, I was able to look at the overall composition of who I am and know that my life isn’t defined by trich. While I don’t like trich, and never will, I would be a different human being today without it.
My third step has been to discover and use my God-given gifts and talents. Yes, I pull hair. But I have counter-balancing gifts: A loving family. Talents such as strong communication skills. I sing and perform with a championship choral group. I’m a person of integrity. Loyal. Always wanting good to prevail over bad. Those skills have served me well in my life and when put together are bigger than trichotillomania ever can, or will be.
My book is titled Urges, with the subtitle Hope and inspiration for people with trichotillomania and other mysterious compulsive disorders. Writing and publishing this book is part of what I consider to be my life’s purpose.
The book includes a touching Foreword by TLC’s Christina Pearson. You can read Christina’s Foreword, the first chapter, a chapter summary, and testimonials from people in the trich community who have read Urges at www.Manage-Trich-Urges.com. In addition to my book, I have written and recorded a CD of inspirational messages for people with trich called Doses of Comfort. “Urges” is also available at Amazon.com.
Whatever, and wherever, your journey may be with trich, it is my hope that my words will inspire you to accept yourself, and that you can learn to co-exist with trichotillomania.