Every year, the first week of October is BFRB week. It’s a week that just aims to raise awareness for various BFRBs as well as making people aware of the support that is available. I thought that this week would be the perfect time for me to share my own BFRB story.
This is a pretty personal post. I’ve been struggling with trichotillomania for about 18 months now, and also struggling to spell it. For those of you that don’t know what it is, it’s an irresistible urge to pull out or rip your hair. It is a body focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB), which is a form of OCD. The form of trichotillomania that I have is an uncontrollable urge to rip the ends of my hair. This is just going to be a post about my personal experiences with trichotillomania. Since my self-diagnosis, I have done lots of research but I am not a medical professional and the advice in this post is purely anecdotal. I have included links for where you can go to get further information and support if you need at the end of this post.
I usually wouldn’t post about this kind of thing, given that it is so personal and I’m usually such a private person. But it took me such a long time to actually identify that my hair pulling habit was a real problem and I needed treatment. I’m hoping that by me writing and uploading this post, I can help others who suffer from trichotillomania or other BFRBs, especially if they don’t even realise it. I also want people to understand what it is, and that it can’t be helped.
The way that I usually describe it to help people understand is that it’s sort of similar to biting your nails, but it is compulsive and so much more difficult to resist that normal. I actually used to bite my nails a lot when I was around 13, so I’ve assumed that it could be linked to the development of my trichotillomania several years later. I don’t remember when I began picking at my split ends, but I first noticed that I was doing it when an emotional date/anniversary came up around the same time as my AS exams. I had also been quite physically ill so it was a very stressful time. Since then, it has had a massive toll on my life.
I first learnt what trichotillomania was before I even developed it, through Gweni over at gbeauty.co.uk. I also spent the best part of a term studying OCD, and I still didn’t manage to identify it in myself. I think the main reason for this is because I didn’t want to admit that what I was doing was a medical problem, rather than just me being fidgety. I also always thought trichotillomania was about pulling your hair and eyelashes out, rather than ripping the ends.
Recently, trichotillomania has been represented in HBO’s Sharp Objects, with Adora Crellin pulling out her eyelashes, although it was not addressed properly. (Also I am obsessed with Sharp Objects so if anyone else has watched it, I am dying to talk about it!)
Research has shown that 2% of people will experience trichotillomania in their lifetime, and 80% of sufferers are women. The World Trichology Society have stated that trichotillomania often occurs with bulimia in teenage girls.
Lucinda Ellery has identified signs, symptoms, and side effects of trichotillomania:
Having trichotillomania has impacted other areas of my life as well. I love having long hair, but I can never grow it out as I have to cut it constantly in an attempt to resist the urge to pick at my split ends. Even if I were to grow it out, the ends are so damaged and unhealthy that there wouldn’t be much point. And I wouldn’t really be able to wear it down much anyway because of the urge to rip the ends.
Having to cut my hair so often because of trichotillomania has been really detrimental to my self-esteem. I have short(ish) hair at the moment and I don’t feel confident in my appearance. At times where my urges are really bad, I have to always wear my hair up in a ponytail or a bun, which makes me feel so much less feminine and really knocks my confidence.
A side effect of trichotillomania that most people wouldn’t expect is that I’ve also ended up with bruises and blisters on my fingers from picking at my split ends so much (and having such long nails). Annoyingly, the physical pain that comes from this habit still doesn’t deter me. Even as I’m writing this, I’ve pulled locks of hair out of my ponytail and ripped the ends of my hair, leaving tiny cut offs all over my keyboard.
Dr David Kingsley, president of the World Trichology Society, has said that “some published reports say it’s easier to stop smoking”. This shows how difficult it can be to treat trichotillomania. So please don’t try and tell me to “just stop doing it” – it’s unfortunately not that simple.
If you think you might have trichotillomania, the charity Trichotillomania Support has a test. If you answer ‘yes’ to four or more of these questions, they suggest that you should seek support.
One of the most common ways to treat trichotillomania is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). If you think you have trichotillomania, you can see your GP who will refer you for CBT. Alternatively, you may be able to self-refer yourself for online CBT if you live in one of the areas listed here.
The NHS page for trichotillomania lists a few things that you can try yourself. These include squeezing a stress ball, wearing a bandana or hat, forming a ball with your fist, and putting plasters on your fingertips.
Dr Kingsley of the World Trichology Society advises patients to think of ways to keep their hands busy at all times. Trichotillomania Support’s store sells jewellery that can help, including bracelets with bells that alert you if you subconsciously move your hands towards your hair. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for me because I am always aware that I am picking at the ends of my hair but I just can’t get myself to stop. Other things that have been helpful for me include fidget toys and doing embroidery.
BFRB week this year is from the 1st to the 7th of October. Click here for the TLC Foundation for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours website. It is an American organisation, but it still has a lot of useful resources and information.
OCD UK also has a lot of helpful information, including the history of trichotillomania.
I hope that this has been an informative post for you guys. Please feel free to comment any questions, and I will do my best to answer them.