At the time of posting, it’s the 31st of December 2020. This year has gone so quickly (but also slowly somehow?) that I still can’t quite believe we’re almost in 2021. I realise I haven’t been very active on the blog this year – in fact it’s been just over two years since I first wrote about having trichotillomania. That was a huge step for me, as I had already been struggling with it for over a year. So much has happened to me since I published that blog post, including a few periods of time where I managed to resist the urges altogether. This post is basically just an update on my trichotillomania journey and how things have changed for me over the past couple of years.
I worked in retail for one year in between college and university. Having that job was good, in that I was always super busy. When I was at work, I just didn’t have the time to rip my hair. But occasionally there would be days where I would feel overwhelmed and spend my entire break in the staffroom staring at my hair and pulling it out. Overall, I think that keeping busy and having tasks to do was beneficial for me.
Throughout my teenage years, I took my stress out on my hair, whether this meant a drastic haircut or change of colour. I dyed my hair for the last time in March 2019. It wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, but I just thought I should leave my hair alone for a bit and see if that helped. At the time of writing, I’m still growing out my natural hair!
In summer 2019, I had the aim of making it for 30 days without ripping my hair, because I knew that habit reversal can be effective after one month. I had a really good period of time starting in May where I didn’t rip my hair at all. I didn’t make a note of exactly when it started but when I realised i had been a while, I was determined not to start ripping my hair again. Even through some of the most stressful experiences of my life, I managed to resist the urges (which was incredibly difficult). I was so proud of achieving a few months ‘clean’ that I didn’t want anything or anyone to take that away from me. But, at the same time, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed myself had I relapsed.
I finally got a formal diagnosis in 2019, over two years after I first showed symptoms of trichotillomania. I was diagnosed through my GP. Having a medical diagnosis of trich was extremely useful for me, because it meant I had medical evidence to show my university in order to access extra support and resources. It was nice to have some validation in a way, that trichotillomania is an actual condition that is affecting my life, and it is something that I can’t control. But even before this, I was able to self-refer for free online CBT through the NHS. If you don’t have an official diagnosis from a doctor, it’s not the end of the world. You can keep pushing, and you should still be able to access some support services. There’s a section on my original trichotillomania blog post about treatments and support. There’s also the option of private treatment, although I haven’t looked into this.
Starting University and Relapse
So… two days before I moved to university, I travelled down there for a meeting regarding the extra support I’d be able to access. This day consisted of me being alone for about six hours on trains and I unfortunately relapsed about two hours in.
I didn’t notice at first but I became quite upset once I realised what I was doing. Being sad and disappointed was a natural reaction, of course. I had managed around four months without ripping any of my hair and I felt like I had ruined all of that. But at the same time, being self-aware about my trichotillomania, I can understand that it is not my fault. I had to remind myself that I couldn’t control my hair pulling, which helped to calm me down a bit and focus on the rest of the day. And because I understand my disorder and how it affects me, I was able to identify the triggers. Obviously, the thought of moving to a new city and starting uni was causing me a lot of stress. That and the fact that I’m a massive procrastinator and I had barely packed. Travelling down to university for the meeting made everything seem a lot more real, and so I relapsed possibly as a coping mechanism or a distraction from all of my worries. If I hadn’t understood that trichotillomania is a disorder and not just something weird I do, I would have been much more disappointed in myself.
Once I started uni, there were more opportunities for me to pull my hair out. If I was in a lecture where I couldn’t fully follow the content then I would spend the hour ripping my hair. I was hyper-aware that the people around me might think I was weird, but I still couldn’t stop myself.
Uni can be a lonely place sometimes, which meant that I would sometimes spend hours and hours alone in my room ripping at my hair. It’s really emotional when I think back to that time. I would be sat there in silence while day turned to night until I was too tired to do it anymore. At some point in November, I was so fed up. I didn’t want to have trichotillomania anymore. It felt unfair. I threw myself into every possible way I could distract myself and keep my hands busy. I campaigned during the general election, I picked up embroidery again, made jewellery, I brought fidget toys to lectures just in case I was tempted to pull my hair. And somehow it worked. It was a lot of effort, but I didn’t pull my hair.
Embroidery and Etsy
I started my Etsy store in February of this year, which gave me something to work towards. It also meant that there was somewhere for me to sell my embroidery pieces and jewellery. It gave me purpose and boosted my confidence. I did embroidery as a distraction technique, but it was nice to be able to improve at something and focus on promoting it. I’ve found so many lovely friends in the embroidery/crafting community through Instagram.
We’ve all been hit hard by the pandemic. I really struggled with the sudden change of moving out of university early, then spending my 20th birthday in lockdown. I was really worried that I might relapse again. At this point, I was over 100 days clean from hair pulling/ripping (I use the app Daylio to track). Uni had gone online, I couldn’t meet up with friends, everything I had been looking forward to had been cancelled. My mental state wasn’t great and I was bored, but I managed to resist the urges to rip my hair even when I was struggling.
Starting Second Year of University
So, here we are now. I’m now in my second year of uni, and my course is almost exclusively online. The first few weeks were definitely tough, with the news cycle dominated by reports that students were going to be trapped in their accommodation and not allowed to go home for Christmas. Luckily, that scaremongering by the media seems to have calmed down a bit. I’m privileged enough that I have been able to take breaks from reading the news and doomscrolling, which helps to clear my head a bit. Uni lectures and readings have been difficult, because everything is me teaching myself. If I’m having a bad mental health day, I can’t focus, and I’m just sat in front of my laptop feeling rubbish. It’s times like these when I’m feeling worst, and the urges to rip my hair get more intense. But I’m trying my best in these tricky circumstances and I have a great support network around me, who are all aware of my trich.
Do I Still Have Trichotillomania?
I’m lucky that, at the time of writing, I am 400+ days clean from pulling or ripping my hair. But just because I haven’t pulled my hair doesn’t mean that I’m “cured” from trichotillomania. Since moving back to uni and being in a new, stressful situation, I’ve spent countless hours staring at and playing with my hair. It’s gotten to the point where I have to tie it up in a very tight bun just to make sure I can’t pull strands out and rip them. So, I still have trichotillomania. It’s still something that I have to actively fight/battle with every single day. Especially in these strange times when it sometimes feels like I’m on my own.
I hope that this update on my trichotillomania journey is helpful! I just wanted to show that there have been ups and downs along the way but I’m doing pretty good now. I’m looking forward to the fresh start of a new year, and wishing you all the best for 2021.