Health

Trichotillomania: 4th Grade Made Me Pull My Hair Out

Trichotillomania is an obsessive-compulsive disorder where you pull your hair out, usually to relieve stress. In my case, I slowly worked my way to a silver dollar sized bald spot on the crown of my head, in my fourth grade year of school. I also managed to recover and never do it again. While my OCD and anxiety continues to pop up in other annoying ways, I’ve at least managed to stop pulling my hair out, so I’ll take that as a win.

What’s a Spectrum?

When I was little there was no “spectrum,” no diagnoses of anxiety issues, OCD or acknowledgment that I had severe insomnia. I didn’t get that until I was in my 30s. I had no therapy or drugs to help me. I was also bored to tears in my fourth grade class and spent the whole year reading Sweet Valley Twins tucked into my desk instead of paying attention in class.

So, with nothing better to do than bite my nails and read books, I turned to plucking my hair out strand by strand. You can only bite your nails so far before you’re left with bloody nubs. So I started pulling out my own hair. I would pull it out slowly, so I could feel it coming out of my scalp. The root would still be attached, so it looked like a little black boot on the end. I would take it and make it “walk” across my desk. That’s how freakin’ bored I was.

I contacted my mom to confirm it was 4th grade that this happened and she mentioned the school wanted me to skip 4th grade and go right to 5th. She decided not to do that because I was already on the younger side, having started kindergarten at four. I started school early because I just couldn’t wait any longer and by first grade I was already helping older kids with their homework at the bus stop. I just loved school and learning and couldn’t get enough, fast enough. I feel the better choice would have been for me to skip a grade and stay mentally stimulated rather than sit there and self-mutilate myself, but I didn’t have a say in the matter at the time.

nail biting habit
Still nibbling those nails

The Big Bald Reveal

I finally stopped plucking out my hair when my mom showed me my bald spot. She was going through beauty school at the time and told me it was “alopecia areata,” though thanks to Google I know now it was trichotillomania. Actual alopecia areata are bald spots that happen due to auto-immune diseases, not self-inflicted harm. But just seeing that silver dollar sized smooth spot on my head and my mom giving it a fancy Latin name seemed to jar something inside of me that made me decide not to ever do it again.

Sometimes now I still slowly rub the top of my head and feel where the hair is growing out, and I think about pulling it, but I don’t. I think about that bald spot and I stop.

Trichotillomania is a weird random OCD thing. This was probably an indication of my later OCD and anxiety issues, but that wasn’t a thing in the ’80s. So somehow I managed to overcome it on my own, and never do it again. It’s the thing that gives me a bit of strength sometimes when very silly anxieties pop up. Like “Hey, you stopped pulling your own hair out and making it dance across your desk, surely you can drive downtown by yourself…” silly stuff like that.

Unfortunately I still chew my nails and cuticles until they bleed, and when I’m going through a stressful time, my OCD pops back up to mess with my life. The doctor said I was called a “checker,” as in, I’ll drive back to my house three times to check and make sure the oven is off and not going to burn down the house. And for some reason, I can’t remember I actually did confirm it unless some ritual is performed that sticks in my head. This is the kind of stuff that sounds crazy to my husband and people who have no anxiety issues, and quite honestly to me sometimes because I don’t know why I’m like this. People joke all the time about being OCD, but there’s nothing funny about the way it interferes with your life.

Where am I going with all this?

I guess what this all boils down to is- if your kid is pulling their hair out, there’s probably a reason. Talk to them. Find out why it’s happening and maybe they can learn to deal with their anxiety issues before they end of being 40 and circling the neighborhood checking that garage door just one more time…

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About the Author

Candy Keane is a digital content creator and long-time cosplayer, most well-known for being on the cover of the Star Wars documentary Jedi Junkies. After making costumes professionally for over a decade, she now writes about about geek culture and mom life, and continues to cosplay for fun, while sharing her love of costumes on Instagram @SewGeekMama. Her first children’s book, I’m Going to My First Comic Convention, was published in 2020 and won a Story Monsters Approved award for Excellence in Literature.

2 replies »

  1. Denial is a helluva thing. Although there was clearly a lack of understanding of the complexity of anxiety issues at that time, there was already some clarity of your level of intelligence (although what to do about that was a discussion you were not a part of). Thank for your continued honesty and downright bravery in sharing; it’s sure to help other parents … frankly people of all ages who are looking back with the lens of maturity and trying to make sense of experiences. And kudos to your successes, and acknowledging that you still have challenges. Admiration on 11!

    Liked by 1 person

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