My name is Katherine and to the everyday passerby I seem like any other teenage girl, but it wasn’t always that way. I had an amazing childhood and was blessed with loving parents. Up until middle school I was an A+ student, with everything going for her. At the age of 12 my life was changed drastically forever.
I can still remember the first time I pulled a hair from my head. I was on vacation, having a wonderful time. I had just recently gotten bleach blonde highlights in my long dirty-blonde hair. Looking in the mirror to examine my bangs and highlights I noticed one hair longer than all the other and so nonchalantly I plucked it out.
From there my world began to spiral. My mother noticed me pulling several hairs from my head every few hours and began doing some research online. She said she knew it was a medical condition because she had seen it on Oprah or another talk show of that sort. The following week she took me to a dermatologist where I first experienced the ignorance of my medical condition. First the young nurse asked me why I was there and when I responded “I keep pulling out my hair” she gave me a disgusted look and said “well, why don’t you just stop?” The doctor proceeded to diagnose me with Trichotillomania via a Wikipedia article off Google.
Living with Trichotillomania (trich for short) was the hardest trial of my life thus far. As my bald patches grew larger and larger I went from covering them with thick headbands to wearing hats and eventually buying a wig once I was totally bald. Kids at that age were cruel and I was bullied every day in school. People who I thought had my back didn’t want to be seen with me and it made me feel like even more of a freak.
Eventually I went to my science teacher, who I thought very highly of, and asked her to tell the kids to stop picking on me. She said it might be better if I address them myself. And so, for the first time, in 8th grade I opened up about my trichotillomania in front of my Earth Science class. People were kinder than I thought and the one boy who constantly bullied me even apologized. Unfortunately I had already fallen pretty deep into depression and when the school year ended I decided I wanted to go to a catholic school and start fresh.
The summer before high school I decided to buy a wig. I didn’t know if this was right, should I be covering up my trich and keeping it a secret? Ultimately, l wish I hadn’t kept it such a secret. A lot happened in high school: I made friends and even shared my “trich secret” with a select few friends. Things were still hard though. I never went to pool parties (even though I love swimming), I never went to sleepovers with my friends, and I dreaded amusement parks (even though I love roller coasters).
I felt like I was missing out on a lot. Throughout all of this I was dragging myself from doctor to doctor to try and find an answer to my problem. Psychiatrist, endless medications, Psychologists, Acupuncturists, I tried almost everything. The at home techniques ranged from wearing a swim cap 24/7, to taping my fingers together, to wearing ankle weights on my wrists. I was exhausted.
Somewhere along the line I began making YouTube videos as an outlet. I didn’t plan on anyone watching them, it was more for me. One day I decided to post one of my videos on a website called tumblr, in hopes of finding more trichsters like me. I couldn’t believe it when my YouTube channel hit 11,000 views. I began getting responses from other trichsters along with tons of support. I believe this is what prompted me to do what I did this past October.
In the beginning of last October I decided I was tired of bearing the burden of this secret. I wanted out. I made a post on my public Facebook page saying a bit about trichotillomania and my journey with the condition. The response was overwhelming. I received hundreds of likes and encouraging comments from people I never thought cared about me. I believe that this support helped me stop pulling.
After going to a Trichotillomania Learning Center event in NYC the same month, I miraculously stopped pulling. I spoke to a woman named Christina Pearson who had founded the trichotillomania learning center after the event and I remember her saying, “It’s okay if you’re not ready, you will be!” At that moment I knew I had to make a change…because I was ready. From that day on I fought each urge like it was my own personal war. I stayed around my family and friends and somehow, I kept my hands down the whole time. I began to feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time, pride in my accomplishments.
As the days pull free tallied higher and higher, I didn’t want to break the cycle. This along with support was all I needed to keep myself motivated. Right after Christmas I was able to get my hair cut for the first time in over 5 years. I cried hysterically from happiness. My hair was growing in full and thick and I was beyond thankful for that.
Now, I am happy to report, I am a year pull-free. My hair is styled and I was even able to color it!!! I plan on dedicating my life’s work to helping other trichsters and anyone with mental illness. I truly believe that recovery is possible for EVERYONE. The medications, therapy, and fidgets may help…but in the end, you are the only one who can overcome your trich. I want to get a tattoo in the near future which will read “Nothing is Impossible”. This is my new mantra and I hope it can become the mantra of others. If there is one piece of advice I could give to anyone who feels alone and alienated from society it would be this: Don’t let anything or anyone stop you from living and loving your life. Never let the judgments of others or the standards of society make you think you’re not beautiful, because we all are.