Melissa Gephardt is an anthropology major at MU. In this article, she recounts her struggle with trichotillomania — a disorder characterized by the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair in response to stress, anxiety or depression — and how she eventually learned to accept herself.
Today marks the day that I openly confess. Well, it really isn’t much of a confession because that sounds nasty and incriminating.
Today I am on my way to do something I should’ve done a long time ago. Something I shouldn’t have ever been so anxious, ashamed and obviously scared about in the first place.
I am finally accepting myself for who I Am. Not what this world tells me to be, but who I think I should be with the cards that I have been graciously dealt.
I have Trichotillomania.
It’s funny because I have wanted to scream that fact from the mountaintops, that whole cliche liberating thing. But really, I didn’t think people would understand or even know what that meant. My spell check doesn’t even recognize trichotillomania as an actual word, like come on.
And it’s no one’s fault but my own. It took a decade for me to comprehend what I was doing to myself. I mean, I compulsively rip hair from my body. How can anyone just let that soak in for a minute and move on?
I’ve always been different. When I was an adolescent, I didn’t think anything of the pulling. Granted it wasn’t that bad at the time, and I also didn’t have boobs yet, so I was perfectly fine with being a little odd. It’s amazing that once 6th grade hits and all the girls “become women,” people you’ve known since you were six years old not only single you out, but also group you into whatever stereotype may apply. It’s exactly what they’ve been taught to do, and what they’ve seen others do. We’re told what’s right or wrong, normal or weird. It’s not our fault at all.
That age was the time my trich decided to come out of the closet, and the only time I’ve ever wanted to run into one. You can only tell people your brother shaved off your eyebrow in your sleep so many times before they start questioning your credibility.
But I love my trich now because of what it's done for me. My trich has taught me to be strong and definitive, understanding and gross.
Strong because I’ve looked the Devil in the face, and its shockingly become my best friend, since we live together and all. I have found good and evil because of trich. And I’m now indebted to this “disorder” that has been me since I can remember.
Definitive because I don’t believe in pretending. It took me a good decade to stop lying to myself about the obvious and accept the person that I am. And I will never ever let that go.
Understanding because I know I have it so much easier than others. Growing up I had been ostracized and talked about because of my sidekick, which sucks, but has done nothing but make me stronger. I now know what it means to struggle and what it takes to overcome it all.
And Gross because my trich has been called that so many times that I won't let it deal with all that crap on its own. It’s both of our faults anyway.
You dress for the job you want right?
Well I believe you think for the life you want, too. …
So, this is my confession: I do that. I’ve done that. I will do that. Now I recognize trich as something outside of the person I am. Something that is controlling, but not necessarily “wrong.” I can recognize it for what it is inside, too. It’s me.
Trichotillomania is an under-researched, relatively unknown disorder that affects up to 4 percent of America’s population, which is staggering. Doctors and psychiatrists have multiple theories as to what causes and maintains trich, but are nowhere near identifying an actual cause. And with that, there are no definite cures or medicines that help maintain or deter its symptoms. Us “trichsters” are left with the responsibility to teach our doctors about the thing they’re trying to help us with. And that leads to silence.
Silence from misunderstanding, or no understanding at all. Silence that is so detrimental, young people have taken their lives over their struggle with this thing I’ve finally decided to call my friend.
So I am here to break that silence. To scream it from way up high.
Today I tell the world I have trichotillomania and that I am damn sure proud of it. I’m proud of it, and me, and what we will do together in this world. Because with my best friend at my side, I will move the mountains I’ve wanted to yell from for so long.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.