May 14, 2012

The Trichotillomania Interview : Insight On Why People Pull Out Their Hair


Brittany Kihl is a 22-year-old from Buffalo, New York.  She is known by many as "BARK," which are her initials smashed together to form an entertaining word.  A self-proclaimed jack of all trades, she dabbles in anything creative and has an adventurous mind set of attempting anything once.  It just so happens that she lives with a disorder called Trichotillomania, a condition in which someone pulls out their hair for the relief of stress.  I spoke with Brittany about her not widely known disorder and how she hopes to inspire others.

Jeffrey Hartinger:  Can you give a little background on the condition?


Brittany Kihl: There are many unfamiliar and unknowns in the world we live in. Trichotillomania is just one of many unfamiliar conditions. Trichotillomania is a disorder characterized by the repetitive pulling out of one’s hair, resulting in noticeable hair loss and academic, social, and occupational impairment. It is a condition that is affecting 6 to 8 million children and adults in the United States with numbers steadily increasing each year as more people are coming forward about having it. For those wanting to lead a life without trichotillomania, medical and behavioral specialists are usually needed to help fight the disorder and its urges.

JH: Would you consider this a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder?


BK: I don’t believe I would consider this a form of OCD behavior because typically someone who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder dislikes the rituals that come with it. With someone who has trichotillomania, the feeling you get when you want pull a piece of hair out is actually satisfying. The aftermath feelings of pulling your hair out isn’t positive, but the initial feeling as you pull is a complete relief of stress or whatever else you are struggling with at that moment. If I had to consider trich a form of something I would say it would differ from person to person, depending on their background history and what other problems someone may have that are associated with trich.

JH: When did you start to show signs of trichotillomania?

BK: This is kind of odd,  but I actually remember the exact day and age. It was Halloween and I was in the 7th grade. I was 12 when I first had the urge to pull my hair. I stood staring in the mirror dealing with at the time a deep depression and I just looked at myself and grabbed a huge chunk of my hair and ripped it from my scalp. I did it again later that evening two other times on the right and left side of my head sitting in my Halloween costume watching a scary movie. The feeling of relief was so overwhelming that I used that as a way to escape my stress from the trauma I was dealing with within my family at the time. My mother was not around a lot when I was younger and my father was absent in my life up until I was 15. Even then, I saw him maybe once or twice a year until I was 20. Trich helped me take away the built up rage and tension burning inside me that I didn’t know how to at the time verbally talk about.

JH: Does painting help you relax and alleviate the stress that causes you to pull out your hair?


BK: Absolutely! Painting, photography, yoga, music, poetry, drawing, exercising, dancing around like a crazy woman, and rock climbing even on occasion! Anything and everything that is adventurous or something new I try it out and it keeps my stress level way down. Music is the big one though. Music was kind of my parent when I needed answers that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Music I can honestly say saved my life. These are my prescribed medications. No pills needed here; just living life.

JH: What was the time when you thought, "I need help for my condition?" And, did you seek out help?


BK: The first day I did it on Halloween when I was 12 I ran down the stairs and showed my mother what I did and explained to her that this cannot be normal for someone to do and to want to do again. Unfortunately, at that time, my mother thought it was just a phase I was going through and her way of handling the situation was to ignore it. At that point, I started hiding it and keeping this only to myself and ignoring the problem. I didn’t start to open up about it until I was 16 and talked to a close friend who noticed my odd behavior. Now at 22-years-old, I am actually in the process of finding a therapist for the first time. I plan on recording my journey and hopefully be able to share it with others like me looking for someone who is going through it. Looking for someone to not be afraid to stand up and say hey I have trichotillomania and I want to beat this. The first step is the hardest, accepting you’re different and that you don’t have to hide and feel alone because you are not alone. You are never alone.

JH: Any advice for those suffering from this or a similar condition?


BK: You are never alone. Don’t be afraid of what you do, there is a reason behind the matter. You are not crazy you just have a different way to handle situations. Reach out to someone close to you and open up about what is bothering you and go from there to find out what steps you would like to take next. Do not hide in the shadows. There are a vast amount of videos on YouTube of people taping their journey and trying to reach out to others like YOU! Take the time to do the research to learn about the disorder and educate yourself most importantly.

If you are afraid to see a therapist and open up it is understandable. Maybe you can try this exercise used in cognitive therapy sessions. First go to a place where you pull your hair out the most. When you get the urge to pull you have to recognize what you are doing and stop yourself. A great way to stop yourself in the action is to squeeze your hand in a fist or a stress ball would work too. What you are doing is triggering the mind and in a sense tricking it to thinking you are going to satisfy the urge but what you are really doing is satisfying yourself by not letting the habit occur. This is one of the hardest parts to conquer but it is not going to be an easy battle. Set a goal and count the number of hairs you pick in a day. Try and stay under that goal. Once you have reached it set a lower goal for the following day. You are basically weaning yourself off of this habit. You can do it!
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I would like to thank Brittany for opening up on her journey with trichotillomania. Check out the Trichotillomania Website to learn more on the condition and add Brittany on Facebook to connect with her.  Also, a recent movie release starring Charlize Theron, Young Adult, has a story line involving the condition; it's a pretty good movie and I recommend seeing it!

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