Trichotillomania: hair loss from repeated urges to pull or twist the hair until it breaks off. Patients are unable to stop this behavior, even as their hair becomes thinner.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Annabelle’s hair-pulling, partly because the older my kids get, the more I struggle with weighing their right to privacy against my penchant for being an open book, and partly because, although she has continued to struggle with hair-pulling, it’s been mostly manageable for the last year or two. Addressing the first concern – her right to privacy – all I can say is that in the end, I’d like to raise a little awareness about this disorder. My experience has been that when I’ve written about it in the past, people come out of the woodwork confessing that they pull their hair or have a child who does. The point is, it’s a lot more common than people realize, but it’s something that is usually dealt with in secret because it tends to be so shaming and stigmatized.
While Annabelle has never been officially diagnosed with trichotillomania (trich, for short), I have no doubt that that’s the name for what she does. She has been pulling her hair since she was about ten months old, and for a long time we hoped it was a phase she would outgrow (our pediatrician assured us she most likely would, as well) – and most of the research out there does support the fact that most children who begin pulling/twirling their hair before age 6 usually do outgrow it. However, Annabelle has now been doing it for seven years, and I think the chances of her “outgrowing” it are next to nill. I’m pretty certain at this point that it’s something she will struggle with over her entire life.
Here’s the history of Annabelle’s trich:
So why am I writing about it now, after all this time? Good question. Answer: because it’s worse right now than it’s ever been.
Like I said, it’s continued to be an issue, but it’s mostly been manageable. She tends to twist the hair on one side of her head, until it breaks off, leaving the hair on that side noticeably shorter. So, every so often I’ll trim up her hair to even it all out.
When school let out for summer break a few weeks ago, I decided to try cutting her hair very, very short to see if that would minimize the pulling. My thinking was that there would be very little to pull, and really not enough to twist at all, and maybe that would alleviate the situation.
This was her hair at the end of the school year:
On the last day of school, when she got home, I bribed her with Oreos and got Michael’s electric clippers out and gave her a pixie cut:
Honestly, I was very surprised at how much I loved this on her. I know I’m biased, being her mom and all, but seriously, she’s got such a beautiful face, and this cut really shows it off. She can absolutely pull off a do like this, no problem. I actually started thinking, hey, we’ll just keep it this short all the time, just because it looks so sweet on her – hair pulling or no hair pulling!
It was only a week or two later, though, that I noticed this:
Yes, that’s right: she has pulled out a bald spot on the back of her head. A completely new spot for pulling for her, by the way.
I was horrified. Horrified. The bald spot has actually grown since I took this picture. Every time I look at her head, it’s all I can do not to break down crying.
And you thought Down syndrome was a big deal?
This, my friends, is heartbreaking. To watch your child engage is self-destructive behavior and be utterly and completely helpless to stop it. She is seven years old. She has an entire lifetime ahead of her during which this disorder of hers will likely cause her all kinds of self-esteem issues.
So the super short do ended up being an experiment that didn’t work. For now, we are wrapping her pulling fingers in tape (only because she’s willing; I learned a long time ago that trying to take measures against her will only creates a lot of tension and resentment) and hoping the bald spot fills in somewhat before school starts back up. She’s going into third grade, and I know that the kids at that grade level are old enough to notice things like that and to be cruel about it. And despite Annabelle’s acting like she doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks, she does care. I know, because she won’t go out in public now without a hat on.