Back in high school, a classmate told me I should be a Pantene model, and at the time, I probably could have been–I had long, silky, perfectly straight brunette locks, and they were, as Louisa May Alcott put it, my “one beauty,” but then…
I’ve struggled with trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling, since I was about twenty years old, but it only recently came to light that in my case, pulling was/is actually a form of “stimming” (you can read all about that revelation here), which for those who aren’t in the know, refers to those “quirky” repetitive behaviors often observed in autistic/neurodivergent folks.
But even in my pre-trich days, I was a freak about my hair. I insisted on having my mom put it up in a bun or whatever every morning before school because it had to be perfect–no bumps in my slick ponytail–and no matter what I did, I was never able to achieve that level of perfection. Ridiculous, I know–what teenager still has Mommy style their hair, right?
Once I started pulling, though, I got even freakier about my hair. I never stripped myself bald like some people do, and my patchy spots were probably not noticeable to anyone except me, but I was deeply self-conscious about it. Who wouldn’t be? After all, pulling your own hair out is not exactly normal, and I was desperate to “pass” as normal (another unattainable goal of mine). So, I wore a bandana all the time. Then I got a buzz cut and told everyone I was making a statement.
I can’t deny that shaving my head was empowering, in a sense. People would stare at me, which forced me to stare back, like What are you looking at?, and that’s a big deal for me–like many people on the spectrum, I struggle with making eye contact.
My hair grows really fast, though, and I’d have to buzz it twice a week, and after a year and a half of rocking a bald head, I got sick of the maintenance involved, so I decided to grow my hair out–trich be damned. You don’t have to be a shrink or a genius to guess that once it grew into a shaggy mess, once it grew long enough to pull, well, I started pulling again, and back to the trusty bandana it was.
After one especially bad pull fest that left me with a painful, swollen bald spot on the back of my head, I contacted my prescriber. For years, she’d wanted me to try Prozac for my trich, but I resisted–the combination of Abilify, Lexapro, and Wellbutrin worked well for my depression, and I was terrified to mess with success as far as that goes. Now, though, I was at my wit’s end and willing to try anything to stop, or at least decrease, my overwhelming urges to pull my hair.
Quitting Lexapro and switching to Prozac was a tough adjustment that involved mind-numbing insomnia, but long story short, everything worked out: my need to pull was significantly improved, and now I only pull when I’m coping with an excessive amount of stress in my daily life (hello, COVID-19…).
My hair is long again, but all those years of constant pulling left their mark: I have more white/gray strands than the average thirty-something, especially my onetime favorite pull spots, and my hair has grown back with a coarser texture in those same places. I never wear my hair down or loose because I hate how it looks, and even though I always swore I’d age naturally, for a two and a half year stretch of time, I was a Garnier Nutrisse color junkie.
But I wasn’t dyeing my hair for my own benefit; I couldn’t care less that it’s turning white. I just dreaded having to hear any unwelcome comments from other people, particularly “well-meaning” family members.
So, I kept a bottle of Truffle #50 on hand at all times and continued to dye my hair every four weeks, and it must be said that that was a complete and total pain in the ass. I was sick of dealing with it, but at the same time, I felt pressured into it. I felt like I had no choice.I had this idea in my head that you can only have white hair at my age if you are pretty, and I just wasn’t pretty enough to let it go.
Had it been a simple matter of natural aging, I might have felt differently, but this? This was my own fault. I was the one who ruined my once-beautiful hair, and now I had to live with the unfortunate results.
Finally–finally–I hit a point where I was able to ditch the dye. It dawned on me that I don’t need to color my hair in order to impress anyone: it’s my hair and my business, and anyone who makes unsolicited remarks about it is probably an a-hole.
It’s been six months since my last dye job–my very last dye job–and I’m so glad I called it quits. My hair is significantly softer now that I’m not bathing it in chemicals once a month, and while the white strands are definitely noticeable… so what? I’m trying to look at them like battle scars or badges of courage or whatever, and while I still have my moments of insecurity, for the most part, well, it’s just hair.