Trich Stories: Corey
Trichotillomania and BFRBs are hard to talk about, hard to read about, and hard to learn about. Accurate information that does exist is difficult to find and frequently neglects the day-to-day challenges of the average trichster. In an effort to bridge this information gap, we're interviewing everyone we can and sharing their stories with the world. This is the first in an ongoing series of interviews.
Name: Corey McCrea
Location: New York, United States
What BFRB(s) do you have? How do they manifest? Tell us about what it's like for you.
I have Trichotillomania and to a small degree dermatillomania, and I've had this since I was about 7 years old. My biggest issues is with the hair on top of my head. It's a constant effort to keep my hands away. It used to be really bad but over the years I've learned to control it a bit. Recently, now that I grow facial hair, I've also started to pull at that hair too.
Pulling mostly manifests as a calming tool. I do it when I'm stressed. Someone might twiddle their thumbs or tap their foot when they think or wait idly. I reach for my face/head in the same situations.
Most of the time I do not think about it, which is why it is so very hard to stop. I can't remind myself to stop doing it when I'm busy focused on something else. Sometimes I do notice when I'm pulling my hair and I still don't stop. I get into what I call a "fuck-it" mode. It's a self destructive mindset where I really stop caring about the progress I've made. I think this has to do with my short term satisfaction of pulling overpowering the long term desire to grow my hair out. It's a pain honestly.
When did you first notice your trich? Was there any specific cause?
There was a definite switch where I started doing it withing a day. I was in second grade and I did something worthy of sending me to time out. I hated it and I remembered that people in cartoons pull their hair out when they were mad. So, since I was mad I actually started to pull my hair out in clumps. In fact I can't point specifically to the Mayor in the Power Puff Girls cartoon. I don't have anything against the show, just what I remembered.
Before that though I think I should mention I was a hyperactive kid who craved stimulation. Trichotillomania often shows up as a coping mechanism to something else and for me pulling my hair out was a coping mechanism for Sensory Processing Disorder. Basically I wanted more stimuli than I was getting, so pulling felt good.
What kind of puller are you (automatic vs focused)? Do you have any “rituals” when you pull?
So, I guess I fall into both but now in my adult life I mostly function as an automatic puller. I don't think about it when it starts and I have to stop myself and even remind myself that I have to notice and stop when it happens. I do have little rituals. Mostly I try to pull for a hair where the whole root comes out. Those are the most satisfying for me, and from what I can tell this is a common trend for others with trich. When I do pull a root I tend to feel the root with my lips. I think the sensitivity of the lips help me feel the root better. I developed this ritual when I was around 14 or 15. After then I think is when I started to just analyze the hairs, pulling at single specific ones. Before then, I pulled in clumps just to pull.
Do you have any other conditions or disorders that interact with trichotillomania?
I mentioned Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) previously and that's about it. Other than that Anxiety runs in my family and generally my family doesn't have the best skin so I find that with dermatillomania I pick at some blemishes I have.
What is the hardest part of having trich? Is there any silver lining?
BIG QUESTION. I think the hardest this is trying to look like other people socially. I just want long even hair. I'm doing well now, my hair is longer than it's ever been, but I can still feel the areas that are short. I know the people I hang out with and my friends don't care, they all know I pull, but still. I know people can't help but notice. For my own self image I really want that even long hair. I often dream of being able to pull my hair back into a ponytail.
Silver linings? Yes, for me at least. I don't think I'd be as receptive to other people's emotions if it wasn't for this. I know what it's like to hide something or feel different so I think with that in mind I was able to listen to other people without judgement and try to see things from their perspective. I always wanted to make sure everyone around me felt comfortable. I think if it weren't for trich I wouldn't like who I would have been.
How has trich affected you at work, school, or relationships?
Honestly it's all been fine really. People at work don't really know and they don't need to. I got to work to do work. I make some friends and open up a bit but I mostly wear a hat so it never comes up. School was fine. We had a hat policy but I was an exception because of my condition. the staff and teachers knew and didn't mind me being a special case. And, with relationships, I find most of the people I hang out with are accepting of a lot of thing including trich. So, when I get into a relationship they usually already know and don't care. I try to just surround myself with people who support other people.
Have you tried any treatments? What was your experience like?
I tried therapy when I was very young but they really didn't know how to treat trich. They could treat my SID just fine but the hair pulling never really went away. They tried to punish me for it by giving me a time out, but let me tell you right now, that is not how to help someone young with trich! I didn't want to pull my hair out just as much as my mom didn't want me to. They had other strange methods, like counting each hair I pull, that never worked. I tried another therapist years later but he didn't know how to treat trich either so I dropped that. As for drugs, I've never tried any.
What I found that helps most is being open about it and talking to someone about it. I find that my mom or my roommates can help point to the source of stress better than I can. It's also nice to get a weight off your shoulders. It's relieving to say "Hey, I'm actually having a tough time and here's why." I also keep journals and try to doodle positive things etc. Stuff to keep my mind freely thinking.
What kinds of situations make it worse? What kinds of coping strategies do you use?
I think the worst perpetrator of my trichotillomania is boredom. Nothing does it worse to me I'm pretty sure. Pulling is almost a tool to pass the time sometimes. I do have times where I'm stressed and it's worse, or I've become very relaxed and it's almost gone. But, if anything being bored never fails to make trich a living hell. To cope I really just try to remind myself that I don't need it. I could write instead or play video games. A lot of the help comes with the long term preparation that I've mentioned too. Keeping a journal, talking about it, surrounding yourself with uplifting people.
Are there any other questions you think should be here? List them, then answer them.
Q: Do you think your trich will ever go away?
A: I used to think it will and that one day I'll beat it but I think it's an itch I will always want to scratch. The trick is just ignoring that itch.
Q: What would you say to someone who's starting to deal with trich?
A: They are not alone. There are SO MANY people who understand what they are going through. It sucks and it's perfectly okay to be frustrated and hate it. But know that there are people willing to talk and listen.
And for parents the most impactful thing for me was communication. Punishing them will do nothing but make it worse. The best thing you can do is listen and be open about it. They know what's going on inside them the best.
Bonus A: This answer comes to you without a question but I think it's important to say. At the end of the day it's hair. It's just hair. No one, at least I hope no one, is going to die because of a bad hair day. There are worse afflictions out there. The fear and trauma that come with trich are only because of societal standards and that's all. I'm glad you want to ask these questions. It means a lot to people like me who want those who are scared to know that people understand them.
Even though people don't like to talk about it, body focused repetitive behaviors can be serious problems. If you suffer from one, our Slightly Robot Bracelet may help your hands keep still.