On January 17, 2014, my hair and my head were in rough shape. I would say that about half of my hair was gone. After ten years of struggling with trichotillomania, I had reached a breaking point. The evening before, I had begged my father through tears to get his electric razor and shave all my hair off. My scalp burned and itched, my hands shook with the need to pull out whatever was remaining.
Mom and dad gave excellent council and told me to sleep, and to make my final decision after my (VERY timely) therapy appointment the next day. After my appointment, I had made my choice and my parents and I toured Toronto's wig stores. By the next day, I was going to be clean shaven!
I clearly remember the anticipation as I posed for these pictures. I wanted to make sure that if some day I chose to share this moment with other people, I would have lots of visuals! From the top, one really couldn't tell the hair I had left was quite long. My scalp has always been my main target, right at the crown. By the time January 17 rolled around, the pulling zone had expanded substantially.
One of the reasons I knew I couldn't keep my hair any longer was the fact that I could no longer hide my balding areas. No longer could I sweep my tresses up into a high ponytail or bun for coverage because of the loss at the front. A hat did the trick, but the anxiety around it falling off or moving out of place was interfering with my daily life.
Our family cat, Sophie, was there the whole time surveying the scene as we prepared to make the cut.
After tying rubber bands to secure the ends, my mother braided my hair. To this day, the braid resides in a plastic baggie in a drawer. I'm not completely sure what I want to do with it! I guess I am nostalgic in that way!
The blades dig in for the first snip! My heart was racing at this point. No turning back!
Getting farther across...
And here we have the moment right before complete separation. I didn't know how I would feel, but as the final *snip* was heard in the kitchen, I was buzzing with joy and excitement. All I could think was "FREEDOM!"
Now to trim as much of the longer pieces as possible in preparation for the shave.
I wanted to make sure my stylist wasn't completely ruining my hairdo ;) Plenty of jokes and humour to the effect of "You missed a spot" or "This is the latest trend on the Paris runways" got us through. If you're going to shave your damn head, folks, please have a little fun while you're at it!
A nice closeup of my poor beaten-up scalp. Dear scalp, if you ever read this, I want you to know that you're beautiful to me.
My dad kept his word and got to work shaving my head down with the beard trimming attachment of his electric razor. Once the hair was shaved down, you could really see the angry red spots and flaking patches of constant scratching and pulling. He was very gentle and we had fun experimenting with different looks on the way to a full shave. Why not leave it like this?
"After years of hiding my physical and psychological pain under hats, clips and ponytails, to be completely exposed to the air with nothing to hide was like stepping into the sun after years in a cave."
We made it! Here's the first picture of fully-shaved Julie. I was extremely relaxed, relieved and proud of myself. I can tell you that those were the LAST three things I expected to feel when I was going into this.
After years of hiding my physical and psychological pain under hats, clips and ponytails, to be completely exposed to the air with nothing to hide was like stepping into the sun after years in a cave.
Was I "cured" though? Not at all. I still had, and have, trichotillomania.
Let me share something I wrote in my diary:
I am a person who pulls out their hair and enjoys it. The purpose of having hair is NOT to be pulled out. But...
- Does hair pulling hinder my ability to survive? No.
- To love? No.
- To do good and to be good? Evidently NOT.
That's why it's up to ME to decide what this condition means to me. Because I am the one doing the pulling, and I am the one living with the consequences, and I am the one seeking peace somewhere in between.
Some days, my scalp would ache and bleed from the abuse. Some days, I needed a friend to stay nearby while I showered because my reflection deterred me from the process. Some days I didn't even remember that I was mostly bald until I brushed my hair and it would hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was hiding my condition under my hat. Now, after years of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, peer support and medication trials, I am no longer hiding it from myself.
Maybe I can try to stop asking questions like "why do I pull my hair out?" and "how can I stop?" and instead start to say "YES I do pull out my hair" and ask myself "how can I find success in the context of the consequences?"
It was through The Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network (CBSN) that I made those first steps towards healing and towards a happier, more confident Julie. I urge people with BFRBs reading this to consider attending a CBSN support group or to access online peer support if you haven't already -- it could be your next step forward.
Head over to www.canadianbfrb.org to find the ONLY organization of its kind in Canada.
In the spirit of bravery, acceptance and love I ask you to join me in embracing our authentic selves. It's hard to accept the parts of ourselves that don't fit with common ideals of health and happiness. We must help each other to love these parts and bring them into everyday dialogues to diminish stigmatization. We are stronger and braver together.
I have the privilege of being a peer support group leader in Guelph, Ontario, Canada and you can reach me at BFRBguelph@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments.
This post was originally posted on the BFRB Blog, on the website of the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network.