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No one ever asked me, “What’s it like pulling your hair out?”
I never asked myself that question, either.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with my mum. A lotion was prescribed.
I don’t remember anyone asking me, “How does it feel?”
Alternative solutions were sought. I went to a hypnotist. She didn’t ask me, “How does it feel?”
I went to a specialist hairdresser. No one asked me, “How does it feel?”
They all wanted to know why. I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know.
I have Trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder. It started when I was 12 years old.
I couldn’t bare talking about it; intense shame would bubble up in a fiery red glow on my face, and with a faltering voice and tears brimming over, I would angrily change the subject or leave the room.
I became watchful—a watcher. My eyes staring into other people’s normality.
I was the girl with no eyebrows or eyelashes.
They called me “Spade Face.”
I was the girl who had bald patches and wore a bandana or a beanie.
They called me “Freak.”
I’d dress up for a night out and then add a bandana to cover up what I’d done to myself. I felt ridiculous.
I couldn’t bear anyone standing behind me in case they whipped off my bandana as a joke and revealed my deepest, most shameful secret, so I was on high alert at all times.
So I would just sit and watch.
“Stop staring,” people would say. But I couldn’t. I wanted to be like them so badly, but I was paralysed with fear and shame.
I couldn’t stop.
Just one hair. Okay, I’ll stop when I get one that feels really good.
A huge pile of hairs, discarded on the floor. Hastily scraped up and hidden at the bottom of the bin.
They tried gloves to stop me from doing it.
They took me to an expensive hair salon to have a hairpiece fitted.
If you look normal, you will feel better.
I will—or you will?
Unable to pull my hair out, I turned to disordered drinking and eating instead. I could only attract men who used and abused me.
And for the next 25 years, I would be in a constant, exhausting battle with my hair-pulling, addiction, and domestic abuse, and ultimately, I would end up battling for my life.
We live in a culture that pathologises everything. We think anything outside of the status quo needs to be removed, healed, and fixed as the cause of all our unhappiness. I can attest to feeling that my hair pulling was the cause of all my unhappiness as I endured years of whispers and stares, avoiding going to parties, and fiercely guarding my truth under caps, hats, and scarves.
What we tend to miss is that it is a symptom, a medicine, and a message and not an illness that needs to be removed, cured, or fixed. The reason it causes so much pain and misery is because of the external marginalisation and the internal suppression—not the behaviour itself.
The reason this confusion can continue unbounded is because of shame.
Shame is the silent oppressor that convinces us something is fundamentally wrong with us. It fuels the belief that we are broken and need fixing. However, the real illness lies in our lack of freedom and the suppression of our authentic selves. It is shame itself that keeps us trapped in the cycle of self-destruction rather than the behaviour or addiction we engage in.
Does that mean I give myself the green light to pull my hair out unchecked? Of course not. It means I now understand the intelligence behind it. I did the work, I asked the questions, and I understood what the message was. And once I understood the message, it no longer became a battle of wills that I’d never win.
Peeling back the layers of shame to find the intelligence beneath took me on a journey back through time, to terrifying teachers and being ridiculed in class, to constant shaming for daydreaming, to witnessing the volatile breakdown of my parent’s marriage and much more. It took me through my sensory sensitivities and painful memories of getting in trouble for “being difficult” through ADHD diagnosis, through reconnecting to my most spiritual needs and practices, and meandered its way through a paradox of needing time alone and yet being desperately lonely.
It is not reliving childhood trauma; even though one might recall these events, we do not seek to cure or heal. We simply acknowledge and collect another piece of the puzzle. It is a journey of curiosity, compassion, and radical self-acceptance.
At the root of our deepest shame lies our greatest power. Our deepest shame is not a burden to be carried but a catalyst for transformation. And it is through embracing our vulnerabilities and understanding the messages they convey that we find our greatest power. By shedding the cloak of shame and embracing our authentic selves, we can embark on a path of self-empowerment and liberation.
Listen to the intelligence you have inside you. Look underneath the shame for the message.