Guest Blog – by Luisa Freitas
Hi! I am Luisa Freitas and I’ve had Trichotillomania for 18 years now. I started showing signs of Trich at around eleven years old by tugging at my hair every so often and by the end of that year I had developed a few minor bald spots. Throughout my life, I’ve experienced different levels of severity with this condition, from having a huge section of my scalp completely bald during my high school period to not pulling any hair at all for at least two years straight (then pulling again afterward).
In my particular case, my Trichotillomania was a consequence of severe child abuse (psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual), paired with childhood depression, which led me to see a psychologist. After healing my depression with this psychologist I stopped pulling hair for two years, which impressed me greatly and even made me believe that I might’ve been cured. This however was short-lived, as I started pulling again due to stress caused by typical life concerns such as graduating from University, finding a job, moving out, and so on.
Admittedly it was very frustrating at first, to make progress by reducing pulling and having my hair all grown out only to ruin all that hard work by pulling it out again. At times I’ve even been paranoid with the fear that my hair might stop re-growing altogether and therefore I absolutely must stop pulling once and for all (it never happens, of course, I always pull eventually).
Accept Hair Pulling
After years of struggle with low self-esteem and intense shame of my condition, I started studying more about Trichotillomania in an attempt to understand it better and see if I could find a solution that would fit me. Naturally, I was disappointed to find out that Trich cannot be cured and is a lifelong condition, which led me to be in angry denial for a few years. But as time went by I became more comfortable with myself, and less concerned with external perceptions or opinions of me, my self-esteem increased significantly due to recurrent practice of the exercises and tools provided to me by my first and second psychologists, and very recently I’ve dropped most of the shame I once felt. The more you speak your truth in public and live in authenticity the more you want to do it. Freedom is a very addictive feeling that cannot be compared or replaced with any other I’ve felt.
Opening up about Hair Pulling
Initially, it felt terrifying when I first started talking about my condition to people close to me but soon it became easier and easier to speak out, and during lockdown, with all the extra free time in my hands, I created my first Trichotillomania artworks to be showcased in public. This was my official public announcement of my condition to larger audiences, presented into two different projects, the first one being ‘Trichotillomania Lockdown Diary’, a calendar with personal diary-like entries exploring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent Lockdown on its effects on my Trichotillomania condition (thisislis.com/ttmlockdowncalendar/) and a series of three large scale illustrations on the theme of Trich (thisislis.com/stayconnectedve3/).
It was a rather strange feeling to create art based on my condition for the first time, after spending years working as a Visual Artist and trying to appear “normal”, creating artworks and developing projects that had nothing to do with me as a person. I then realised that all these years I had actually been trying to distance myself from myself and avoid facing the truth. Now my work life is reflecting my personal life, in the sense that I have accepted who I am and can approach any topic, intimate or others, without issues.
Ironically, once I accepted my condition and embraced it, without trying to constantly cure it, I stopped pulling significantly because I no longer had the stress and anxiety of having to stop weighing me down. I went from “Oh gosh I am pulling again, I am horrible” to “If it happens it happens, either way, my value doesn’t change”. It was thanks to my project ‘Trichotillomania Lockdown Diary’ that I matured to this level because I had to analyse my daily written thoughts for months, which made me realise where I was going wrong with my thought process and how much my mental state was influencing the condition’s side effects.
Support for Hair Pulling
It was also with the help of online support groups that I got better at noticing the signs that lead to hair pulling and made it possible to prevent it, as well as receiving various tips and advice on how to manage the condition, accelerate hair growth, different hairstyles to help disguise hair of different sizes and more importantly having a safe space where I can discuss my issues without judgement, with people who understand me greatly.
We are not alone in the world and is important to seek out help from various sources in order to build a support system that helps you deal with difficult stages of the condition, overcome psychological barriers that prevent you from taking proactive action towards improving yourself, and perhaps even help others like yourself that need to hear your personal experience.
Before I joined the online support groups I always wore my hair tied up, or in some form of braided version that would cover the top area of my scalp. So, if I had a particularly busy day, or couldn’t dedicate one hour at least to deal with my hair, then all my thinning areas or bald spots were noticeable. But, after spending some time in the online groups exchanging experiences with some wonderful people, my self-esteem and confidence shot up and now I wear my hair mostly loose throughout the week, which is something I thought I’d never do again after developing Trich.
Life continues with Hair Pulling
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I still have to conceal some thinning areas or bald spots. The only difference is, I am no longer stressed out about having to hide myself, and instead can focus on creating hairstyles and having fun with my hair. Yeah, I am having fun with my hair whilst having trichotillomania, I know right??
Now that I am no longer attempting to suppress my condition, and I’m no longer in denial about it, I have extra energy to focus on other things and do more productive activities. It’s surprising the amount of energy we spend worrying about things, and how much anxiety can prevent you from living your life. Now my mind looks for solutions instead of problems, opening up the space for new and exciting things, and I even have time to rest in between work and hobbies. This new mindset and healthier lifestyle demand practice and consistency, which is admittedly something I’m not very good at, but I have been trying over the past few months to implement some relaxing activities in my routine to help me maintain a positive mood, whilst simultaneously serving as coping tools for Trich. These are art exercises with therapeutic nature that help tremendously in reducing the side effects of Trich, such as journaling, watercolour painting, collage and brain dump to release stress and build up thoughts. I have also recently discovered the ‘Trichotillomania Journal’ by Mystic Tortoise, a daily tracker for people with TTM disorder to track their emotions, triggers, and patterns which is very efficient in mapping out your progress and identifying the patterns that trigger your condition.
One of the biggest challenges of Trichotillomania sufferers is to keep their hands busy for long periods of time, which in turn reduces hair pulling, so activities like embroidery, painting, sculpture, and fidget toys are great alternatives that redirect the movement of the hands, paired with the repetitive action which is very soothing. Other tools that members of the support groups have found useful in combating hair pulling, is using finger covering, gloves, hair scarves, caps, spinner rings, and Nudge bracelets that vibrate when you put your arm up (which is great to call your attention during the moments you are unaware you are pulling). I am yet to try a nudge bracelet myself, but I can testify to the efficiency of the other tools.
Advice for Hair Pulling
If there is any piece of advice that I can provide is that you need to give yourself a chance to thrive and don’t give up. The main key is that you have to be kind to yourself, not harsh or judgemental. When we are harsh on ourselves, we tend to worsen the stress and impose impossible standards that cannot realistically be met. When you are kind to yourself and nurture your own needs with self-love and acceptance you will improve exponentially and change for the better.
I believe you too can live a life that is mostly peaceful, where you can see your hair as a fun accessory, free of concerns, instead of an embarrassment or a social hindrance. And where you can accept yourself and love yourself through it all, as you are standing in your authenticity without hiding.
Support from a Therapist
If you are struggling and need help, visit my page to find out more HERE.