It’s February 22, 2016, and I’m sitting on a chair in the kitchen of my house with some friends. We’re chatting, making jokes and having a laugh. Seems like a standard Monday evening, yes? Except that it’s not.
The reason it’s not is because my friend is standing behind me with a pair of scissors and some head clippers, getting ready to shave off my hair. This is something I’ve asked him to do. In the corner of the kitchen, a camera I borrowed from another friend is set up, ready to record what is about to happen.
I’m not doing this to protest some wrong-doing or to try out a new look. I haven’t lost a dare. I’m doing this because it is the only way I feel I can cope with my trichotillomania, a condition I have that makes me pull out my own hair, resulting in bald patches, hair damage and humiliation. My logic is: if I have no hair left on my head, I won’t be able to pull it out. It was weeks of internet research, listing pros and cons and racing thoughts keeping me up at night that helped bring me to this major decision. I know shaving my head isn’t the magic cure, but this is the right thing to do.
Now, there is no hiding the damage that I’ve done: tufts of hair at uneven lengths are sprouting on the crown of my head (a prime pulling spot for me) and there is a giant bald patch, growing bigger and bigger on the left side of my head that I’m continuing to pull from. My hair is long and thick, but there is still not enough to cover the damage, despite my best efforts. People look at my head when I’m out and wonder what is wrong with me. They don’t say anything, but I can tell what they’re thinking by the way they’re looking at me.
How can I explain to them that I have urges I can’t fight, that a knot of tension will grow and twist inside me if I don’t give in to them? How can I explain to them the instant relief and calming feeling rushing over me I get just from plucking a single hair from my head? The answer to both these questions is: I can’t.
I can’t because there is no way to explain the factors of a condition when I myself don’t truly understand them, when I myself only learned about it recently. All I can do is take the temptation away, let the damage I’ve done repair itself, and break the habit of hair-pulling as it (hopefully) grows back.
And so there I am, sitting at home, doing just that. The rush of adrenaline I felt before sitting in the chair is long gone now. Everything sounds really far away, as if I’m underwater. I feel separated from myself, and my hair falls to the ground. But despite all this, I still continue to chat and make jokes to my friends as my head is shaved bare. I do this for them because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. They laugh along, but their uneasiness does sometimes creeps into their laughter. They laugh for my sake because they don’t want to hurt my pride by letting me know they can see right through my happy façade. The atmosphere in the room is strange, but I’m grateful. My friends are helping me keep it together without even realizing it. The loud buzz of the head clippers had blended into the background, making the entire situation seem all the more surreal. But suddenly the sound is replaced by a loud silence, and the words “all done” are said softly to me.
I can feel every pair of eyes in the room on me, as I take both of my hands and raise them to my head. I tentatively run my hands over my scalp, feeling not even the ghost of hair, but a sensation that is both prickly and smooth. After a moment, I smile. The craving to pull is numbed for now, a sense of liberation, pride and confidence taking its place. I know with absolute certainty this not the end of my trichotillomania – but it is the start of a new journey.