Trichotillomania

Stress appears to be a common catchall for ailments. Recall, for example, that ulcers were thought to be caused by stress until John Lykoudis experimented on himself and discovered a bacterial infection that could easily be treated with antibiotics.

I have trichotillomania, a.k.a. compulsive hair-pulling. I started possibly as early as 9 years old. I’m 40 now. For those of you who know me, my clean-shaven head should start making sense right about now.

On its surface, compulsive hair-pulling appears irrational – after all, it’s an intentional act of self-mutilation that serves no obvious purpose. It’s no stretch of the imagination to relegate it to the mysterious realm of brain disorders, not unlike kleptomania. (I’m not being facetious. You can look it up for yourself in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.)

The association of hair-pulling with emotional instability – most commonly feeling stressed to the point of pulling out your hair – also perpetuates the tendency to view hair-pulling as a mental disease.

It’s easy to place the blame on stress when the real cause is unknown.

Mental disorders don’t generally leave behind a trail of visible symptoms.  On the root of the pulled hair there is residue indicative of inflammation underneath the surface of the skin.  On the surface of the pulling area, there is evidence of infection seen as multiple sores that don’t heal for six months or more, aching of the pulling area (not to be confused with pain from actually pulling the hair out), elevated temperature of the pulling area, and extra susceptibility towards spontaneous outbreaks of infected ingrown hairs, as well as other, seemingly innocuous-type bumps.  Itching is also commonly reported.

(Note that most hair-pullers do not experience pain from pulling.  A study by GA Christenson, et. al. determined that pain thresholds are not elevated in trichotillomania.)

 These characteristics have been described anecdotally over and over again in multiple venues, yet have never been observed, studied or reported upon in any academic manner.

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