I don’t know when my hand raised up and uprooted that long black, curly spiral strand. I only noticed when I felt this smooth but sore spot on my head. I ran to the mirror and saw a patch of my luscious douglar hair missing, replaced by the emptiness that was in my heart. It was one of many bald spots. Why me??? Why did this curse choose me, I had no clue.
I grew up in an abusive environment, every Friday I could have bet my life on it, my dad would come home drunk. Pizza and milkshake in hand but with heavy Puncheon rum and that black bottle stout dripping from his shining forehead. He’d cuss till the neighbors far up the road heard and then he’d rain a hail of that black bottle upon mom, it was licks like peas and she’d always run out the house and into the bushes behind our home. She would always say “I’m not leaving you or your sister!” so when my dad thought that she had run off to my grandfather’s place down the road, she would have either climbed down from the mango tree or come out from under the datwand trees that were conveniently plagued by vines, which created a safe heaven cave effect to get us.
The years rolled by and dad eventually eased up drinking but when he went to work and my mother had to go to make groceries or market she would leave us with one of her two teenage brothers. She used to say “Who would you want to come stay until I got back? ” My sister and I would hesitate because we knew that they were the same; the same in their wicked ways. Johnny* and Jim* were in their late teens and when mommy let them babysit they would rape us. We started to chose the “less rough” uncle and anytime mommy said “what happened to you?? Why u walking so? I’d lie and say I was “constipated” and so would my sis but it wasn’t really a lie because after his visit, I would visit the latrine (outhouse) but nothing came out except that excruciating pain.
This went on for years and when I started secondary school it stopped but the trauma and the memories used to haunt me. I don’t know when my hand raised up and uprooted that long black, curly spiral strand. I only noticed when I felt this smooth but sore spot on my head. I ran to the mirror and saw a patch of my luscious douglar hair missing, replaced by the emptiness that was in my heart. My best friend was gel, “God bless the person who invented this!” I thought. I can hide what’s missing, as I had soo much hair left anyway. Everyone loved my long, wavy hair. It looked so good in cornrows, box plait, in one, two, four in everything. But as the physical assault got more intense with my dad the worst my hair pulling got.
I had one long side part that stretched from my forehead straight to the half of my head, sealed with concrete like gel. I thought I had hidden my darkest secret until I was bending over the table in maths class and I felt this pain in one of my sore spots. What could it be??? It was Hafeez’s* finger at the end of my part but the not the end of my bald spot. The spot I tried to hide, that dreadful fear-fueled adrenaline rushed into my head as I sprung up. “What happen to your head???” he asked all confused. “Nothing! like yuh see something wrong?” I snapped and stormed off. That was the first of many people noticing those spots that evolved into large patches.
I had a two inch wide middle part from pulling out my hair, strand by strand. Each individual strand with its own satisfying pain. I used to find creative ways of hiding this shame, I would always have a side part and when that part became wider with my constant pulling, I’d create a new one and the cycle would continue.
I would feel soo broken inside with the degrading cussing and fighting at home and the stress of fighting for first place in end of term that most times I’d slip into that trance where my hand would go up and my memory would go blank. The hairs on my bed or under my bed could tell you how much pain I felt. I would look for the white cuticles and rub them on my top lip, the wet and cold sensation would create an ultimate high. I’d then use my thumb and index finger to pull it apart from the wavy strand and drop it on the floor or behind the bed head.
I was a cheerful, bubbly teenager, overly nice in front of people. You would have never known unless I confided in you. My friends used to say I admire your ways, so always happy or so they thought. As the time drew closer to CSEC, things at home got rocky for mom and dad. She found God and became strong in church and so did my sis and I but my father was more and more ruthless in his beatings because my mom left off her drug pushing ways and he still wanted to get rich quick.
He blamed everyone except himself and one day when he had one too many he rained upon his the cutlass he kept in his car. We were beaten and bruised but alive, a few stitches here and there but alive.. I couldn’t say the same for my already thinging head of beautiful hair, I just shed them one by one trying to cope with the stress. It got so bad that I used to tie a cloth on my head all the time. No one noticed much because I was a Baptist and they cover their hair.
My mother use to get mad with me, saying I looked like an old woman covering my hair like that but if she only knew the secret I hid. She eventually pulled off my head tie one day too see my “manhead” (very low haircut), I grabbed the cloth and took off trying to conceal the empty patches on my head. She hurled so many insults at me that day it still stings.
In my late teens, I moved out as living with mom became toxic. The once abused victim morphed into an abuser and I was going mad. One day in the apartment my boyfriend rented for me I decided to Google “why do I pull my hair out?” but before I finished my question it popped up. How creepy, I thought but was too engrossed by the new information. I learnt so many things that day, after eight plus years of not know why or how or what it is. I found the answer. It is called “Trichotillomania, which is a hair pulling disorder. It is sometimes referred to as trich and it is an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in which someone can’t resist the urge to pull their hair out, strand by strand and the anxiety or tension they face if they tried not to. They can pull from various areas such head, eyebrows, and eyelashes and I have pulled from these areas leaving noticeable gaps. My research revealed that it’s more common in adolescents and young adults but it could happen to anyone, even children at any given time. Trauma is a major co contributing trigger for Trich.
I was mortified and educated in the same moment. (I) Felt so guilty that I didn’t even notice the fallen hairs on my laptop. I was ashamed of myself but to make myself feel better I went into another trance like state where I just pulled and pulled until the soreness irritated me so much I came out of the “pulling trance”. I eventually found a YouTube video of a young female youtuber talking about her journey with Trichotillomania. She was so brave, as she told the world and her parents who supported her about her struggle and how she would shave her head to start “a new” No hair to pull means no pulling which is hope that we can break the habit but I have already shaven mines a couple of times now and by the time I get new growth it’s gone with a few hours. I felt happy I found her video and that I wasn’t alone, she was so awesome. As the years passed and the pulling continued I found a private support group on Facebook and I feel at home. I support them and they support me, although we are from different parts of the world, we understand each others struggle. I also learnt that with therapy it may help and that there is a drug that can help reduce the urge of pulling but it doesn’t work for some but I’m scared and excited.
From age 11 to 27 I haven’t had a full hair of head but if u met me in the street you’d never know I had this disorder because I hide it well, with weaves and wigs (I hide from people’s eyes and also as a way of trying to not pull what’s left of my own hair. Some may think it’s not self-harm but it is. It’s not your typical cutting, popping pills or punching a wall but it needs just the same amount of recognition; as many like myself, suffer in silence.
*Names have been changed