I started pulling my hair out when I was five years old
I started pulling my hair out when I was five years old. I don’t remember doing it. I don’t remember my pillow being covered in hair from pulling in my sleep. I don’t remember the bald spots or sunburnt scalp. What I do remember is the concern on my parents’ faces. And the appointment with a psychologist.
My mother stayed home with my older brother, my younger sisters and myself while my father worked. We didn’t have the money for a psychologist. I knew this was serious.
I would be starting kindergarten soon. My Mom would be starting nursing school. There would be times when I would say goodbye to her in the morning then not see her again until the next day. I panicked. Things were changing. And there was nothing I could do about it.
The psychologist was kind. Through play therapy, we talked about my fears and worries. With three siblings and an extremely tight budget, there wasn’t much opportunity to have that special one-on-one time with my Mom. And there’d be even less once we both started school. My sisters were still so young and needed more from her. I was a big girl now and so much more was expected of me.
We met with the psychologist a few more times before my Mom and I began our own version of therapy. We began spending that time, not in a psychologist’s office, but together. For a short time each week, I had her all to myself. We would get ice cream or go to the park, just her and I. And, slowly, my hair started growing back.
Five years later, the pulling began again. There was pressure to do well, to set a good example, to not let anyone down. Puberty was beginning for some, but not me. The insecurity was paralyzing. A classmate asked me why I didn’t have hair in some spots on my head. Internally, I was already feeling completely overwhelmed and out of control, but now I had to worry about others seeing the result of those feelings. I would replay conversations in my head over and over again, analyzing the things I had said or done and how the other person reacted. Or during conversations, I would be so concerned about them noticing the bald spots or sensing my anxiety that I would tune out completely.
I became very active in sports and needed to wear my hair up so often that, eventually, my hair grew back again.
This became my pattern. When situations left me feeling helpless and out of control, pulling my hair out gave me a sense of control and comfort.
As I got older, I treated my OCD with medication and managed my compulsions by keeping my hands busy. I started painting and learned to play the bass guitar. But those things only kept my hands busy at home.
While attending a professional retreat in April 2015, I found myself anxious and unsure, vulnerable due to the forced networking and interaction. Each time I reached for my hair, I was reminded of just how many colleagues were sitting behind me. My comfort could be seen as unprofessional or, worse, a weakness.
I sat there, trying to control my need to soothe, wondering why someone hadn’t created a product to assist in just these types of situations.
I began sketching furiously. Maybe a bracelet… discreet enough to not draw attention… cute enough to avoid looking obvious…
At first, I was designing for myself. Then I realized how many people could benefit from such a seemingly simple idea. An accessory. Something you would put on in the morning before work. Something that was already part of your routine.
That meant I would have to tell the world I have OCD, something I’ve kept hidden my entire life. Even at five years old, sitting in a psychologist’s office, I knew this wasn’t something I could share with other people. I couldn’t even pronounce trichotillomania but I knew it was something I didn’t want to have. Others must feel that way, too.
If I can help someone feel a little less helpless, then revealing what I have always considered my greatest weakness could very well be the strongest thing I’ve ever done.
A note from the editor
Here is a photograph of just one of Jennifer’s pieces of jewellery, there are many more pictures on her website Sweetest Nectar.
Categories: The Wall
Jennifer, please come join us in Charlotte on October 29 — http://www.bfrb.org/nc. We’d love to meet you!