The first time I pulled my hair out -- like, really pulled my hair out, on purpose and not by accident -- I was eleven. Earlier that day, a teammate at gymnastics practice had yanked a hair off the top of my head without any warning.
“Ow!” I yelped. What the hell was that about?
I don’t think she apologized. “You had a really curly, coiled hair that didn’t match the rest of them,” she explained, as if that in any way justified her utter disrespect for my space and bodily autonomy. “It looked like a pig’s tail and it was bugging me.”
Oh, okay. I didn’t question it. Instead, once I was home from practice, I hopped onto the bathroom counter and dissected my scalp in the mirror. For hours. What I found left me horrified.
Hundreds of sneaky, coiled little hairs hiding in plain sight, tucked under my part or woven into “regular” hairs. I couldn’t believe it.
And so began my decades-long battle with trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is an impulse-control disorder, one in which the sufferer has a compulsive need to pull out their hair.
It’s classified in the DSM-5 under the obsessive-compulsive umbrella.
To be fair to my former teammate, I exhibited what I now know were OCD symptoms long before that fateful evening. I’m convinced that, had it not been her, I would’ve ended up struggling with trichotillomania anyway. That said, it’s rare that a person with mental health issues can pinpoint to the origins of their symptoms so very clearly, and so this is something that I think about quite often.
Sometimes it’s hard not to resent her for it.
For a while, I even experienced what can only be described as trichotillomania by proxy. My poor sister bear the brunt of that one. I’d snatch hairs off the top of her head with no regard for her boundaries, no matter how much it seemed to piss her off. Sometimes I’d beg her to let me comb through her hair, dissecting her scalp like I would do my own. It was, I think, one of my worst compulsions to date. Thankfully, I seem to be able to control it now, though that might be because I don’t see her as much as I did when we were kids.
My trichotillomania reached spectacular heights in the last year or so of my relationship with my ex, who was emotionally manipulative at best. I was unhappy, but I’d never had a boyfriend before, and I was convinced no one would ever love me again if I left.
By the time our relationship ended catastrophically (with a story featuring a Halloween party, roofies, and a sociopathic next door neighbor), I had massive bald spots all over my head, my scalp bleeding raw from all that yanking and pulling.
At one point, as one with OCD is wont to do, I started ascribing meaning to these mysterious curly hairs.
If I get a “good” hair, that means nothing bad will happen to my dogs.
If I can’t get a “good hair” within this much time, that means that so and so hates me.
These OCD thoughts -- what my therapist and I refer to as my “OCD voice” -- play in my head on a loop. On and on and on. A broken record.
I have another voice. Actually, I have three, but the third one is for me and for me alone. You guys don’t get to hear about it yet.
My therapist and I call my second voice “the horrible awful voice,” though really, its name should be “Everything My Mother Ever Said To Me, Internalized.” Or: “Borderline Personality Disorder: An Auditory Hallucination.”
The horrible awful voice is, as you might suspect, awful. It tells me to kill myself, like, constantly. It’s completely intrusive, popping up when I least expect it, in the middle of a thought. If I listen to it too much, it tears me down, until I think, well, fuck, I might as well kill myself then, if only to make it stop.
The horrible, awful voice lives inside the left side of my head. The OCD voice lives inside the right. The horrible, awful voice seems to have made a hobby of tearing the OCD voice down.
“Cut that shit out, you dumb bitch,” the horrible, awful voice says to the OCD voice when the OCD voice is in a thought spiral or knee-deep in some bizarre compulsion (trichotillomania, it turns out, is perhaps the tamest out of all my compulsions).
As one might expect, the insults and harassment do little to ease the OCD voice’s anxieties. Rather, the OCD is flustered to no end, clinging on to the compulsions and obsessive thoughts for dear life, much like I tried to cling onto my ex-boyfriend when our relationship had expired well past putrid. Or how I clung to the abusive ex-therapist that almost killed me, even after she almost killed me. Of course, this infuriates the horrible, awful voice, and so we go round and round and round.
And god forbid Itry to get a word in. See, I feel protective of the OCD voice. It’s only trying to help me. My obsessions and compulsions are a way for me to make sense of the world, of my family, of a parent that was cruel to me from the day I was born.
If I get a “good hair,” that means nothing bad will happen to my dogs.
The Truman Show is one of my top three favorite movies, maybe because it embodies my longest lasting delusion.
I’ve always wrestled with thoughts that I am not a real person, or that, rather, I am the onlyreal person, and everyone else is fake. Or perhaps they are real, but they are actors. There is someone -- or something-- somewhere-- watching this all unfold, exploding into fits of laughter behind a screen or a glass window, wondering how the fuck it is that I stillhaven’t figured it out.
The horrible, awful voice is chatty. Real chatty. It talks to me all day long, night and day, rain or shine, whether I’m in a good mood or bad, whether I’ve taken my meds or not, whether the Commander in Chief is Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
Sometimes...sometimesI can tune it out.
The OCD voice is nowhere near as persistent, though it likes to pop up at inopportune moments, like when I am in the restroom of a restaurant and I must squeeze every last possible drop of pee out before I eat, or I’ll mysteriously and immediately gain lots and lots of weight (there’s a lot to unpack here, I know).
The horrible, awful voice can talk to me and to the OCD voice. The OCD voice can’t talk to the horrible, awful voice, but it can talk to me.
I can talk to neither.
Instead, I am stuck, stranded, watching myself crash in the train wreck that is whatever the hell is going on inside my head.
When I am particularly delusional -- that is, when I’ve forgotten to refill my medication for the third night in a row -- I can’t even watch the train wreck; I amthe train wreck. But I’m too delusional to tell.
Recently it occurred to me that the dynamic inside my head -- the dynamic of my mental illnesses, I suppose -- perfectly mimics the oldest of the oldest antisemitic conspiracy theories, plucked right out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jewish puppet masters, pulling the strings.
Hear me out.
The horrible, awful voice and the OCD voice are the puppet masters, controlling the every move of my two self-states: delusional me and slightly-less-delusional me. Perhaps the horrible, awful voice is puppeteering the OCD voice, and the OCD voice is puppeteering delusional me and slightly-less-delusional me both.
I have no agency. I have no voice.
I am the Jew's puppet.
I have thoughts, of course, which I suppose is what my internal voice is. But those thoughts are little, soft, hard to hear over the manipulation of the horrible, awful voice and the OCD voice.
Anyway, to me, the imagery makes a lot of sense.
It kind of knocks the wind out of me, actually, because of how accurate it is.
And I have some questions.
Is this just a coincidence? Was this strange, strange brain dynamic of mine borne out of years and years of childhood trauma somehow shaped by 2000 years worth of intergenerational antisemitic trauma? Is that even possible?
Am I tripping? Is this yet another delusion of mine?
Maybe I’m needlessly ascribing meaning to things. I’ve been known to do that, once or twice.
If I get a “good hair,” nothing bad will happen to my dogs.
I just can’t help but wonder.