Art and A Narrative About Trichotillomania


Valerie’s experience with trichotillomania.

Drift Into A World Of Ecstasy, 2009

Acrylic on Cotton Fabric, 48 x 52 

I started pulling my hair out when I was 12. I didn’t reach out to anybody until I was 24.  I closed myself in.  The older I got the worse it got.  When I first started pulling it was only a few eyelashes and eyebrows. I was in middle school at the time and I would make up stories whenever anybody questioned my bare spots.

The worst part of my life was when we moved from Vermont back to New Jersey.  It was the summer before my junior year of high school. My pulling spread to my entire head.

I had long thick hair so it wasn’t noticeable, at first. But after a year it started to show.  I was made fun of almost every day during my senior year of high school.  I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was pulling my hair out because I thought they would think I was crazy and I’d be locked in a psychiatric hospital.   Somehow I made it through high school and thought I wanted to be a pastry chef.

My pulling was worsening.  I didn’t know that it was an anxiety disorder.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I just knew I was pulling my hair out, it felt good, and I couldn’t stop it on my own. I literally thought I was the only person in the world pulling their hair out.  When I was 22, one night I Googled “hair pulling,” and I came across websites about Trich.  It was mostly negative and about it being a lifelong disorder.  I rejected this and continued to isolate myself, thinking I could overcome this on my own. 

When I was 24 I was studying for my BFA and I started feeling sick all the time.  I spent a lot of time with my general doctor and was not gaining any insight about what was going on.  It was at that point that I realized that I was making myself physically sick.  That is when I went to the counseling center at school.  That was the hardest thing I have ever done.  I was in a dark place; I didn’t want to live.  I wasn’t going to kill myself but I wanted to disappear.  I was thankful that I pushed myself and stayed in the waiting room until someone approached me.  When they started to ask me questions I had a panic attack and started crying.  When I stopped I told the counselor I was pulling my hair out.  She told me about Trich and helped me learn about anxiety and how it was affecting me.  It was helpful to know that every week I would go and visit with somebody who understood what I was going through and could help me develop new insights into some of the anxiety I regularly experienced. 

It was at this time I realized that I could channel this energy into my work and obtain a healthier version of release.  Painting is therapeutic and therefore very personal. My paintings are an exploration of color and material interaction, driven by mood. Painting makes me happy, and I don’t feel like I have Trich when I’m working. Since this disorder affects my physical image I do my best to not look like I have Trich when I’m in public. Most have no idea of the struggles associated with Trich. I’m on a mission to educate the world about the disorder from a positive prospective through my artwork.

Read more about Valerie here.