Most of us at some point have bitten our nails, cracked our knuckles, pulled our hair, or gnawed on our lips when we feel anxious. But for some people, these repetitive behaviors are a more complex disorder that can cause them to touch their hair and body in ways that result in physical damage.
For Alaina, a 17-year-old high school junior from South Carolina, the hair-pulling disorder resulted in baldness.
Called Trichotillomania, this impulse control disorder causes recurrent, irresistible urges to pull your hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of the body despite trying to stop.
“When I first started to pull my hair two years ago, I did not realize I was doing it,” says Alaina. “I was really stressed out about the pandemic and it kept spiraling out of control as I kept all my emotions in. Seeing how many people were dying and the thought of someone I love getting it and not being here anymore really scared me.”
Although Alaina says she pulls her hair as a coping mechanism when she has anxiety, she does not always realize she is doing it—almost in a trance—but when she does, then she stops.
“I’m trying to figure out why I am pulling my hair, so I can stop,” comments Alaina. “Hanging out with friends and doing things with my hands, such as painting or playing tennis and lacrosse, helps so I am not so focused on my hair.”
At first, she would start pulling at each side of the head and a little on top and a little in the back, so it was not so noticeable, but now she is 95 percent bald.
Children with body-focused repetitive behaviors don’t usually realize they are doing it, just like nail biting and skin picking. While not a lot of details are known about this disorder, genetics may play a role.
“We don’t have any family history of Trich, but we are baffled that our family has experienced it twice as my son was pulling out his hair from third to sixth grade,” says Alaina’s mother, Holly, who is spreading awareness about this disease to try to help other families. “It was easier with my son, as he could wear a hat or we could shave his hair short to camouflage the missing patches of hair. For my daughter, however, it is a lot more noticeable.”
“The hardest part is that it is very cyclical,” says Holly. “When my daughter is anxious, she pulls her hair and then feels relieved, but then when she sees her damaged hair she feels bad and gets depressed, and then she starts pulling again.”
Holly said her daughter’s pediatrician did not know much about this condition, so the family sought out mental health specialists and Alaina is undergoing counseling and cognitive behavior therapy.
They also found the Recipient Program with Wigs For Kids. Alaina was recently measured for production to begin on her very own cranial prosthesis. This full cap hair system will camouflage the hair loss caused by Trichotillomania and provide Alaina with the look and feel of a full head of hair once again.
“I used to hide in the bathroom when I went to church so people didn’t see my hair, but now two years later I wear headbands and I am less self-conscious when I go out. I am going to prom this spring and hope I get my new wig in time for the dance, but if it is not ready I will dress my head with a head wrap and still enjoy the prom.”
Thanks to Wigs For Kids, Alaina is excited to gain confidence every day, Alaina is embarking on a mission to help others.
“I want to help make changes in the world want to go into politics and make a difference because I know what it feels like to need help.”– Alaina