By Rebecca Drew
AFTER first pulling her hair out at EIGHT-YEARS-OLD this British woman says INSTAGRAM has become a SAFE PLACE to share pictures of her BALD PATCH without judgement.
Account manager, Hattie Gilford (27) from Surrey, UK, used to bite her nails as a child and one day her mum, Eliz, offered her £1 for every nail she stopped biting. Excited by the opportunity to earn some money, eight-year-old Hattie soon kicked her nail biting habit.
But as an active child who was naturally fidgety and had a body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRD), Hattie replaced one repetitive action with another and during one long car journey pulled out a hair on her head and was fascinated by the hair follicle.
Hattie has struggled with trichotillomania, also known as trich, a hair pulling disorder where someone can’t resist the urge to pull out their hair, for 18 years. For Hattie, who pulls hair from the top of her head, pulling is a subconscious act that makes the brain release endorphins and most of the time she doesn’t realise she’s doing it.
After almost two decades of pulling her hair Hattie has a bald patch on the top of her head but she tries not to let it affect her confidence and she has learnt lots of tips and tricks to conceal it, like using coloured dry shampoo and hair pieces. Despite this, Hattie says that her patch can make her feel ‘ugly, self-conscious and anxious’ about herself, especially on days when she thinks she’s covered it up but later realises it’s still visible.
Hattie has tried on and off to beat the urge to pull but it wasn’t until she set up her Instagram, @my_trich_journey, three months ago that she’s really felt that recovery is possible. Instagram is her safe place where she feels comfortable sharing pictures of her bald patch and connecting with other people in the community has taught her that she is beautiful regardless of the length or quantity of hair on her head.
Celebrities like Kylie Jenner have made wearing wigs and hair pieces a fashion statement and after seeing how they can transform a look, Hattie purchased her first hair topper last year and she’s been able to wear her hair in styles she hadn’t tried since she was a child.
“I started pulling my hair out when I was eight-years-old. An avid nail biter at the time, my mum offered me £1 for every nail I stopped biting and I soon stopped biting my nails,” said Hattie.
“The problem is I’m a very fidgety person and I replaced my nail-biting habit with pulling my hair out instead. Essentially swapping one body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRD) for another.
“I began my eighteen-year battle with trichotillomania. I think the first time I did it was on a long five hour car journey where I pulled out a hair and became fascinated by the follicle, I couldn’t believe that it had come out of a tiny hole on my head.
“You may think that pulling out a hair would hurt but you actually become numb to the pain. I only pull hair from the top of my head between my hairline and crown. If I was to pull from any other area of my head or body it would hurt.
“I believe that pulling a hair/follicle from this area makes my brain release endorphins which in turn causes my brain to feel good. You may be wondering why I don’t ‘just stop’ pulling out my hair – most of the time when pulling out my hair I’m not conscious of doing so, it’s an absent-minded habit.
“Most days trich doesn’t affect my confidence at all because I’ve had it for well over half my life, I don’t remember a time without it. But there are days where it really gets to me, where I don’t feel like I can hide my bald patch well enough, or I don’t feel beautiful at all because of it and I just want to be ‘normal’.
“It’s so easy to compare yourself to women with amazing hair and just wish you had it – but I always remind myself that nobody has a perfect life; everyone has their own problems and is on their own personal journey.
“I’ve always thought that hair makes you beautiful and longed for the perfect head of hair but I’m slowly learning hair is not what makes you beautiful and that my boyfriend, family and friends don’t care what I look like and if there are people that do, they’re not worth my time.
“Having a really big visible bald patch on the top my head can make me feel really ugly and down at times. There have been moments where people have taken photos of me and when I’ve seen it afterwards I’ve noticed my bald patch is visible and I find that quite hard and sometimes have a bit of a cry about it – especially when it’s a day that I thought I’d covered it well.
“Because my bald patch can make me feel ugly it’s been amazing to be able to share these images with this community on Instagram. It’s helping me view myself quite differently – with or without a hairpiece covering it up.
“It’s helping me focus on other aspects of my appearance such as my smile which people always comment on. I used to always cover my bald patch up religiously from my boyfriend, family and friends when at home but now I can relax a bit about it and realise that I don’t always have to have perfect hair and I can relax around the people that love me.
“I wouldn’t go out in public with it on show but my relationship with my appearance has improved drastically.”
Hattie wants to show that there is no shame in having trichotillomania and wants to break down the stigma attached to it and wearing hair pieces and wigs.
Instagram has been very influential in Hattie’s recovery as it has helped her become more aware and accountable of her actions. She has been able to interact with other sufferers and was introduced to a campaign called ‘Pull Free Friday’ which she decided to take part in and now hasn’t pulled a hair from her head since October 27, 2019.
Hattie has a star chart to keep track of her progress and always carries playdough with her so that when she feels the urge to pull, she can play with that instead.
“Creating my Instagram account also helped me discover that there is an amazing world of alternate hair. This allows you to literally change your hair up with a click of your finger. Before this, I hadn’t really ever considered wearing a wig or a hairpiece I guess I naively thought that wearing a wig was for women who were completely bald,” she said.
“As much as I hate to say it, celebrities such as Kylie Jenner have really helped to normalise wig wearing and I think it’s become very accepted today – people started to realise you didn’t even need to have a hair loss condition to wear wigs, they’re for everyone.
“I spent two months researching what I wanted to buy and purchased a hair topper. Buying it has been the best thing I’ve done for my confidence. I literally clip it on in under thirty seconds and it conceals my bald patch completely.
“Giving me the opportunity to wear hairstyles I’ve never been able to and giving me a parting back that I haven’t had since I was eight years old. There’s nothing vain about wanting to look and feel good.
“Before I wore wigs and toppers I had a very set routine. I had hair extensions to make my hair longer, would spray my bald patch with brown hair shampoo so you couldn’t see my shiny white scalp and I’d backcomb the front of my hairline and then wear it in a top knot and spray it with a lot of hairspray to keep it in place.
“So we started my star chart for a bit of a joke but then I soon realised that we should celebrate our tiny victories, it’s okay to say ‘Oh wow I’m doing so bloody well’. It doesn’t always have to be something massive to be cause for a celebration.
“I’m a visual person and there’s something really encouraging about being able to physically see how well you’re doing and putting the star on my chart that is a massive pat on my back each day.
“I’m extremely proud of myself and the motivation and determination I have that I didn’t realise was in me.”
Hattie’s never let trich hold her back from swimming or taking part in sports where her hair might become displaced, but she’s started cognitive behavioural therapy sessions (CBT) to help her become aware of her actions.
“The message I want to get out there is: there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you’re not alone in this. There are thousands and thousands of people just like you with exactly the same condition trying to muddle through life too,” she said.
“I get messages from women and girls saying that they’re depressed and they hate themselves because they pull their hair out and I don’t want anyone to feel like that. You’re not weird or strange but I really recommend that you should go and talk to a professional.
“Trying to do this on your own is hard and we all need a support network to give us a helping hand. I’m putting myself and my bald patch out there for all the women and men with trich that aren’t quite ready to share their story yet, to show them that it does get better and you shouldn’t let trich stop you from doing anything you want to do.
“I also hope this message reaches people who don’t have trichotillomania but might one day meet someone with it so they can understand the condition a bit better.”
You can follow Hattie’s journey on Instagram: www.instagram.com/my_trich_journey