My journey with hair loss began in my very early teens – my hand always seemed to have a habit of going for my head if I became worried about something. I particularly remember one day when studying for my Intermediate Certificate pulling a hair out my head and almost feeling immediate relief from the anxiety inside me. This began my life with a condition known as Trichotillomania. Of course I did not know there was a name for what I did until I was in my late twenties when I saw a girl on a Talk Show speak about how she had pulled out much of her hair.
Trichotillomania seems to hijack a person when they are at a quite vulnerable self absorbed time of their lives – their teenage years. It almost seems to manifest as a coping skill for that person to deal with normal anxieties. The pulling continues through these years, often the person doesn’t even realise what they are doing. Unfortunately for me and many others – this habit resulted in permanent damage to my hair and a fairly hefty bald spot on the top and side of my head.
I hid my hairloss by tying my hair up into a pony tail every day. My biggest fear was if someone would say to me “why don’t you wear your hair down” – so the resulting hair loss from the hair pulling can have a very isolating effect on a person – I’m married now with children and sometimes I marvel and thank God that I trusted the man who is my husband enough to let him get to know me. There is a lot of shame and embarrassment that accompanies trichotillomania – you are often afraid that someone would find out your secret. My husband proved insistent and stuck with me but even when he asked me “why don’t you wear your hair down”, I would change the subject. It wasn’t until we were about to get married that I told him about my hair loss – even then I couldn’t own up to my self inflicted hair loss so I told him I had alopecia. I did eventually own up to the real culprit for my hair loss and he was very understanding also. I was surprised how blasé he was about it – it was no big deal to him.
When I got to my thirties, after I had my second child, I decided to do something to improve my hair aesthetically. I was so tired of tying it up and I wished I could wear my hair down. Many times in my teens, twenties and thirties (when I realised that my self inflicted hair loss seemed permanent) I often dreamed if only I could turn the clock back or that some miracle would happen that would restore my beautiful hair. I really would have given up the Lotto for my hair back.
This began my experience with very many Hair Restoration Procedures – I started off in the UK getting my first intralace system – met a very nice lady over there who takes a particular interest in trichotillomania. However, the cost of the flight combined with the monthly cost for maintenance of the system resulted in having to find somewhere closer to home. My procession commenced through approx 4 Hair Restoration places here – I never felt comfortable in them. I told the first one that I had trichotillomania and was told I was a Silly girl – this was a common reaction if I ever told anyone and probably contributed to why I decided it was best to keep that particular piece of information to myself. I told the rest of them that I had alopecia and I must say I felt guilty about lying and this seemed to heighten my anxiety for my monthly visit to have my hair system restored and washed etc.
I found myself feeling quite vulnerable in a lot of situations with these practices and decided that I would leave them – regrow all the hair they had shaved off my head to stick on the Hair System and get back to wearing my hair tied up.
During this time, I happened to see Dr Maurice Collins on the Late Show and I was quite interested. I decided to make an appointment and went to see him at his Clinic in Blackrock. I knew I must be truthful about my hair as he would have to be aware of the reason for my hair loss before making any decisions on surgery.
At our first meeting I told Maurice that I had pulled my hair out which had resulted in a fair bit of damage. He explained to me that what I had was called Trichotillomania. No “Silly girl” no judgements etc – just sound advice about what I could do going forward. He was interested in how my hair might respond to Regain so he asked me to commence using it for six months and to come back to him then.
I wasn’t the best at putting the Regain on and I think it did do something for certain areas of my head, however the top of the head was still bald. Maurice had advised me at our first meeting that he felt that I needed to have maybe some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in order to address my trichotillomania. He asked me did I still pull my hair out. I explained that all the Hair Systems I had did seem to do one thing and that was that they prevented me from getting to the top of my head and that I did not now pull at my hair. However I really do feel that it is something that is in me and I work at never pulling my hair again every day – sometimes still when I am sitting on my own watching TV in the sitting room my hand will still stray to my head. I employ my own techniques now to ensure that I don’t do it.
I really didn’t feel that Maurice would agree to take me on for a Hair Transplant – how could he be sure I wouldn’t pull the whole lot out! However, after agreeing to investing in some Behaviour Therapy and going through the whole process in detail with Maurice and his team, they agreed to do the Hair Transplant. I never felt vulnerable when dealing with any of the team at HRBR – I loved that they were so professional and that they didn’t judge me or put me in a box labelled “CRAZY”. By the way I am a fairly intelligent sensible person and I’m not crazy. Trichotillomania is described as an Impulse Control disorder linked in a way to OCD – I agree with that as I can be a bit obsessive about things! Studies on scans of the brains of people with trichotillomania have shown structural differences in the grey matter suggesting that there is a difference in how they process information.
So in July 2011 I found myself lying in the theatre ready to commence my Hair Transplant. Like everyone with hair issues, it was a very important day for me. After the transplant I headed home and stayed up all night spraying the water and in the weeks following the transplant I looked after my hair to the letter of the law. I was quite emotional for a few weeks after and a bit concerned about my hair. I thought more of my hair was coming out as I washed it (you can have a little shedding after the transplant and also I had resumed using Regain about six weeks before my transplant and I have read that initially on Regain you can also experience a little shedding) – OMG then I thought maybe I had alopecia all along and I had made a terrible mistake!!! All these questions came into my head and the team in HRBR were always available to answer them.
Post your hair transplant patience is really what is required. After relaying some of my fears regarding regrowth with a very good friend – she said “how long before it starts to grow” – I said 3 months really – so she said make a decision not to deal with it again for three months. If you do look at the hair and worry about it not growing just say to yourself “I will not deal with this for three months”. This really worked for me and I got on with my life.
Before I knew it three months had passed and my hair had begun to grow / after six months it had grown further. At my twelve month visit with Maurice he was really pleased with the growth. I am due to go for my 18 month post transplant visit next week and I am really happy with the results. Unbelievably I have been given that second chance I always yearned for with my hair. A few months ago with the help of a friend I decided to visit a really good hairdresser and get my hair styled. I explained to him that I had had trichotillomania and had a hair transplant. He was a true professional and I am so delighted that now I can go to a regular professional hairdresser.
I can now wear my hair down and it looks fine – no major bald spot on view – it has improved the quality of my life and I am so glad that I have been given this opportunity.
Thank you to Maurice and his team.