Rachel. Jacksonville, FL

I cannot confidently say that I ever felt normal.

I was the youngest out of 4, and I felt an eternity behind. I saw things I didn’t understand, and I witnessed things from the people I loved that I never anticipated seeing. I was confused, because it was vital to my family that I be kept in the dark about most things. Their intentions were always good, but they couldn’t always keep me from the truth. I loved my siblings, but I felt so cut off from them. Like I wasn’t even related to them.But I don’t think that’s what made me different.

My mind was always racing, and my negative thoughts never ceased. I was petrified, and I didn’t know why. As a teen, anxiety was like dying. I didn’t have the confidence to stand up and tell my parents that I had these feelings. I couldn’t do that to them. Looking back, I know I wasn’t being selfish, but it made sense at the time to keep it all in; to push it back behind the wall I built in my head. I felt like I would spend the rest of my life wearing masks, hiding from people that cared about me. To be completely honest, I still do that to this day.

The hair pulling started in 9th grade.

I remember sitting at my desk, listening to the teacher go on about essay formatting. At the end of class, I reached down for my bag and saw a pile of hair on the floor next to me. It was all mine, a thick layer of it covering the tiles below me. I was mortified. I had been pulling out my hair for the entire 45 minute class. I hadn’t even been thinking about it. I touched the back of my head and the hair felt thin and cold.

By the end of 9th grade I had a very noticeable spot growing on the back of my head. I couldn’t control it, and I lied to my parents about the cause. They were more than concerned, of course, and took me to several doctor’s appointments. My blood was tested and my diet was analyzed. According to my doctor I was fine, so the pulling continued.

Eventually I admitted to my mother that I was feeling depressed, revealing the negative thoughts about dying that would keep me up at night. This wasn’t a lie. The constant anxiety was causing my brain to attack itself with fear, and it was taking a toll on me. So I was finally given anti-depressants, and the hair pulling decreased. The visit to my doctor was the first time I had actually spoken to someone honestly about myself, and for a moment I felt like people wanted to listen.

When I was finally given a name to what I was experiencing, I felt relieved. Trichotillomania was a word I had never heard of before. When I was referred to my counselor, I thought that I was crazy. I felt like having OCD, anxiety, and Trichotillomania was too much for one person to be normal. I am so glad I was wrong. I am not crazy. I wish I had known that back then.

I am now 22 years old. I have seen therapists, taken medications, and talked to people that think the same way that I do. These experiences have opened my eyes to a world of mental illness that I didn’t know existed. There are people out there that will listen and support you, and you are not alone. The scariest part of having Trichotillomania for me was thinking I was the only one. No one should have to feel that way.

I am still fighting it today. The uncontrollable urge to pull is on my mind constantly. When i’m having a bad night I will pull for hours. When I was planning my wedding, I was terrified I would go bald, but I had my fiance there to help me when I felt like I was going to pull. Trichotillomania is hard, but I know I can fight it. I will live with it forever, but I know I have my friends and my family there with me.

I am Rachel. I sing, I dance, I’m funny, I smile, I cry, and #IAmNotMyLabel.