A Trichy Story: The Day You Became a “Puller”

August 20, 2019

Crash.

You’ve just been in an awful car accident.

Everyone survived, but it was brutal.

This accident will change you forever.

It is the day and moment you became an anxious soul with a messy mind. 

In just moments your mind shifted to a compulsive, anxious and fearful place. 

In that wreck your brain re-wired itself. Trauma can do that.

Trauma and anxiety are frightful companions. 

You’ll find out that anxiety can manipulate your mind into intense compulsions. 

Compulsions that you can’t control. Compulsions that will change your life in more ways than you could imagine. Compulsions that will dictate your actions. Compulsions you’ve never heard of and ones you didn’t know existed. 

The first time it happens you are lost, confused, and scared. 

It wasn’t an anxiety attack. It was more than that, but you’re just a kid and you don’t even know what anxiety is. What you know is that you entered the car with eyes full of thick dark lashes, and you leave the car with empty eyelids that no one recognizes, including yourself.

You pulled. You’ve just become a “puller”. You have no clue what this means. 

You have no clue what has just happened. 

You only know that you survived the car ride, even in the midst of paralyzing fear. 

You arrive at your destination but you’ve arrived a different person.

Both mentally and physically.

Your fear of being in a car after the wreck caused so much anxiety that you have masked the fear with pain and self-mutilation. You didn’t choose to pull. It happened. It was your body’s response to debilitating and overpowering anxiety and stress. It was a response to trauma. 

Who knew that some people’s bodies and minds create compulsive pulling as it’s “fight or flight” reaction. You wouldn’t wish this response on your worst enemy. You’ll spend the rest of your life wondering why you were cursed with this disorder, this syndrome, this embarrassing anxiety response.

It will change how others look at you. It will change how you look at yourself. It will change your entire life and you’ll do everything you can to make it go away. 

It won’t. It will ebb and flow with your life’s encounters. When you’re happy, it becomes non-existent. When you’re stressed or anxious, it takes over with a powerful force. It will dominate, no matter how long it’s been absent. 

You will hear the phrase “I’m so stressed I could pull my hair out!” and you’ll wonder if those people truly understand the core and creation of that phrase. You already know the answer, they don’t. But you do, though you desperately wished you didn’t.

With therapy you find out the name and cause of your disorder. Your nine-year-old self learns the word trichotillomania. Your nine-year-old self learns about chemical imbalances in the brain. You learn the acronyms OCD and PTSD. You learn about words like anxiety and stress. You learn more than a kid at your age should know about mental health. 

Your life from here on out is filled with big emotions and big reactions. 

You try to pray it away. You try to wish it away. You seek therapy. You medicate. You end up zombie-like and still yet to be cured. 

The worst part is that you lack a cure and at the same time lack the understanding, compassion and empathy from the kids in your school. You are made fun of, looked at differently and bullied for the very thing that you’d like to escape from. It’s a double edged sword. You hate and despise the very thing that they do. You are just as confused and shocked as those who work tirelessly to humiliate you.

To kids you have suddenly changed. You’re different now. You become a target. Would they make fun of you if they knew your story? Would they make fun of you if they understood the makeup of your brain? Would they make fun of someone with special needs or an incurable disease? Because what you’re facing seems like a mixture of both. 

Eventually, you find ways to hide the pulling, the differentness. It isn’t a cure but a mask of the battles you face. Eventually you find ways to prolong the attacks and episodes. Eventually you find ways to face the world’s cruelty of people who are like you, different and unexplainable. Eventually you learn to accept the cyclical timeline of your disorder and learn ways to cope.

You don’t realize it for a very long time, but you’re an overcomer. 

Eventually you can make it disappear for long periods of time, until the moment that you can’t and the cycle begins again. 

One day you find the tools, the strength, and the mind-shift to live with your disorder. Once you learn to live with it and accept it for what it is, you learn to engage with it differently. That alone makes you a success story. 

You are a unique soul living with an anxiety disorder. You are a person living with trichotillomania. More beautifully, you are a person who has the strength, grit and determination to fight this compulsion and the consequences of it every day.

There is no cure, but that’s ok because you are brave and strong and resilient and you’ll live a beautiful life, with or without all of your hair. 

Even better, maybe there is a cure. Maybe the cure is simply overcoming the shame and embarrassment. 

For me, there was healing in finally gaining the confidence to feel proud of where I am, anxiety disorder included. To have the vulnerability to share my story with the world so others can look at themselves in a different light. One where they aren’t alone. 

I want little girls, and grown adults, and teenagers, and people of all walks of life to read this and realize they are more than this disorder. I’m hopeful people like me can stop hiding behind the shame, the embarrassment, and the ridicule and say, “I am more than my flaws. I am more than the sum of my faults. I am more than my anxious mind and fearful thoughts. I am me, and I am beautiful!”

xox, Chels

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8 comments so far.

8 responses to “A Trichy Story: The Day You Became a “Puller””

  1. Jen says:

    This is what bravery looks like. Beautifully written. I relate as a trich sufferer for 23 years. Thank you for being a voice.

  2. Kathy says:

    Such a powerful piece. Thank you for speaking out about something that so many try to hide.

  3. Teaira Carlton says:

    There’s so much beauty and power in this♥️. Thank you for sharing a part of your life with us.

  4. Robert Daily says:

    Thankyou for sharing. I was a young mboy when I started
    Pulling my hair. It is absolutely devastating not being able to stop. I’m an adult of 57 years and still have the compulsion as a child there is no name for it simply shame ball caps and visors shame to go to school shame to go to the barber. I was ashamed to get into sports or interact with people. I found pubic hair was not noticed as I entered puberty and eventually alcohol as a form of self medication. As I got older relationships with the opposite sex suffered as, well you guessed it. The compulsion was simply ignored and not spoken.
    I to this day don’t talk about and people dont know.

    • chelseaohlemiller says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! I used to be the same way. I hid it for so many years. Until one day I decided that the work of hiding it was unbearable. That was the day I became free and accepted myself, anxiety disorders and all! I’ve never been cured but I have good days, months and years. I finally realized that I’m so much more than a person with great hair and great lashes. Bald spots or no bald spots, I have a lot to offer and I will no longer hide under my anxiety. Good luck with your journey! I hope one day you realize that opening up about your battles is the best way to overcome them! Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate it more than you know.

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Chelsea Ohlemiller

Chelsea Ohlemiller

A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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