My story isn’t a happy one, but it’s something I’d like to get off my chest. I’m hoping by sharing it will help me heal and move on. I’m a woman and I have bald spots on my head because I suffer from trichotillomania. If you don’t know, trichotillomania is a disorder that creates an irresistible urge to pull out one’s body hair. Some pull eyebrows or eyelashes, many, like myself, pull from the scalp. As a woman, I feel my hair is strongly connected to my beauty. I’ve been told since I was a young girl that long hair is beautiful. Men like long hair. I had long, thick hair that my mother did not know what to do with. She frequently told me how hard my hair was for her to deal with. I began to dislike my hair. Every day seemed like a battle between my mother and my hair. She wanted my hair to be silky straight, and it just wasn’t. She was not shy in expressing her disdain. When I was 5, my mother got married. Benny, her new husband, my stepfather, was nice to me at first. When my mother became pregnant with my little brother, Benny took on a new interest in me. It began with me sitting on his lap and feeling his hands down my pants or under my dress. I didn’t like this and tried to avoid him, for which I was punished. Punishment came in the form of a beating with a belt. When my mother asked what I did, she was told that I had lied about something. Benny would come into my room at night to “tuck me in,” which involved fondling and kissing my neck using his tongue. I started to wet the bed. Every morning I woke up with wet sheets was a morning I would get a beating. My mom didn’t question it, she just took Benny’s word for it. I was, “...too lazy to go to the bathroom.” My brother was born and the abuse continued. One day, Benny commented on my hairstyle. He liked it. I don’t remember the exact moment that my fingers found my scalp, but the sensation of plucking a single strand out was one of relief from the anxiety I didn’t understand. When I was 6, my mother took me to a salon to have my hair relaxed. My scalp felt like it was on fire. I cried and squirmed. I was threatened with, “If you don’t stop, I’m telling your father when we get home.” I let it burn as tears ran down my cheeks. My hair was straight and my mom loved it. My scalp was tender for a week afterwards. I was now in a vicious cycle of “touch-ups” every 6 weeks. It burned every time. My hair started to break off. Now, it wasn’t long and beautiful anymore, which meant I was ugly. My mother took me to get my hair braided with extensions. The stylist pulled my hair so tight, it hurt. I cried and squirmed. “Do you want me to tell your father?” Absolutely not. I sat and cried. Even with my hair separated into skinny braids, sections pulled impossibly taut, I still managed to pluck out strands. At one point, I tried to tell my mother what Benny was doing to me, which by age 10 escalated to him having me in my parent’s bedroom naked, so he could look at my body and touch me anywhere he wanted while my mother was at work. I was punished for lying. This continued until I hit puberty. When I became interested in boys, and they became interested in me, that was another reason for Benny to beat me. I left home at 18. I wore weaves to disguise the 3-inch bald spot at the nape of my neck. Ironically, I went to cosmetology school. I graduated and worked in a salon for two years. One of the stylists suggested I try a cute, short hairstyle to give my scalp a chance to breathe. I was nervous, but let her do it. I instantly regretted it. I felt the entire world knew my secrets and thought I was hideous. Fast forward 10 years, I had my son, and became a single mom. I started caring for my hair. I bought creams, oils, conditioners to help it grow, to help me love my hair and myself. Men found me attractive, but I lived with the fear that the ones I dated would eventually discover my secret. My relationships never lasted. I’m now 43, with a handsome, brilliant, almost 16 year old son. I wear my hair in twists with extensions that I do myself. I cannot bear the thought of going to a salon. I oil and massage my scalp every morning and night. I have a goal to grow my hair out and wear it in its natural glory. My fingers still find my scalp sometimes. That familiar, comforting feeling of plucking each strand still calls me. I’m much more aware of it now and am learning to find other ways to keep my mind and hands busy. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long. I’ve set a goal to have full head of healthy, thick, lush hair by age 50. I am learning to see my beauty, bald spots and all. I’m single, but by choice. I cannot be in a relationship and expect to be loved, if I cannot fully love myself. Every day, I lift and separate my twists in the mirror to remind myself of my goal. Each day is different. Some are better than others, but every day, the struggle is real. Thanks for listening to my story.