Trichotillomania sufferer Katie Neiman: ‘I can’t stop pulling my hair out’
IT IS a condition that affects almost a million women in Britain, however it is still not fully understood by doctors and is considered quite taboo. One woman shares her battle with the secret syndrome.
Sitting at her desk, Katie Neiman runs her fingers through her bright blonde bob.
She looks like any other successful businesswoman going about her day.
However, Katie isn’t brushing her hair out of her face – she’s pulling it out, strand by strand.
It is a habit she’s had for over nine years and one that once left a bald patch across the crown of her head.
Katie suffers from Trichotillomania, commonly known as TTM or Trich for short.
According to the NHS Trich is a condition where a person feels compelled to pull their hair out.
They may pull out the hair on their head or in other places, such as their eyebrows or eyelashes.
Katie explains: “Trichotillomania – I shorten it to Trich as I hate the mania bit – is a bit like biting your nails.
“You get this strange satisfaction from doing it. It can be difficult to control.”
Katie began tugging her hair out aged 21 when she was at university studying for her finals.
She told us: “I was working really hard and I don’t want to say that I was bored but I was. It was the monotomy of being in the library all day everyday for weeks on end than it was stress. I find it really difficult to pinpoint a trigger.”
Katie says she had a disposition to hair pulling as a child: “I’d pluck my eyebrows and if I saw any hairs going astray I pick them quickly and I get annoyed at myself if they’re there. I’ve definitely had an affinity to it.”
In her early twenties Katie was pulling out 10-20 strands of hair a day, one at a time, describing the sensation as a “release”.
“When you have Trich and you pull your hair out it doesn’t hurt. You lose the sensation of it hurting.
“It’s definitely a release. But it’s not like tucking into your favourite meal or chocolate bar. There is guilt with it. It’s not the best release around.”
Katie had the condition for four years before a noticeable bald patch began appearing on the crown of her head.
“It was all very well in the early days when I’d pull it out and there would still be hair there. But when I started feeling a definite area where there was no hair, that was not so good.
“Friends and family began to notice when I had my hair in a ponytail. You could see it. I began styling my hair in a different way and standing against the wall when I was in a room full of people.
“When people started saying, ‘What have you done?’ I started feeling really guilty and became even more concerned about it.”
Katie, who works in the beauty industry, visited a hypnotherapist to try and combat her addiction however it didn’t work so she went to see her GP.
The outcome wasn’t what she had hoped.
She told us: “I went to the doctor and sadly, this was the most disappointing thing, the only thing he could recommend was taking Prozac. Basically he pigeon-holded it into some sort of anxiety disorder or depression.
“I’m a very happy soul. I know I don’t suffer from depression or anxiety. They didn’t want to acknowledge it and saw it as just a cosmetic problem. They didn’t understand how much it can affect your confidence.”
Katie chose not to take the Prozac and was then shown a Channel 4 documentary about Trich called Girls On The Pull by a friend.
She says seeing the show changed her life.
“That was the turning point. It was fascinating and about women who have Trich.
“It was an eye opening experience as it wasn’t all just teenagers being bullied. It was successful women of all ages, particularly the high flyers who were battling this urge to pull their hair out. It’s a difficult thing to get your head around.”
After researching the condition online, Katie contacted Lucinda Ellery, a Trich expert who developed the ‘Intralace System’, a mesh that is placed between the existing hair and the scalp, acting as a barrier to the pulling.
Katie explains: “You look like there’s no problem but every time you go to touch your hair there is a physical barrier stopping you getting to it.
“For me it’s just that tiny spot I go for. I’m lucky it hasn’t evolved to me wanting to pull out anywhere else, other people do. Once you cover up one spot you go for another. I haven’t had that urge.”