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I’ve tried for a long time to feel “perfect.” I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I yell at those I love, I eat when I’m not hungry and sometimes I’m too tired to brush my teeth before I go to sleep. When I’m stressed, I pull my hair. When I’m bored, I pull. Or excited. Overwhelmed. Highly caffeinated, or not caffeinated enough. I frequently wake up in the middle of the night, subconsciously pulling my hair. But I’m not writing this to tell you how I pull my hair (or used to) all the time. I’m writing to let you know how I don’t let it control my life.

Pulling makes me feel out of control. When I first started pulling, I had dreams about cutting my hands off. I felt like a monster with a broken brain. For some reason, my brain urged me to pull hair from my own body, look at it, play with it, and discard it. Something must be terribly wrong with me.

There were times when I wished I had a different condition, something more socially acceptable. Hair pulling felt so obvious. At the peak of my pulling, people asked my boyfriend if I was sick. Like, my hair was so thin people wondered if I had cancer. It felt awful to know that I had done that to myself.

I would spend hours getting ready to go out with friends, styling my hair in 100 different ways to cover the bald patches. Often, I would decide at the last minute to stay in. Or, I would go out, have fun, only to feel punched in the stomach when I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. “You look stupid,” I would say to myself. “You are so ugly.” “You are embarrassing.”

Here’s the truth that I have learned: I am not a monster. My brain is not broken, nothing is wrong with me. I am not stupid or ugly, nor do I need to be embarrassed by who I am. I pull my hair out, and though, through self-acceptance, I’ve significantly reduced my pulling - I may always pull my hair out. And that’s okay. I am not defined by my hair.

Who am I? I am a kind and caring friend. I am an accomplished teacher, a loving fiancé. I love ice cream, college football, and playing board games. I’m not perfect. I am not my hair.

Singer/songwriter India.Arie writes:

“Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?

Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend?

Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?

I am not my hair.

I am not this skin.

I am the soul that lives within.”

Let me be clear - it took me a long time to work through self-acceptance. It’s something I continue to work on every single day. It’s not easy. But it’s so, so worth it.

So I smile when I look in the mirror, even though I wish my hair was thicker. I carry fidgets with me everywhere, and when people ask, I let them know that I’m working on not messing with my hair. I ask friends and family to tap me on the shoulder or say my name when I’m lost in pulling, because it’s not embarrassing to have those who love you help out. It’s so much easier for me to be honest. For me to recognize, “I have a big deadline coming up, so it makes sense that I’m pulling more.” “I’m sitting down to watch a movie, so I should grab a hat.” “I pull the most right when I get home from work, so I’ll leave a fidget by the door.” And I celebrate the times I’m a few steps ahead. When we took a road trip and I wore a bandanna the whole time - including on gas station bathroom breaks. When I take the time to go to yoga so I’m more calm going into a stressful week at work. When I leave myself notes on the bathroom mirror like, “comparison is the thief of joy.”

I learned my truth by embracing the parts of me that I love: by rewarding myself for love, not punishing myself for pulling. By working through the stress that causes me to pull. By being honest about who I am.