GUEST POST: Parenting a child with Trich
This is a guest post submitted by a mom of a child with trichotillomania.
PARENTING A CHILD WITH TRICH
Do you remember the first time you discovered your baby was pulling? I'll never forget the moment I met trich. The room was dim, it was bedtime and the tucking in process was in full swing. Hugs, kisses, prayers and the usual talk of tomorrow were harshly interrupted by the discovery I never wanted to find. Her widows peak looked strange in the low lighting. Upon further investigation with my fingers I felt prickly nubs of new hair growth. I gasped “what happened? Did you cut your hair? Why is this hair gone? Is it really gone?” I raced to the light switch, flipped it on and proceeded to do and say absolutely everything that experts advice parents not to say and do to a child dealing with trich. My heart sank, my head spun and my mouth WOULD. NOT. STOP. So many questions and so much pain all at once put me into instant tears. My husband finally came to our rescue, pulling me away. Looking back now, I should have known something was up because she had been wearing her hair in a very specific and unusual style every day for a few weeks. In perfect "mom guilt fashion," I like to tell myself that I should have had a clue something was up because I have my masters degree in elementary school counseling. Prior to trich, I had used this degree like a detective uses his magnifying glass to decipher that my girl was dealing with bipolar disorder. I used my prior knowledge in psychology like one uses a flashlight in the dark to figure out that my girl was having a PANDAS episode. And on the night I discovered trich, I once again found myself switching off my mom brain and turning on whatever was left of my academia memory to inspect the DSM, webmd or any google article I could get my hands on. I literally didn’t go to sleep until I found my answer. The path to a destination is filled with unexpected bumps and turns but I never in my wildest nightmares would have thought we would have the detours and hurdles that just seemed to keep on coming. Trichotillomania was not a welcome visitor and I immediately set out to get rid of it as soon as possible with fury.
Trich and the longevity of its nature seemed to set something off inside myself even though I’m not the one pulling. At times, it is as if I'm feeling more than my daughter. We all have a basic need for love, belonging and joy. These feelings are almost as crucial to our survival as water and air. It’s the core emotion of our being and when something comes along that violates these feelings we default to fear or anger. When I discovered my girl was pulling, I was frightened. Anger was quick on the heels of fear.
What could I do to stop the pulling?
Would it ever stop?
How far will she take this?
Would my beautiful daughter need a hair piece someday?
Why are there so few specialists in this area?
Why are we dealing with this on top of bipolar?
I became even more furious as questions I couldn't answer continued to brew in my mind. And then there is the issue of who can you trust with this? The school counselor, a psychologist or other family members? My girl totally shut down when placed in front of anyone other than me to discuss the pulling. I am still the only one she will speak to about the matter. My own personal hell if you will that I am oddly enough flattered to be the one person she will trust. Trich sends a parent and/or caregiver into a whirl wind of these emotionally swings. I was watching my daughter's chances of being loved, accepted and belonging slip through her fingers because kids are mean and girls are even more so. What if her peers noticed? Would they make fun of her? Will she continue to fit in? I believe that as parents we feel the loss or potential loss of our child's basic needs in a heavy way. It is one thing to feel the loss of our own joy, love and belonging but to see our kids struggle with it is torture. I label it as torture because at the end of the day we can only control ourselves and our actions. As the old saying goes, we can lead a horse to water but we cannot make them drink.
Moving forward with the knowledge I obtained from my counseling degree has helped me crawl out of my personal despair and realize that I can do several things for her as a mom; her confidant and caretaker. I can love her like only a mother can. I can reassure her of the beauty and talent she possesses. I can also be a good role model of self care, self love and let her see me practice what I preach. I give my daughter things for her hands to do at the times of the day when she wants to pull and that seems to help. However, she is almost completely void of eyebrows and her eyelashes come and go. New spots on her head are covered with new hair styles and we go through more hair spray than I'd like to admit. Nevertheless, the doors of communication are wide open between us and are held this way with as much love, acceptance and listening as I can muster. I continue to urge her to speak to a psychologist but she is completely unwilling. I will not give up on this though as I know cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be successful in dealing with trich. It's a goal we will hit eventually when the time is right. When I finished my masters degree in school counseling I didn't imagine this is how I would use it but I am forever grateful for my studies. Even if I didn't specialize in trich, I feel like I have been clued in enough to be able to illuminate light into an otherwise dark space. If I have learned anything from my experience with trich it is that my role as a parent is very important and matters more than any other role I play. Dealing with trich is the trip I didn't sign up for but continue to learn from daily. Final destination: Healing for my girl.