Gessie Perez: Triumphant Trichster

100 Changemakers for 100 days of BFRB Awareness

100 Changemakers for BFRB Awareness

Triumphant Trichster - Trichotillomania Recovery

 

When I was 11 years old, I started pulling out the hair on my head. I didn't know why I did it, all I knew is that it felt good and I couldn't stop. I was young and in the beginning I thought it was just this weird “quirky” thing that only I did.


One day I came home from school and my mom had told me she had watched a reality TV show about a woman who pulled her hair, just like I did. That's when I found out there was a name for what I was doing: trichotillomania.


When I started high school, my hair pulling significantly increased, resulting in large bald spots. I tried to conceal them in a variety of ways: ponytails, shake-on hair powders, bandanas, headbands, you name it. As the hair on my head diminished, my self-esteem plummeted. It got to the point where I had to resort to wearing wigs because my hair loss was so extensive.


I also started excessively plucking my eyebrows around age 14. While other girls my age experimented with makeup as a means of self-expression, I wore eyebrow pencil everyday out of necessity, just to appear “normal.” I wouldn't leave my bedroom in the morning without drawing on my eyebrows. I felt like I couldn't even let my own family see the real me. 


Experiencing hair loss as a teenage girl warped my sense of identity. I felt deeply ashamed and became extremely withdrawn. I isolated myself out of fear of being judged by my peers. I was a ballet dancer for 12 years, and I quit dancing when I was 15, largely because of shame around my hair loss. I felt like I was a freak and I didn't know anyone else who understood me.

 

 

I reached a turning point at 16 when I attended a conference for people with trichotillomania and other body focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). Meeting others who finally understood what I was going through was the catalyst for shedding my shame. Knowing I was no longer alone was life saving. It changed my perspective of how I viewed myself. I mustered up the courage to make a social media post revealing my condition to my extended family, friends, and school acquaintances. And to my surprise, I was met with overwhelming support! It felt like a huge weight was lifted.


A year later, right before my senior prom and high school graduation, I decided to stop hiding behind a wig and shaved my head. It was so liberating.


I eventually started growing my hair back, and though I still struggled on and off with pulling, something deep within me had changed. Trichotillomania no longer had control over my life. I've learned to love myself no matter what my hair looks like. I still have no eyebrows, but about a year after I graduated high school, I just decided one random day to stop drawing them on, and I've never looked back.


Some of my favorite tools in my toolkit that I've used to manage hair pulling include: a plethora of assorted fidget toys, head coverings, stretchy cord bracelets, thumb covers, a fidget hair clip I made myself, and my baby blankie — yes I'm an adult and still snuggle with my blankie at pretty much all times when I'm at home. It brings me great comfort and picking at the seams has always soothed me. 


Another tool I've utilized is the Keen smart bracelet by HabitAware. It vibrates whenever I engage in pulling from the areas I've trained it to detect. It's helped me become so aware that my pulling from my scalp has been minimal for the past several years, to the point where I can pull just a few strands and for the most part not have it turn into a full blown episode.


I want to stress though that my goal has never been to be completely “pull free.” While that mindset may work for some, I personally find it to be very unrealistic and detrimental for me. Instead, my goal is to simply manage my pulling as best I can, but above all else, my goal is to not let shame control my life.


Trichotillomania is a chronic condition that may wax and wane, and I've made my peace with that. I don't see that as a defeatist attitude, but actually rather freeing. I believe the key to true recovery is to love yourself through both the ups and downs, and everything in between. 


Having now reached a place of acceptance, I have shifted my focus towards raising awareness and helping others. I've become quite the vocal advocate: sharing my story on various online media platforms, speaking at conferences, and publishing two books about my life as a “Triumphant Trichster.” I aspire to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to those still struggling.


In 2019, I started my Trichster Sisters program. Through this program I send care packages to young girls with trichotillomania and act as a mentor and big sister figure to them. I also am a peer coach through HabitAware, facilitating monthly virtual hangouts for kids and teens with BFRBs. It fills my heart with joy to know that the next generation won't suffer alone the way I did growing up.


Now, at 25 years old, I have an incredible support network, a fulfilling career as a care provider for special needs children, and I'm engaged to the most loving man who accepts every part of me. I live openly and authentically, shining as the truest version of myself. I've accomplished things I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. I am truly happy and love my life, trichotillomania and all. For everything that I once thought trich took away from me, I have gained so much more, and for that I am forever grateful.

 

 

Support BFRB Changemakers

BFRB Changemakers supports BFRB healing through community. Our mission is 3-fold:
* raise awareness of debilitating conditions of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) such as compulsive hair pulling (trichtotillomania), nail biting (onychophagia), and skin picking (dermatillomania),
* increase and improve access to care, and
* advance community recovery.

Through the BFRB Changemakers Training Academy we strive to increase access to care by offering Continuing Education training to new and seasoned mental health treatment professionals.

BFRB Changemakers is a 501c3 non-profit (EIN #93-1544492). Please make a donation to support these efforts!

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