Telling My College Roomate the Truth About My BFRB
How sleeping next to a stranger helped me manage my hair pulling disorder
Posted Nov 21, 2018
by Taylor O'Connor
I started college in the Fall of 2017 and was randomly assigned to share a room with another girl. I hoped that as she, like me, was a prospective Psychology major, she would be accepting of what made me different: the fact that I have trichotillomania and pull out my hair. But I had no idea how she would react.
Months before I received the email with my roommate assignment, I had been thinking about how I would tell a complete stranger such personal information. “When should I tell her? What if she thinks I’m weird? What if she wants to switch roommates?” Questions like these loomed in my mind, which only made me want to pull more. I decided to email her about my likes and dislikes, where I’m from, what my major was—facts one would typically use to break the ice. Disclosing my BFRB to her was something I wanted to do after the stage when we establish that both of us are addicted to watching “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The transition to college can be both daunting and thrilling. Whether you continue your education locally or choose a school across the country, there is a shift in lifestyle. Meeting new people and being exposed to different experiences allows for internal exploration. College is not only a time to discover who you are, but who you want to become.
I have had trichotillomania, or hair pulling disorder, since I was 7 years of age. I started pulling out my eyelashes and eyebrows, then eventually began pulling from my scalp. I have worn a hair system provided by Hair Club since the 8th grade. Back then I looked a little different since I hadn’t found out about false brows and eyelashes, which led to a long battle between my bullies and me. With time, people became comfortable with me not conforming to the usual standards of how a person should look—or maybe they gave up on trying to tear me down. Whichever one it was, I had triumphed over those who chose to be cruel and I learned to love myself.
But with the transition to college life on the horizon, I couldn’t help but think about what I had endured in middle and high school. “What will people think of me?” I thought to myself. I was tired of being the girl who pulls out her hair. And while the thought of studying away from home excited me, I was also worried about my pulling habits. At home, I slept without wearing my hair system which allowed me to pull at night. It was hard to imagine letting someone see me as I really am.
About a week after we moved in together, I wanted to tell my roommate the truth. I prepared myself for an unpleasant reaction. To my surprise, I was met with an, “Oh okay” and we continued discussing our love for TV shows.
Then I told the rest of my suitemates, with whom I shared a bathroom, and that was okay, too.
As it turns out, the arrangement of having someone sleeping 6 feet away from me proved to have a positive impact. I became comfortable enough to show her my natural hair, though I preferred keeping my system on at night. I wanted to restrict the possibility of her discovering hair blanketing the floor every morning before we went to class. This provided the opportunity for me to grow my hair out. I grew a thick head of curly black hair, something I hadn’t been successful in doing since the 7th grade.
College years are a time for growth and development, both educationally and personally. During my first year of college I was able to form friendships that will forever be important to me. Who knew that my roommate, a girl I knew from a hole in the wall, would become someone with whom I felt comfortable enough to show my bare face? By sophomore year, I told several more people about my condition, and some of them shared their own stories of BFRBs with me, whether it was biting their nails or picking at their skin. My new friends expressed relief at finding someone who was able to relate to them. It seemed to take away their sense of “not belonging,” since now they knew that there was a community of people just like them.
I was able to figure out who I wanted to be after my first year at college. I am no longer the girl who pulls out her hair, but the girl who likes to go on late night adventures. The girl who loves musical movies. My BFRB doesn’t define me. It has challenged me with difficult lessons and been a catalyst for growth. College has enabled me to find my voice and now, instead of asking, “What will people think of me?” I use it to say, “This is who I am.”
Taylor O'Connor is dedicated to raising awareness about BFRBs and serves on the Young Adult Action Council (YAAC) for The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. She is currently a sophomore in college, with plans to practice clinical psychology and teach at a university.