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A few months ago my daughter looked tired. When she came into our room in the morning to nuzzle me awake, she looked different. What changed? I couldn't figure it out.

A few weeks later I picked her up from school. She ran over and stared up, waiting for my reaction. Her left eyebrow had vanished. "Are you mad at me?" she asked. I couldn't answer.  During PE that day she'd pulled out her entire eyebrow -- using her fingernails.

That's why she looked so tired -- she was slowly pulling out her eyebrows and eyelashes. Had the rigors of third grade pushed my eight-year-old over the edge?

I raced into action -- call the school, call the pediatrician, call Mom. Mom, who is always right, had the answer. "Oh, she has Trichotillomania," she said nonchalantly. Trichotillo-what?

On the web, I found the site of a non-profit in Santa Cruz that, luckily, was sponsoring a Trichotillomania conference. There I found out that "Trich" is a chronic disorder that affects 9 million Americans and usually begins in early adolescence and results in an uncontrollable urge to pull out your hair -- eyebrows, eyelashes, the hair on your head.


Trich is under-reported, misunderstood and often goes undiagnosed. Since pulling starts for many kids in their early teens, they are often ashamed and hide their behavior. A parent at the conference told me that after months of invasive testing for her daughter's alarming hair loss, the specialists were stumped. By chance, one doctor's receptionist said the girl might have Trich. It was only then she confessed to pulling out chunks of her hair with her own hands. 

Although there is no cure for this disorder, it can be controlled using behavioral therapies. My daughter still pulls. Her lash-less eyes look so vulnerable and unprotected, like a newborn mouse. Other moms say I'm lucky that she started so young. I am still her best friend and the guardian of her secrets. Now that I know what Trich is, she won't suffer alone.

With a Perspective, I'm Wendy Angus.