By Jennifer Tedder
Memoirs are a way to inhabit other people’s lives, to live in their skin and see through their eyes. It is through memoirs that I have inhabited the life of Mineka Iwosaki in Geisha. I have seen through the eyes of Edith Hahn Beer, a Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by becoming The Nazi Officer’s Wife. And though I have barely run 50 miles collectively in my lifetime, I have been in the skin of ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek thanks to Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness.
When I bought Life is Trichy: Memoir of a Mental Health Therapist with a Mental Health Disorder though, I did not read it to escape into another’s life. I read it to better understand my own. The author, Lindsey M. Muller, is a therapist who specializes in the treatment of trichotillomania. She is also a person who suffered from it for over a decade. I’m going into my seventh year with this disorder.
Until I was 26, I had not heard of trichotillomania. It is defined as an impulse control disorder characterized by the long-term urge that results in pulling one’s hair out. In practice, it is the relentless sensation of your hair not being right, of your exhausted, restless fingers constantly trying to fix it, fix it, fix it, until it’s damaged beyond repair. It’s a tender scalp and overwhelming fear that you will never be able to stop.
Until I was 26 and had reason to learn what trichotillomania was, I would have cited my hair as one of my preferred features. Unlike my skin and weight, which were constant battles, my hair was a loyal companion. I don’t know what happened to change that. Was it the medication I went on when I was 25? Was it the stress of my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis? Or had the disorder been there all along, biding its time, living in my skin, waiting for the right combination of factors to express its self?
I suppose there’s no way to know, and I didn’t read Life is Trichy to find the answer to why my battle began. Rather, I wanted the camaraderie of knowing someone else fought it, too, and most importantly, I wanted to know how she overcame it. What was the magic bullet—a shampoo? A probiotic? Talk therapy? Medication? Fidget cube? Scientology? Seriously, at this point, I’ll try anything.
Life is Trichy provides abundant camaraderie. Muller gives a heart-wrenching account of living with trichotillomania that makes me truly grateful that my own strain of it is relatively low grade. It is painful, frustrating, and sad to read about her journey, but it is reassuring and comforting. It let me know that I am not alone. Someone has dealt with this and more. There can be an end to this.
However, if you have trichotillomania, do not read this book for answers on how to find that end. Muller goes into detail about the different therapies she tried, the medications, the conventions, but ultimately, she says she managed to overcome her impulse control disorder by just giving up. She stopped fighting, and it stopped fighting back.
It is the rule of memoirs: you can only live in this person’s life for as long as they allow you. After 150-350 pages, you leave behind the world of the geisha, the Nazi officer’s wife, and the ultramarathoner. When you reach the final page of Life is Trichy, two emotions dominate. One is the satisfaction of having lived in the skin of someone who has overcome this disorder. The other is frustration because Muller does not—cannot—leave a roadmap you can follow to your own success. At the end of the 192 pages, you have to return to you own battle with no clearer idea of how to out maneuver trichotillomania than when you started.