Adele Dumont on The Pulling

Article | Issue: Feb 2024

ADELE DUMONT is an Australian writer and critic. Her memoir The Pulling is an intimate and moving book that explores the author’s affliction with mental illness and how this has led to feelings of shame and isolation. AKINA HANSEN writes. 

 

From an early age Adele Dumont played with her hair, singling out strands on her head and pulling. A seemingly harmless habit that would later develop into something compulsive and secretive. 

The clinical term for this is ‘Trichotillomania’ and it’s a mental illness where people feel irresistible urges to pull out their own hair. For Adele this urge of pulling manifests as pulling hair from her scalp, but for others this can range from their eyelashes, eyebrows to anywhere on the body where hair is present. 

‘I personally have quite a severe form of the condition. When I start pulling, I very quickly enter what is probably best described as a “trance”. In this state, I’m completely at the mercy of my compulsions,’ shares Adele. 

The term Trichotillomania was first coined by French physician Hallopeau, and it’s derived from the Greek ‘trich’ (hair), ‘tillo’ (pull) and ‘mania’ (madness). 

‘I don’t love the term trichotillomania – it’s a very ugly and very clinical-sounding word. I prefer to think of what I do as pulling: to me this word conveys the mental pull of
the urge, as well as the physical action,’ says Adele. 

For decades Adele kept her illness secret from her family and friends, which is not uncommon for people who are afflicted with this condition. Many people, including Adele, experience intense feelings of shame and isolation around their hair-pulling. 

‘I have an extremely complicated relationship with this condition. I hate it; I’m ashamed of it; I’m tortured by it. But also, it’s become my own private, intimate, and almost magical space, and so it’s very hard not to keep returning.’

However, in 2018 Adele decided that she would try writing about her illness, in part to help people in her life better understand her but also to share her story with other people suffering with the same condition.  

‘I purchased a special journal expressly for the task, devoted a hiding spot to it in my room, and even then, it took me several pages of stalling to so much as mention the thing. It felt like this secret was not just unspeakable, but un-writeable, too.’

Her book The Pulling is the result, and it’s a memoir that looks at her compulsive hair-pulling, taking the reader from her youth into adulthood. 

‘As a society, I think we’re still not comfortable talking about the uglier or scarier aspects of mental illness. I was afraid to get into the nitty-gritty when describing my compulsions, for fear of the reader feeling “disgusted”, but nor did I want to sanitise my reality.’ 

The Pulling provides readers with an intimate look at how this compulsion has consumed much of Adele’s life, shedding light on the impacts of trauma, shame and stigma. It was important to Adele to bring attention to this condition, particularly due to the limited knowledge and understanding the wider community has about hair-pulling.  

‘People’s ignorance around Trichotillomania is hardly surprising, given the dearth of personal accounts out there. But this ignorance means those with this condition often suffer in isolation and, of course this only exacerbates and perpetuates our sense of shame.’

Surprisingly then, when Adele began researching, she discovered that despite the widespread ignorance about this condition, historically hair-pulling has been observed and documented for several thousands of years. 

‘Hippocrates (who’s often considered the father of medicine), advised doctors to routinely assess for hair-pulling among other symptoms. And in literature, references to hair-pulling abound in the context of emotional turmoil – in my book I’ve included examples from The Bible, The Iliad and Shakespeare.’ 

Yet there is a lack of personal literature available on hair-pulling. The stigma surrounding mental illness has often led to the silencing of voices, resulting in a lack of dialogue and spread of false assumptions. Indeed, Adele finds that most people trivialise the condition and lack an understanding about just how debilitating it can be. 

‘I imagine that people unfamiliar with this condition might wonder why someone like me can’t simply stop. I don’t know that they’d ask that of someone with, say, an alcohol addiction. Hair-pulling is impossibly difficult to stop, because you carry your hair around with you, it’s free, and the gratification is immediate. From a social perspective, it might be maladaptive, but it represents a reliable way to ease anxiety (even if it’s a very temporary and regrettable fix),’ she says. 

For Adele telling her story in all its unwavering detail and specificity was a deeply satisfying and important experience. 

‘It’s kind of thrilling that my secretive, wordless, lonely compulsions now exist in paper form, and that other people can engage with these experiences, and possibly even identify with them, or learn something from them.’ 

While conversations surrounding mental health have come a long way since Adele was a child, it’s evident there is still a long way to go. The Pulling however is an important step in opening up the conversation and awareness around hair-pulling. 

‘Viktor Shklovsky famously said that “Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived”. I hope to have done this for hair.  At the same time, I hope to have made something as strange as my illness more familiar to readers, more human.’ 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adele Dumont author 2Adele Dumont is an Australian writer and critic. Her work has appeared in various publications including Griffith Review, Meanjin, and Southerly. Adele’s first book, No Man is an Island, is an account of her experiences teaching English to asylum seekers in detention. Adele lives in Sydney, where she works as an English language teacher and examiner. When she needs a break from text and from screens, she enjoys baking, bushwalking, and eavesdropping.

Visit the publisher’s website

Author: Adele Dumont

Category: Coming Soon, Non-Fiction

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Scribe

ISBN: 9781922585912

RRP: $29.99

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