Hawaii-born woman with secret disorder wants to give others hope

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A Hawaii-born woman who has lived much of her life with a disorder wants others to know they aren’t alone.

For 19 years, Noelani Jai lived with a dark secret.

“I was very involved with people and they didn’t know this deep dark side of me. So everywhere I went, I’m always fussing to make sure my secret is covered up,” Jai said.

That secret was an impulse control disorder known as Trichotillomania — individuals have an overwhelming urge to pull out their hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows.

“We often get asked, ‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ And the problem is it doesn’t hurt,” Jai said.

She was my classmate at Kamehameha Schools and none of us knew.

“Absolutely was petrified when we had to take swimming at Kamehameha,” Jai said.

An estimated four out of every 100 people are coping with the closet disorder that has no cure. Most live in shame.

“Trich has affected every part of my life. I actually kept my hair pulling secret from my husband for 13 years of our relationship,” Jai said.

In 1997, she made an appearance on the Channel 2 Morning News and shared her secret with the world.

“It was unnerving, but I also felt that I could not be quiet about it because I could not imagine anyone in Hawaii going one more day thinking that they were alone and they were crazy like I had for 19 years,” Jai said.

She formed a support group and started touching lives.

“Ninety-nine percent of my healing came just from coming out of the closet on television and then connecting with people there in Hawaii who shared my struggle,” Jai said. “Just to show you the effect it’s had on me, I take out my Hawaiian flower, but this is where I pull from, which is exclusively on the scalp. So I have a little hair piece to give height, but I pull from the crown and this is not an uncommon look for people with trich to have the crown missing, so it kind of has the monk look. And so this is where I have a hard time keeping my hands out of.”

In 2001, she moved to California where she continues to counsel children and continues to heal. The support group in Hawaii has since dissolved and she’s hoping someone who may be suffering quietly has the strength to step forward.

“If you have trich and you’re out there watching this, I also want you to know that there is hope. There’s a lot of support and you’re not alone,” Jai said.

For more information on Trichotillomania, visit www.trich.org.

Anyone interested in starting and maintaining a support group in Hawaii can go to the website or contact Noelani Jai at (714) 465-9054.

Trichotillomania and Skin Picking Disorder Awareness Week is from Oct. 1-7.

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