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Amador grad highlights problem that is widespread but unknown

Affliction means literally pulling one's hair out

Jillian Corsie, a 2005 Amador Valley High grad, was in middle school when she noticed that a good friend of hers didn't have any eyebrows or eyelashes. Her friend finally confided that she had an unquenchable desire to pull her hair out.

"When you're 12, life is already awful," Corsie said. "I was really concerned for her, less about the pulling, and more about how alone she must have felt. Years later, I was thinking, 'What was that?' I wanted to learn more."

The medical term is trichotillomania. Sufferers call themselves "trichsters" -- that is, if they go public and admit they have the compulsion.

Corsie, who has a degree in media arts production, could not forget about the struggles of her friend and felt compelled to publicize the disorder. She is just completing a documentary film on the subject, titled "Trichster."

"Trichotillomania is two to three times more common than eating disorders," Corsie said, yet it remains unknown. It usually begins at ages 11 to 13, and 15 million people in the United States suffer from it.

Corsie went to University of Arizona, where she made a short film on trichotillomania, and upon graduation immediately moved to New York. After a short gig at MTV, she became an assistant editor at Fluid, an editorial studio offering post-production services such as music, sound design and audio mixing.

"I started working on 'Trichster' on the side," Corsie said, remembering that originally, in 2011, she planned a short documentary that might take three months.

"But the more I started talking to people, the more interest it was garnering," Corsie said, noting that the first round of crowdfunding online raised $12,000. "We got donations from 15 different countries ... and emails from girls thanking me for what I'm doing."

First she reached out to a support group in New York to find people to interview.

"I told them what we were hoping to do and went out for coffee with a few people," Corsie recalled. "Some were really enthusiastic and wanted to be involved."

She also contacted Rebecca Brown, a British woman, now 22, who has become somewhat famous on YouTube for her trichotillomania, including a six-and-a-half year time-lapse video.

Corsie chose seven subjects for her documentary, including Brown, which follows their lives and struggles over the course of a year.

"I wanted them to be relatable. I didn't want them to come off as freaks," Corsie said. "This disorder is so different from person to person -- 99% of the people I've met would not say it defines them."

Corsie also got in touch with the Trichotillomania Learning Center in Santa Cruz.

Before allowing her access to a retreat in Santa Cruz, the founder grilled Corsie to establish her intentions because there has been a lot of sensationalism on the subject.

"I heard terrible stories but I also heard some great stories," Corsie said of her research. "One girl I met online when we first started shooting, she was completely bald and so depressed and in a terrible state. I met her eight months later and she'd been pull-free for seven months. I saw her last year and she had hair down to her shoulders -- she'd completely transformed herself."

Corsie's co-workers at Fluid also took an ardent interest in the project and offered their profession services for free for the music composition, the audio mix, and graphic design and color.

As the documentary progressed, it consumed more and more of her time, and Corsie resigned her position at Fluid.

"It was a really hard decision but 'Trichster' was becoming more and more important to me," Corsie said. "As it became more important, I wore myself out. I was ready to come back to California."

Jillian moved back into the Birdland home of her parents, Sharon and Gordon Corsie, and set up an editing office where she dedicated herself to the documentary full time. A few weeks ago, she relocated to Los Angeles, and she expects to complete the final editing this month.

Corsie hopes that "Trichster" will raise awareness of the disorder, plus help those who are suffering in silence to seek help. She said the best treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy.

"Doctors have different ideas of how to help it but there is no magic pill," she said. "I'm hoping 'Trichster' will help get the word out there -- we need people to fund the research."

"Trichotillomania Learning Center, based out of Santa Cruz, is the only legitimate place to go for help," Corsie added. "It is a nonprofit run by women -- five people are trying to help the entire United States."

"Trichster" will premiere at the Soho Film Festival in New York in May.

"That will be the big red-carpet night we've all been looking forward to for years," Corsie said. "I'll be there with four other girls who helped make this with me and hopefully a lot of the crew members -- we had 15 crew members."

The core group of five meets weekly to coordinate their duties, including budgeting, maintaining the website trichster.com, designing a poster for a film festival, and creating a new trailer.

"It's pretty incredible what we were able to do," Corsie said. "We were all at points in our careers where we were looking to do something more creative."

They have raised more than $30,000 via crowdfunding but Corsie noted that expenses are high, including applications to be in film festivals. She plans to make the film available for online streaming and eventually to put it on DVD.

ABC's "20/20" aired a special March 13 called "My Strange Affliction," with the last segment featuring trichotillomania and Corsie's documentary. "20/20" flew Corsie to New York from California to film the show, as well as Rebecca Brown from London.

"I feel like my fingers are magnets and they're attracted to my hair," Brown stated on the show. "You literally cannot stop pulling out your hair."

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Corinne
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Thanks for mentioning the Trichotillomania Learning Center, which has helped so many people across the country and even around the world! The organization's annual conference is this weekend in Arlington, VA!


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