January 7, 2017

Trichotillomania and Me

I want to start off by saying that this is something I’ve kept to myself for years and years. I’ve never really been open or vocal about it to anyone, not even my family. Over the past few weeks I’ve built up my confidence in regards to discussing it and hopefully I can help someone else. Here’s to strength and overcoming!

When I was 8, my family and I moved to a new neighborhood in a new part of town. I was happy but of course, I was a shy kid. My 3rd grade year at my new elementary school was fine, I met new friends, my classmates were really diverse and interesting, and I excelled academically. Still it was a unsettling experience to be somewhere new. The next year, I remember the teasing increased and my confidence decreased. I don’t remember the exact day I started pulling, but since then I’ve been pulling.

Trichotillomania is a disorder where you compulsively pull or pick your hair. Common areas are the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, arms, legs and underarms. It can be caused by many different factors such as stress, anxiety, depression or even just boredom. I believe I started pulling due to being teased and also being bored. I don’t remember the day I started pulling but I know it started at school. In order to ignore my reality and distract myself I’d pull. It gave my hands something to do, it gave my mind an alternate route, it gave me something to focus on besides my school reality. I’d pull my eyebrows and arm hair. I loved my scalp hair too much to even consider pulling it and I rarely pulled at home because my home life was amazing and I was never bored. My 4th grade school picture shows me with patchy, barely there eyebrows. A couple years after I started pulling at school, I started pulling at home because it was a habit. I was also a pre-teen and very hormonal so many things set my emotions off. My parents hid tweezers and fingernail clippers from me because I’d use them to pull my brows and lashes, but I still had my fingers! I’d still pull but I tried to hide it from them, even though it was noticeable. When I didn’t have brows, I would always try to beat people to the punch when it came to discussing them. I always make sure to mention the fact that I was browless so they wouldn’t notice or ask “Where are your eyebrows?!”

About 6 or 7 years ago, I was working with someone and we were talking casually. She mentioned the fact that she had trichotillomania. I had no clue that what I had been doing for years had an actual name or that it was a disorder. Once she described it to me, I immediately said, “I have that too!!”. I was so happy that I met someone who pulled just like me. I didn’t feel as weird or crazy. As I said before, I have kept it to myself because it is embarrassing. When I was pulling I felt invisible, I felt like I was in my own world, I thought no one could see me but of course that wasn’t the case. When I was in middle school someone confronted me about my pulling. She asked me, “What’s wrong with your brows? Why do you pull them? Doesn’t it hurt?” I felt like a Martian. I felt like that weird kid that everyone avoids because they’re weird. I realized that everyone could see me and I tried so hard to not pull anymore because I was 13 and the last thing I wanted to be was weird...Unless weird was cool. At the time it wasn’t. Note: School was the only place where I’d pull publicly. I’ve never pulled around my friends and I don’t pull publicly at all anymore.

When you mention “hair pulling” or “skin pulling” people are instantly repulsed. They start to get ideas about your cleanliness, your sanity, and even if you’re a good person or not. I’m not a psychopath, sociopath nor mentally unstable, I just pull hair. This is why I don’t talk about it. I’ve read the rude, insensitive comments and I’ve heard them in person. I have many other flaws and this one just added to the pile.

Fast forward to today, 12 years later. Due to the fact that my body produces extra testosterone (thanks body!), I have a little more facial hair than average. It’s not extremely noticeable but it’s there. If I just so happened to touch my face and felt a hair, I’d immediately start picking. About a month ago, I decided I wasn’t going to pull. I want eyebrows and I want lashes. I don’t want to pull or pick. I’m no longer in the place I was all those years ago and I do it now purely out of habit and still sometimes boredom. I used a hair removal facial cream to rid of all the hair on my face (excluding my brows and lashes) so I won’t pull them. I went cold turkey and although I have pulled a few stray brow hairs, I haven’t done a mass pull in a month. Everyday I look and the mirror and I’m in awe, I want to cry because I finally have brows, something I haven’t had since I was a child. It has taken *so much* willpower for me to get to this point and I am so proud of myself! I am surprised that I stopped pulling so quickly. It scares me because I don’t know what to do if I start to pull again. How do I get back to the place of not pulling? I’m just going to take it a day at a time and continue to pat myself on the back whenever I get through another day. I still pull my lashes, but I’m working on it. I definitely don’t pull my lashes as much as I pulled my brows. Still...

Although this is not all the complete details in regards to my trichotillomania, this is the meat and potatoes. As I said, it’s still a sensitive subject for me and going into the nitty gritty details would have me very uncomfortable.

If you’re going through trich, there are lots of support groups out there. There’s an Instagram and Facebook page and countless websites. I’d also be so happy to hear from you and about your experiences with pulling. I have heard that therapy and medication have helped but I’m not sure if there’s one true cure. Whatever the remedy may be, I think it’s all in the mind over matter. You’re only going to stop when your mind and body are ready and that’s okay! Way easier said than done, I know. I have a long way to go, but everyday I hope I’m getting closer to becoming an ex-puller.