Life with Trichotillomania

I can't remember the actual first time I pulled out my eyelashes and eyebrows. The only way I can figure out the general year is the difference between my 5th & 6th grade photos: hair vs little to no hair. I do remember feeling like a crazy person at the time. Crying and standing in my parents walk in closet (I don't know why I chose that spot) and praying for help to stop (also strange because I wasn't religious but I must have felt like that's what you do when you feel like you have no one who could understand what you're going through and completely helpless in a situation)

At that time, 1996, there was no Google around to tell my why I was doing this to myself. Why I was pulling out my eyelashes and eyebrows that I desperately wanted to keep and yet compulsively could NOT stop pulling out. I didn't feel like I could confide in anyone because who could make sense of this strange behavior?

A shirt I embroidered representing Trich

A shirt I embroidered representing Trich

I spent countless hours bent over the counter in my bathroom, inches from the mirror examining each and every hair. Removing all the wrong ones, too long, too short, too blunt, bent the wrong way or slightly loose. In those moments the gratification of removing a hair outweighed every logical thought. They have to be pulled. And it feels good. There's such satisfaction in removing that hair, looking at it in your fingers then letting it fall to the ground followed by almost immediate regret. Yet I'll continue to pull more.

This has been my life now for 23 years. Some days, some months even, are better than others but inevitably I pull. It's heartbreaking and exhausting. You do so well and resist for so long, you see progress and then it's all gone in a matter of minutes. So discouraging.

An old photo I took to document my pulling.

An old photo I took to document my pulling.

I remember being asked as a young teen if I was getting chemo treatments, being forced to let a girl count my eyelashes because she thought I was so weird, not to mention all the activities I felt unable to participate in for fear of my makeup washing off and revealing I had no eyebrows. Sleepovers were so uncomfortable, swimming underwater was not an option. My self esteem was crushed.

Once I started attending college I began researching my condition and discovered it had a name: Trichotillomania. I felt a wave of relief somehow knowing I was not alone and finding it so intriguing that all of us who pull have such similar thoughts about the process. How interesting the brain is! How could we all be feeling the same way? Almost everything I read could have come straight from my mouth. The unfortunate thing I discovered is that there appears to be no cure, no proven treatment. Lot's of supposed success stories who overcame it and all you have to do is take their course or buy their book for $500. I can't believe it. Coming from someone who pulls and knows the emotional and physical strain this has caused in my life you can bet that if I figured out a way to cure this I'd be shouting it from the rooftops and helping anyone I could for free. No one should have to struggle with it and I find those supposed cures very suspicious.

In saying that I have spent a lot of time and money trying to find my own way to overcome it. Cognitive behavioral therapy, daily journals, cutting my nails painfully short to prevent pulling, getting acrylic nails when that didn't work. Removing or covering all the mirrors in my home even medication. All to no avail. I'm still experimenting with natural supplements but have yet to see any results.

At one point a few years ago I came to an unsettling realization that maybe there was a part of me that didn't want to stop. After all these years I had identified myself as a hair puller. I spent all of my developing years feeling insecure and unhappy with the way I looked. Hating what I saw in the mirror. What if someday I did stop pulling, all my hair grew back, and I still felt terrible about myself? Right now when I feel bad I can blame the fact that I've pulled out most of my eyelashes and eyebrows and tell myself if they were there I would feel better. But what if I didn't? I felt upset and mostly ashamed of how vain I could be. I had to stop letting the amount of hair dictate my value. To look at myself differently regardless of physical appearance. I've never judged anyone based on their appearance so why was I being so hard on myself? And honestly most people don't even notice the lack of hair until I point it out. Even then the reactions are not as they were from my childhood, people are generally understanding and above all interested and supportive.

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Now, at 34 years old, I may still be pulling but I'm not so hard on myself. I've also had my eyebrows microbladed multiple times and my eyeliner tattooed. It makes me feel more comfortable and relieves some of the stress when I pull too many hairs. I talk openly about trichotillomania to anyone who is interested or struggling with it as well because although I have no answers sometimes just supporting each other is enough.

A before and immediately after having my eyebrows microbladed. They are covered in a serum in this photo.

A before and immediately after having my eyebrows microbladed. They are covered in a serum in this photo.

If you are in Portland, Oregon I recommend Permanent Cosmetics NW. If you are in New Orleans I recommend Beso Makeup.

A closeup of my tattooed eyeliner done in Portland. I asked him to tattoo as close as possible to the lash line.

A closeup of my tattooed eyeliner done in Portland. I asked him to tattoo as close as possible to the lash line.