trichotillomania - "trich" for short. a compulsive act of ripping or pulling one's hair out, one by one. it's been classified as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Impulse Control Disorder (ICD), and Body-Focused Repetitive Disorder (BFRD). whatever the label, it really sucks.
chances are we all know someone who is plagued by this seemingly uncontrollable urge to pull out ones hair - eyelashes, eyebrows, head hair, arm hair, and more. it is quite a nightmare, not being able to find the strength to stop oneself from pulling hair out, no matter how hard one tries. we may not know that we know someone out there like that, but they are everywhere. from every country, every culture, every background and social status.they hide behind makeup, hats, bandannas, or even just stay away from social situations.
i should know, as i am one of these people. for over 20 years i pulled out my lashes and brows (mainly, not exclusively). for over 20 years, through the nightmare that is puberty and the insecurity that is trying to transition to adulthood - i had no hair on my face, no way of batting my eyes to flirt, no way of expressing my emotions of surprise or disdain without drawing attention to my heavily pencilled in eye makeup. for decades i struggled with making eye contact with others. i feared and avoided swimming. i ran away in shame whenever someone asked me about why i looked so different. one of my teachers ridiculed me in front of my 6th grade class. my mom was embarrassed, my dad disappointed. growing up was not a joyous time for me. i always felt ugly on the outside and inside, since i didn't understand why i was ripping out my hair, yet i was unable to stop.
why do we do it? why can't we stop? this question plagues us more than you can possibly imagine. the short answer is that it feels good. it feels awesome. the act of pulling a hair out stimulates our brain, secretes some kind of pleasure-triggering or soothing, numbing hormone that is instantly gratifying. a relief. a breath of calmness. the satisfaction after scratching an itch. it is like an addiction - feels awesome in the moment, but later on you have so many regrets. yet you always come back to it. life is stressful? pull some hair and feel better. anxiety attack? nothing like the soothing trance of pulling out hair after hair to distract us from the stress. bored? mmmm, pulling out hairs sure passes the time in a self-soothing way, no matter how much we hate it later.
i am grateful that the internet has made it possible for people like me to reach out to each other, to find each other and share our struggles and stories. when i was little, it seemed like i was the only one doing this - i was the only freak at school, the only freak in my family. well, it turns out millions of people suffer from this - IN SILENCE! well, no more! thank you WWW!
here is a list of resources for people (trichsters and their loved ones)-
TLC - the Trichotillomania Learning Center: a brilliant resource of information, community, and education. there is a lot of information on the latest research and breakthroughs, treatments, and resources for families and friends who want to support their fellow hair pullers. there is also information on skin picking and nail biting - similar compulsions that manifest in other ways. this website can also point you in the right direction to find local support groups and medical professionals that are trich-specific.
Trich World - an online community where many "trichsters" share their stories, videos, ideas and struggles
Daily Strength: Trichotillomania Support Group - a self-help website community where many of us share our concerns, advice, and make connections. it is a VERY active site! i love it here, and found the kind of support that helped me start to recover from hair pulling.
Daily Strength: Beating Trich - this is a more diary-like part of the Daily Strength website, dedicated to each trichster's own experiences with hair pulling and efforts to control, curb, and stop. you can learn a lot from others, and it really can help you to feel normal and accepted to see that you are not alone.
recovery - it is possible! the hardest part about recovering from this affliction is figuring out what works for you! everyone is different, unique in their hair-pulling habits, so each one of us has to really self explore to find out what works best for us. most often, a combination of approaches is most effective. here is my advice...
awareness: first and foremost, we all need to become aware of what we do with our hands. we need to recognize the feelings we are having when we want to pull our hair: anxious? stressed? sad? frustrated? bored? facing those feelings and situations can help us know when we are most vulnerable, so we can be prepared to face it head-on, instead of soothing ourselves by pulling hair. we need to understand that this is NOT our fault, that this is indeed a diagnosed disorder that we cannot control with ease. facing this demon, instead of hiding from it, is an invaluable tool in preparing oneself to take the steps to recover from it. keeping a diary can be very helpful. recording when you pull, what you're doing, how you're feeling, what time it is - all tools to help you become aware of yourself. it can be quite a surprise!
location, location, location: part of awareness. identifying WHERE you pull your hair is extremely important. i can't tell you how many of us pull our hair while reading, or on the computer, or watching TV, or sitting alone at work/school/library. finding out where you are vulnerable is key to knowing your own pulling patterns, to being prepared to stop them before they take control - with barriers and techniques (read below), with awareness. i always had my barriers next to my computer and by my books. as soon as my hands went up to my face, i'd slap them on and protect myself from my unconscious urges. nothing like "finger condoms" to save the day!
barriers: these are physical objects that we use to retrain our roaming hands. whether they are band aids or medical tape to cover up your fingers and fingernails. or knubby laundry balls to tug at with your fingers. or gloves to cover your hands. or soft, furry toys that are fun to pet and possibly yank hairs off of. or stress balls to squeeze. or charm bracelets and other tactile jewelry that is fun to touch, and can start replacing our need to touch hair. barriers are endless, you must try everything you can think of! i used to groom my cats while watching TV - i know, it's kinda gross sounding but hey, my kitties liked mommy taking care of them, and i enjoyed NOT grooming my own face for a change. it was a symbiotic, helpful thing for all involved!
techniques: this is a very diverse one, more action-oriented than barriers! many techniques automatically compromise your hands so they are not available for touching hair. they are as limitless as barriers, you just have to try as many as possible till you find the right ones that work best for you. everyone is different! some techniques that work for people. exercise: gets rid of tension, helps to keep your entire body busy, and is healthy for you emotionally as well. some people swear by running, others by yoga - there are many options! crafting and being creative: i make jewelry - believe it or not this is part of my own trich therapy! other people i know knit, sew, draw/paint, play music, etc - whatever keeps their hands occupied in positive ways! going outside ASAP: for a lot of us, pulling in public is an instant no-no, so being out in the open actually protects us - going to a coffee shop or a bookstore or a park, or library, friend's house, etc. manicures: hey, sometimes covering up those nails is all it takes. there's nothing wrong with spoiling oneself in the name of a cause such as this! tweezer lovers - stick those babies in some water and put them in the freezer! that's right, you can only thaw them out for emergencies, if you really want to take all that time to to get them out from the ice, the entire time being aware of what you are just about to do. please note: microwaving them is a FAIL! writing: if it isn't blatant from this blog post, this one is really helpful for me.
techniques are there to BREAK the pulling pattern (as are barriers), to interrupt the hair touching process. i know people who have changed their diet to include healthier foods, that apparently affect their moods and ability to cope (plus, the better one's health is, i believe, the easier it is to cope with life's challenges). one of my own techniques was literally yelling at my hands. i would be sitting at my computer, and as soon as my fingers touched my face, i'd yell "oh HELL NO!" and a few choice expletives. doing something that bizarre really helped me to be aware and to change whatever i was doing to make me more vulnerable. another technique i used a lot was.... doing dishes!! and cleaning the house. the first few weeks of my attempts to employ awareness and stopping my own pulling patterns were probably the most clean, tidy moments in my household. one other technique i found helpful was writing to other trichsters in support groups - it kept my hands busy, and my barriers were easy to use while typing. it really made me feel good to help other people, it boosted my self esteem and made me feel stronger. i highly attribute my ability to recover to being there for them. just in case this insanely long post isn't obvious enough!!
forgiveness: trichotillomania is not our fault, it was never our choice. one day we pulled out a hair, realized it felt great, and before we knew it, we'd made ourselves bald and confused and ashamed, yet still finding comfort in the pleasure of the pull. we need to forgive ourselves for our inability to control our urges. we need to love ourselves and our efforts to stop this hair pulling. we need to forgive ourselves when we falter, when we forget to block our urges, or when we have a moment of weakness. it took you a long time to get to where you are, it will take some time to change it. don't lose hope, it is possible. but if you punish yourself every time you falter, you will end up in the same pulling cycle you are trying to stop. self-guilt is the most unhelpful emotion out there. reaching out to other people with trich can really help to boost your own self-esteem, self-worth, and inner strength. i really recommend it!
therapy: there are therapists out there that specialize in treating disorders of the compulsive type, like trich. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a very handy therapeutic approach that helps to re-train your brain - breaking your negative patterns, both in physical habit and internal thought, and replacing them with more positive behaviours. i highly recommend it! it is worth doing research to find good doctors - any of the above websites can point you in the right direction.
medication: for some people, this really helps. personally, i do not opt for meds for myself, but i respect and encourage those who feel that they need it to go ahead and try it. many anti-anxiety and anti-depressants out there can be helpful in curbing our pulling urges. just by helping our moods and coping mechanisms in the unpredictability of life can reduce some of the emotional triggers that push us towards hair pulling.
baby steps and rewarding yourself: beating trich is hard! i mean, crazy life-changing hard! with that being said, start slow. as slow as you want. setting up small goals for yourself at first. examples of goals: "I will wear gloves anytime I read and sit at the computer for a week. I may pull, but I will try not to - and I will NOT punish myself if I do" or "I won't pull a single hair out for the next 2 hours" or "I'm going to walk around everywhere with a notepad and pen, and write down whenever I feel like pulling" or "If I make it 2 days without pulling a hair, I'm treating myself to a facial/spa/lap dance [anything that brings you joy]". whatever feels right! for some people, not pulling a hair is too hard, so i encourage even starting off by just becoming more aware, and focusing on accepting that when you pull, you are not entirely in control - and to not feel guilt or negative emotions towards yourself. just letting go of that negativity, accepting that this is a disorder, can sometimes relieve a burden you didn't realize was weighing you down. step by step, you can get stronger, more ambitious with your goals. slip-ups can happen - it's only natural. don't forget, you're human! no matter what, keeping the efforts strong is what will carry you through. i slipped up a lot in my journey, and i found that writing to people online helped me to stay focused on my goals and not feel bad about myself. people like us are always there to cheer us on! results take time - often many months. patience, my friends!
ending this post: it seems impossible... but i will try! i just have a lot to say about my experiences with trich.
i "recovered" from trich, or at least gained control of my pulling, a year and a half ago. i managed to grow eyelashes and eyebrows for the first time in my adult life. it was fabulous! i had to youtube "mascara application technique" joyously! it was my dad's dying wish that i have eyelashes, and though he didn't live to see me like this, i feel his pride from the inside. currently i have slipped up with my brows and am struggling to grow part of them back. i've got my techniques and barriers always at the ready, i forgive myself for any slip up, and recognize that my current challenge is in awareness. my life is overwhelmed (aren't we all) with other health and personal concerns, and my focus has suffered. but i know that deep inside, and will not punish myself. i will only commit to trying harder, and harder. i know i will be in full control again!
oh, and if you made it this far, i have partnered with TLC to donate to them 10% of all my Flaming Bling store sales via their website. to anyone that has read this post, it applies as well! just message me at checkout and i will adjust the invoice!