Trichotillomania: The Compulsion to Pull Out Hair and Eyelashes
What Is Trichotillomania?
Here's the obligatory, easily-understood definition for those who don't know what trichotillomania is:
Trichotillomania (I prefer Trich or Trichy) is a strong, often uncontrollable urge to pull out your own hair.
Pulling out your hair is the only factor common to every person diagnosed with this disorder. Often, the disorder is self-diagnosed, although sometimes it is diagnosed by a medical doctor or a psychologist.
The symptoms vary greatly among those diagnosed. I pull out eyelashes, eyebrows, and all short hairs that I consider "out of place." Some people pull out scalp hair. Some use their fingers while others use tweezers. Some just pull their hair, some rub it between their fingers, and some eat it (that one's called trichophagia).
The causes also vary. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence. Pulling often occurs when we are anxious, concentrating, looking in a mirror, or just plain bored.
My Name Is Lashes, and I Have Trichotillomania
As I said, I pull out my eyelashes and eyebrows. Sometimes little hairs on my stomach or on one of those gross moles or "beauty marks" that grow hair. I go back and forth between using tweezers and using my thumb and middle finger.
I'm writing for a couple of reasons. First, I want to share my own experiences to show that myself and fellow trichsters are not alone. I also hope that by paying attention to myself and chronicling my actions, I can become more aware of when I pull and eventually decrease the compulsion. Finally, and most importantly, I want to start a discussion based on experience and suggestion that can help all of us trichsters find solutions together! Yay for boundless idealism!
So, feel free to comment. Post responses, suggestions, rants, whatever will help either you or someone else deal with trichy a little better.
A couple of small steps for trich, one giant leap for trichster-kind.
Becoming Self-Aware: The First Step to Freedom
I think that one of the most important ways to deal with having trich (or any kind of disorder) is to be aware of the ways it affects you. I've made some discoveries about my trichy tendencies.
A while ago, I was doing some reading (one of my biggest pulling triggers) on the couch in my apartment. I was eating Cheez-Its out of the box in a very repetitive way. Hand goes in the box; hand goes to my mouth. Lather, rinse, repeat. When I had finished the box, I realized that I hadn't pulled any hairs out since starting to eat the crackers. Maybe the cheesy goodness was distracting me, but I think part of why snacking seemed to replace the pulling was because of the repetitive nature of it.
Pulling out eyelashes, for me, is a repetitive action. I pull, look at the hair, rub it between my fingers, flick it away. Pull, look, rub, flick. Over and over. Sometimes, like when I'm snacking, the repetitive hand movements of pulling is temporarily replaced. I think this may be a key to helping combat my pulling compulsion. Maybe not eating constantly, because that's not much healthier than pulling out eyelashes, but doing something that keeps my hands busy.
I've found the simple act of changing my environment sometimes works to stop or at least delay pulling—especially if I'm in the middle of a pulling spree. For example, when I'm pulling eyelashes, sometimes I get up and take my contact lenses out. Other simple suggestions to stop pulling could be:
- Sitting up if you are lying down.
- Filing your nails.
- Putting on a ring.
- Changing your hairstyle.
- Putting on hand lotion.
- Taking a shower.
Pulling is all about the repetition and the monotony. Break the pattern and take control by changing something that you can control.
I'm not much into biblical allusions, but I am into pithy aphorisms that give great advice. "Know thyself" is excellent advice for trichsters. You have to be self-aware and recognize your triggers for pulling to be able to overcome them.
For me, I know that when I lean my elbows on a desk, table, or any flat surface that I'm using to read or work, my hand is at just the right position to reach my eyelashes. And that's a bad thing. So I try to read leaning back with my arms stretched out. Just to be safe, I'll put something small in both hands to try to distract them from the compulsion to pull. I wouldn't have been able to find these tricks if I didn't know myself. Preventing myself from starting is much easier than trying to stop in the middle of a pulling spree.
If you can recognize when you pull, and just as importantly, when you DON'T pull, I think that is one of the first steps to changing your behavior.
A True Compulsion
Maybe others with trichotillomania will identify with this, and even if you don't have trich, you may be able to understand compulsion. We all have our little quirks.
What do I do with the hair once I pull it out? I put it in piles. Sometimes the pile goes on my desk, and I see a nest of tiny, spiky, black lashes in front of my computer. Sometimes I let them fall into the binding of the book I'm reading, for me to find later. When I pull in front of a mirror, I put the sticky end of the hair follicle onto the wall or door and make a vertical pulling pile.
I have certain spots where I always pull. Trichsters are nothing if not creatures of habit. I make giant piles of lashes and eyebrows, the remnants of multiple pulling instances. The piles are like memories of me; evidence that I was there. Maybe it would be better for my health if I just scrawled, "LASHES WAS HERE" in big letters.
Part of my trich is an obsession with everything being "right." In that way, I do see a resemblance to obsessive-compulsive disorder. I pull new, tiny hairs because they feel stubbly and like they don't belong. I feel the tiny hair, either with my fingertips or because my eyelid itches, and I really, really, really want to pull it out. It doesn't "feel right." In my mind, it doesn't belong.
The piles are part of the obsession with feeling and looking right. It's hard to explain. I want everything in its place, or more specifically, in the right place. It doesn't "look right" for a random eyelash here, an eyebrow there. The forlorn, fallen follicles (I love alliteration) need to stay together.
This is my attempted rationalization.
Not Everyone Will Be Understanding
I tried to explain some of my internal reasonings to a psychologist once. In reference to one particular rationalization, I said, "I guess that one makes a little more sense."
His insensitive, abrupt response? "Well, none of it makes sense to me."
That was the last time I went to see him.
I guess I understand now what he was trying to do. He was trying to show me that, for all my rationalizing, trichotillomania isn't something that's rational. It isn't something I should make excuses for, and it isn't "normal" behavior. In fact, it's destructive behavior. We have hair for a reason.
But he could have been a little more sensitive. Find a therapist or psychologist who is understanding, helpful, and works well with your personality. There are really good ones out there.
Reactions to Trichotillomania
Most of my friends have been supportive. The most common reaction I get when I say I have trichotillomania is, "Huh?" When I explain what it is, most people are initially fascinated and have never heard of such a disorder existing. After a moment, though, most people remember someone they know who has no eyebrows or who pulls out their eyelashes or hair.
Some of my closer friends who know about it, yell at me or hit me when they see my hand moving towards my face because they know it's often subconscious for me. Sometimes I thank them for it, and sometimes I get angry. Maybe it's because I'm embarrassed at being caught. I know they are just trying to help.
The person in my life with the reaction most upsetting to me is my mother. She doesn't nag me or yell at me about it, but she sometimes talks to me about how sad it makes her that I pull out my eyelashes. That makes me feel worse than if she would nag me or tell me I'm ugly without eyelashes (okay, that would hurt, too). She constantly urges me to see a psychologist, saying that I can't just pull out my eyelashes my whole life. I tell her that obviously, I don't want to do it, but some people DO have it on and off their whole lives. That doesn't mean I'm not trying to stop pulling or at least reduce it. Sometimes disappointment and sadness hurt worse than shock or disgust.
Final Words of Advice
We are not victims. It may feel like trichotillomania is controlling your life, pushing you into an inescapable corner. I often feel like that. But you must remember that while suffering from trich is not a choice, taking steps towards relief is.