- Mental Health
Trichotillomania: The Compulsion to Pull Out Hair and Eyelashes
My name is Lashes, and I have trichotillomania
Here's the obligatory, easily-understood definition for interested parties who don't necessarily know what Trichotillomania is:
Trichotillomania (I prefer Trich or Trichy) is a strong, often uncontrollable urge to pull out your own hair. That's the only factor common to every person "diagnosed" with it. Even in the diagnosis, every person varies. Often, the "disorder" is self-diagnosed. Sometimes a medical doctor does it. Sometimes a psychologist. The symptoms vary. I pull out eyelashes, eyebrows, and all short, what I consider out of place hairs. Some pull out scalp hair. Some use fingers, some use tweezers. Some just pull the hair, some rub it between their fingers, some eat it (that one's called trichophagia). The causes also vary. For some, it starts in childhood. Others, in adolescence. Pulling can occur when we are anxious, concentrating, looking in a mirror, or just plain bored.
Like I said, I pull out my eyelashes and eyebrows. Sometimes little hairs on my stomach or on one of those gross moles/"beauty" marks that grows 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 just 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 small steps for trich, one giant leap for trichster-kind.
Trichotillomania on Amazon
Self-awareness: 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.
Awhile 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 off 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 that part of why snacking appeared to replace 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, I replace that behavior of my hands with something else. I think this might be a key in replacing my pulling compulsion with something else. Maybe not eating constantly, because that's not much healthier than pulling out eyelashes.
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.
I've found the simplest act sometimes works to stop or at least delay pulling. Especially if you're in the middle of a pulling spree.
My suggestion, obvious as it may seem, is to change something about your environment. When I'm pulling eyelashes, sometimes I have to get up and take my contact lenses out. Maybe sit up if you are lying down. File your nails. Put on a ring. Change your hairstyle. Put on hand lotion. Take a shower.
Pulling is all about the repetition, the monotony. Break the pattern and take control by changing something that you have control over.
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 pullling.
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 with my arms stretched out, leaning back. Just to be safe, I put something small in both hands to try to distract them from the compulsion to pull. Because I know myself. If I prevent myself from starting, it's much easier to continue than if I try to stop in the middle of a pulling spree.
A true compulsion
Maybe others with trichotillomania will identify with this. Even if you don't have trich, maybe you can 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 eyebrows/eyelashes onto the wall or door, 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 have been 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 the resemblance with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I pull new, tiny hairs because they feel stubbly and like they don't belong there. 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." It doesn't belong. In my mind.
The piles are part of that obsession with feeling right and looking right. It's hard to explain. I want everything in its place, 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.
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 - show me that, for all my rationalizing, trichotillomania isn't something rational, isn't something I should make excuses for, 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.
Reactions to Trich
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. They have never heard of the disorder, and are fascinated that such a thing exists. After a moment, though, most people remember someone they know who has no eyebrows or who pulls out his/her eyelashes or hair.
Some of my closer friends who know about it yell at me or hit me when they see my hand moving toward my face because they know it's so often unconscious 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 trying to help me.
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 hurts worse than shock or disgust.
We are not victims. It may feel like trichotillomania is controlling your life, pushing you into an unescapable corner. I often feel like that. But you must remember that while suffering from trich is not a choice, taking steps towards relief is.
- Trich-y Business: A Trichotillomania Blog
My personal blog on my experiences with trich
- Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling) Support Group - DailyStrength
- The Trichotillomania Learning Center
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