What to Say When You Have No Eyebrows: A Guide for those with Trichotillomania
If you've never heard of Trichotillomania, you aren't alone. This condition only affects up to 1% of the people in the United States, and up to 4% of people worldwide.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Trichotillomania is considered a "body focused, repetitive behavior", it's a condition where the sufferer feels compelled to pluck their own hair out. Those with Trichotillomania struggle with the social stigma of bald patches as well as the obsessive need to remove patches of hair.
As anyone with trichotillomania knows (and anyone without it can imagine), there is a moment of horror when you look in the mirror. A moment when your stomach drops out the bottom of your feet, the world grows dark around you and your breath tightens in your chest.
Your eyebrows are missing. Or half an eyebrow. Or most of your eyelashes.
You know you did this to yourself. You know you need to stop and you mean to. But for now, today, you need to step out and face the day.
For some people with trichotillomania, the disorder manifests itself in ways that aren't too difficult to hide. Bald patches can be carefully concealed in a braid or ponytail. Long shirts, or long pants can hide patches of skin that used to be hairy. But when you are compelled to pluck hair from your facial region...well. You can't even wear a wig to cover it up. Make up can only hide so much, and false eyelashes are miserable.
Many trichotillomania sufferers are teens, and not all of them are yet adept at the art of concealing blemishes let alone missing hair. Often, trichotillomania is accompanied by anxiety issues and self conscious feelings. It's hard to be a teen. It's hard to go to school. It's hard to face your peers. Looking different makes it ten times harder, at least.
The general public doesn't always make things easier for you. There are people who will meet your eye and act like they notice nothing. (There are people who actually notice nothing) And then there are the ones who will glare at your face, point straight to your eyes and say "Hey, why don't you have any eyelashes?" or "Did you shave off your eyebrows?"
What's a person with trichotillomania to do? The truth is "I plucked them out. I have a compulsion disorder known as..." but that's not easy to say. And anyone rude enough to ask a stranger about their appearance isn't likely to care about the technicalities.
You could shrug, mumble and walk away. Most people do. Or they make something up. An accident. Genetic defect. Chemotherapy.
Then there are the witty responses. Quick comebacks can do wonders for your self esteem. They leave the other person guessing, give any innocent bystanders a quick giggle, and best of all a quick, witty comment gives the person with trichotillomania a chance to smile, turn on their heal and walk away with their head held high. After all, they aren't the ones asking rude questions to begin with.
Say it and walk away...
- I have no eyebrows? OMG, where did they go?
- Oh, drat, I must have left them in algebra, see you later!
- They're on vacation. Wish I were there too!
- Eyebrows are soooo last year, don't you think?
- Why don't I have any eyebrows? The real question is why do you.
- They slept in, and I was running late.
- Did I shave my eyebrows? No, why would I do that? I don't have any? Huh.
Keep in mind that those who are asking the questions and pointing out your difference are the weird ones. It's rude to say "Hey, you don't look like I do. Why?" It's rude to point out something that someone can't change, like a blemish, scar or missing eyebrow. So it's okay to be witty, or even slightly rude back. The trick is to say things with a smile, with just a hint of attitude and then walk away or quickly change the subject.
There are a few who don't let it go that easily. They are supposedly concerned. Not for you. For themselves. They can't help but ask...
"Is it Contagious?" or "Will I Catch It?"
You can answer, with a smile of course,
- I don't think so, but I could sneeze on you if you'd like to find out.
- Yes. Very. Haven't you noticed the epidemic?
- I'll ask my eyebrows when they come back.
Or you could stick with a simple, "No," and leave it at that.
It's frustrating to have a habit that you aren't proud of pointed out and questioned. When it comes to trichotillomania, remember that it's not your fault. Current research shows that trichotillomania is caused by an over stimulation of the hygiene area of your brain. So, it's a compulsion caused by your brain going into overdrive. Everyone has some sort of issue they aren't proud of. Trich is just harder to hide than a phobia of spiders or exceptionally bad handwriting.
In high school, especially, it's hard to be different. Kids who are insecure with themselves look for something different about those around them so they can point it out and make themselves feel less isolated. Hold your head high, stare them down, or join in with a few jokes that don't put anyone down (least of all yourself). It's hard at first, but once you get past a few initial questions, you'll earn the respect of real friends. And then they'll forget that you struggle with trichotillomania, because they'll see past it and into the real you.
Want More Information?
If you are looking for more information or need help finding a good therapist, there are a few websites dedicated to the disorder.
The TLC Foundation sponsors annual conferences about BFRBs including trichotillomania and helps people find therapists, support groups and relevant services and support.
Trichstop offers up to date information and referrals for therapy and support.