I’m a Perfectly Normal Person (with Trichotillomania.)

One girls story of plucking, praying and finding peace.There is something I have never told anyone outside my immediate family and a very, very small circle of friends. As a matter of fact, as I once heard a little girl say, “I haven’t even told myself.” Or, I hadn’t until not long ago. Turns out, “telling myself,” and then others, was the absolute best decision.

There’s this thing I’ve dealt with nearly my entire life that I thought was just me. I thought I was alone in this, I thought it was a character flaw. I thought I was just a freak, and I used to cry myself to sleep over it, frequently. Good girls don’t have character flaws like this. They control themselves. They get over it. They grow up. I told myself.

And grow up I did. And yet, this thing stayed with me. As a matter of fact, it grew with me. It grew until it had me in a tizzy. It had me on my knees in prayer, it had me staring at myself in the mirror asking hard questions and (don’t laugh,) googling “what is wrong with me?!” Now, I’m not claiming to have been officially diagnosed. I have not sought psychological, professional help (more on that later,) but I know that I have Trichotillomania, because I live with it every day.

What is that?

Trichotillomania (trick-o-till-o-mania) is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is a disorder that causes people (like myself) to obsessively, compulsively pluck their own hair. According to the inter-webs, it’s “chronic and difficult to treat,” the peak age of onset is 9-13 years of age, it may be triggered by depression or stress, but this is unknown. It is estimated to affect 2-4% of the world’s population, and out of those, 80-90% are women.

When did it start?

The first time I can remember plucking is when I was about four, but my mom tells me I started earlier than that. I became extremely aware of it when I was about seven. Ten and eleven were awful. Periods of stress during my teen years were also traumatic for my hair. I always thought it was just a bad habit, so I tried my best to stop, but I couldn’t.

Why do I do it?

Well, it’s an obsessive compulsion. For me, it’s primarily my eyelashes that take the hit. I used to think stress was my biggest trigger, but I think boredom is an even bigger trigger. Do you ever mindlessly scroll through Facebook or Pinterest when you know you should be sleeping? You just keep scrolling and scrolling, even though your mind is half-asleep. You are in a bit of a trance, and you’re decision-making is dulled. That’s exactly the same state that finds me pulling my eyelashes. We revert to these self-comfort, mind-numbing activities frequently when we’re stressed, so stress is related, but it’s the trance-like boredom that triggers the mania.

And by “mania,” I mean that quite literally. I go on plucking sprees against my better judgement. I often start without realizing it (especially when I was kid,) and then I have irrational thoughts like, “I’ll just get one more, then I’ll be done.” But you know how your brain is in that state. There’s never just one more. You have to put your foot down, or it will go on and on. And I desperately want to put my foot down, but I’m arguing with myself. Like you might say, “Gosh, I have to go to bed. This is ridiculous.” But your body just stays on the couch, flipping through the channels.

I sometimes cry while I’m plucking because, 1. it hurts! 2. I know, deep down, that I’m going to regret this “spree” in the morning, but I can’t bring myself to stop. But the more I pluck, the more sore my eyelashes become, and the more sore they are, the more I feel the urge to remove them. Some folks with Trichotillomania report an irrational notion that certain hairs are “evil” and must be removed because of this. For me, it’s more like, I just don’t like that one and need it gone and think I will feel “all better” once I pluck it. Of course, I don’t. I feel deep remorse and a stronger urge to pluck.

I have spoken to people with O.C.D. who cut themselves in this same way. It is not the result of self-hatred. It is more like scratching an itch, only the itch is in my mind. We simply have a irrational notion that we will feel relief if we cut or, in my case, pluck. And, in a way, that relief is there. Sometimes I even convince myself that it’s a good idea, in this “special case.” That’s why it’s a mental disorder. But I wake up the next morning and look in the mirror and cry, because no woman wants to go to work or to hang out with friends and have no eyelashes. It’s painful to see yourself and think, “I made myself hideous.”

What helps?

Like I said, I haven’t been “officially” diagnosed, but reading about the disorder has already helped me more than words can say. The most helpful thing I read was that this isn’t a character flaw, but a disorder and I’m not the only one who struggles this way. That may seem overly simplified, but it’s true. It helped me in leaps and bounds. The second-most helpful thing I learned is that triggers are very real. I try to avoid that mind-numbing twilight time when I’m most likely to start plucking. I try not to be alone during this time, because it is embarrassing to pluck in front of people and, if I catch it that early, I am still “in my right mind” enough to take heed.

Another thing that is helpful is keeping my finger nails long because it’s very difficult to pluck anything that tiny with long nails! Simple and almost silly, but very real for me! Also, wearing mascara, as finding the mascara under my nails grosses me out and tips me off that I’ve been plucking. Touching my eyelashes every once in a while, without plucking seems to help. I think about my eyelashes, I acknowledge them physically, and instead of plucking, I think, “Wow, it feels like my eyelashes are getting really long and thick. That’s great. Let’s keep it this way!” And move on.

The other thing that is hugely helpful is refusing to abuse myself for my own self-abuse. I used to get stressed or bored or what-not, start plucking, go on a plucking spree and wind up bawling my eyes out in the middle of the night, thinking about what an embarrassing failure I was. I felt ugly and out of control and deeply ashamed of myself. Now that I know it is a disorder that lots of other people have, I still sometimes pluck, but then I think. “Okay, I wish I hadn’t done that, but it happens sometimes. I’m not going to dwell on it. That will only cause more stress. I am going to move on and put that behind me. Maybe next time I’ll be able to resist.”

Other things you should know:

It helps me give myself some slack when I think about how many other people have Trichotillomania. I mean, I don’t want anyone else to go through what I go through, but seeing them live normal lives helps me live mine. Or their not so normal lives. Many famous people have Trichotillomania, such as actress Megan Fox. She has been treated in-hospital on three occasions and is very open about her disorder. Singers Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry have both “confessed to being trichsters” in interviews. (At least according to the internet…I’m not that great at keeping up with celebrities!)

There is not a defined way of treating Trichotillomania, such as a pill, but because it is thought to be a type of or closely related to OCD, help can be found in various types of therapy and anti-psychotics.

One girls story of plucking, praying and finding peace.

The rest of my story…

After years and years of struggling with Trichotillomania and not even knowing it, I finally made a Google search that changed my life and learned that I am not a freak. At this point, I talked to my sisters and, later, my parents. They all knew I had struggled with plucking as a child, but didn’t realize it was a disorder or that I still struggled with it as much as I did. (Though there were definitely times when the results were very noticeable, more often than not I was hyper-aware of how my eyelashes looked. It wasn’t as noticeable as I thought!)

At this point, my parents talked to me about getting help and, if recommended, medication. As of now, I’ve opted out. After all, this doesn’t really have a negative effect on my health and I am better controlled now than ever. I still pluck, but I don’t freak out when I do, and I think I do it less and less. I have thought about wearing false eyelashes, but I haven’t had a serious bald spot in a long time! For now, I want to do three things:

1. Blog about it and raise some awareness and simply let people know that I’m a perfectly normal person (with trichotillomania.) There is no shame in being diagnosed with a mental disorder, because it has nothing to do with the awesome person you are. My sister is diabetic, my brother has asthma, I have trichotillomania. If anyone has more questions for me, please feel free to leave a comment! If you are a fellow “trichster” who wants to talk, leave me your email address.

2. Donate to Wigs for KidsBecause the hair on my head happens to go untouched by my disorder, I have plenty of it to spare! I have donated my hair several times and, most recently, to Wigs for Kids. I chose them because they donate wigs to kids who experience baldness due to trichotillomania. Yes, I think it’s very sad when children lose their hair due to cancer treatments, but I also find it very sad to think of the shame a little girl feels at pulling her own hair. It is self-inflicted, but also unwanted, and those kids deserve wigs too!

3. Live my life without stopping every five minutes to worry about not having enough eyelashes! Like I said, I have more control now than ever, but I will probably struggle with this for the rest of my life. I might as well make the best of it and learn to live with it, rather than to constantly fight myself about it. Avoiding triggers, helping myself when I can and, when I can’t, not beating myself up about it—these are the things that keep me going. Life’s too short to worry about if my eyelashes are. ;)

“Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30

resources:

The Trichotillomania Learning Center

Wigs for Kids

What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health by Ann Voskamp

Any and all kind and helpful comments are welcome. I would love to hear from folks who have overcome this or similar struggles! 

 

20 Responses to I’m a Perfectly Normal Person (with Trichotillomania.)

  1. shesonfire December 5, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Hi, ive struggled pulling my hair our ever since I was 11. I had to wear hats and scarfs all the time to cover it, and I was so embarrassed! One time a girl took my hat off and i started to cry as she ran off with my only “shield”. I still have issues with this, but now my Mom (Im a sahd!) will remind me if she sees me doing it, because most of the time I’m oblivious to what my hands are doing! For a while I wore some cloth gloves when I would fall asleep and that helped ALOT because I couldnt feel the hair strands. Also putting on lotion when you feel the urge helped me as well. Thank you so much for this post! Ive felt like a oddball for it, even my best friend didnt know! Blessings on you!

    • Everly Pleasant January 18, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi! Thank you SO much for commenting. It means a ton to me every time I “meet” someone else who struggles with Trichotillomania and affirms once again that I’m not just a weirdo with a bad habit. I actually had never thought of either of your tips…I may implement the glove idea immediately! Wearing gloves all the time would be a pain, but when I’m watching a movie or going to bed would work. Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing. I am moving to a new blog domain this week, so if you want to talk more, you can find me at carolinerosekraft.com. :)

  2. Julianne September 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    I would really encourage you to meet with a therapist – at least once! I was diagnosed with OCD during my late teen years (although like you it was evident from about the time I was 4/5). With many of these disorders there is a genetic component that you can’t just will away – no matter how hard you try. When my OCD behaviors seem to be controlled in one area, they manifest themselves in another, more dangerous way (for me seeking control over my eating habits and struggling with anorexia). About 5 years ago a therapist recommended I try some medication (because of that genetic component that I couldn’t control). I was extremely hesitant, but being on a low dosage has really changed my life – especially during seasons of change or high stress, when my OCD behaviors would really get challenging. You are so brave to share your story – know that you aren’t alone!

  3. Olivia August 17, 2015 at 3:51 am #

    Just stopping by to let you know that I’ve been dealing with the exact same thing for years. I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 25 and lately it’s getting a little better– except for those occasional evenings when it all comes back. Right now I look like the guy from Clockwork Orange with only one set of eyelashes! I have found that wearing eyeliner helps, because I don’t want to smudge it or get it on my fingers.

    Have you ever heard of cognitive behavioral therapy? Even if you don’t want to make appointments with a therapist, it might be helpful to look it up and read about it. It’s basically a way to train yourself to be more deliberate about your thoughts, to understand your impulses, and to change the way you react to certain emotions.

    So that’s my little bit of solidarity as an internet stranger. Best wishes, I know you can do this!

  4. Teresa Higgins Yunk August 12, 2015 at 1:42 am #

    I am so proud of you Caroline, but with years in my eyes. I can’t stand when any of our babies have any hurts. I do know that when we go through things in life, we are able to understand others, that we never would have before. It is amazing how God can use the things we would like to change about ourselves, to reach out and love people we never could have. You are beautiful inside and out! Keep touching people’s hearts with your beautiful words.I love you to pieces.
    Aunt Teesa

    • Everly Pleasant August 12, 2015 at 3:55 am #

      Thank you so much, Aunt Teesa. I was more scared of telling my family than anyone, because I respect all of you so much. It means so much when y’all are encouraging and supportive. Love you, too!!!

  5. Rachelle Rea August 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    You brave girl. I echo Jessiqua’s statment: your vulnerability shines a strenght here.

  6. Lily August 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Hey! I am a life long nail biter (wife and mom now and it’s not so cute) and I recently stopped, after many attempts. I so know what you are talking about! Thanks for writing on this. Love your blog, Everly – it is one of very few that I read. Love to you, Lily

    • Everly Pleasant August 10, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

      Lily,

      Thank you so much! It means a lot that you read, and that you would comment and share. :) Good luck keeping your teeth away from your nails! I’ve heard of people really struggling with that!

  7. Bailey August 7, 2015 at 12:18 am #

    It makes my heart happy when girls overcome the stigma of their various issues and become a powerful voice of encouragement! Thank you for being that voice!

    • everlypleasant August 10, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

      Love you, Bailey! Remember: bravery is contagious!!!

  8. Alesea August 6, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    Wow, I didn’t know that something like this exists.

    Maybe my story will help you.

    When I was a little I had 2 problems that I found a later as being OCD: 1. overall neatness and 2. a ritual when leaving a room.
    In the first case, I washed my hands as often as I could; everyday when coming from school, the first thing I did was clean my homework desk e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e d-a-y, even if there was no need to do it; I got irritated people touching my stuff because I considered that they were doing it with dirty hands. For the second problem I developed a habit that I ”needed” to look to any corner in the room and only then leave. I know it sounds silly but I couldn’t stop myself.
    I don’t remember what happened but once growing up these behaviours disappeared. Maybe I got concious that these things really are bad? I can’t say for sure as I don’t remember what was the turning point.

    I have a really good book called ”Optimum Nutrition for the mind” by Patrick Holford. In it, the author writes how some OCD are being treated with nutrition and supplementation and that the most often reason for OCD is a lack in essential fatty acids. I don’t know about that, only what I can say is that I saw the impact diet has on my mood and depression and I believe that it has a big impact on our brain overall.

    • Everly Pleasant August 10, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

      Alesea,

      First of all—awesome name! Second of all, thank you for reading and sharing your own OCD story! I can totally understand how diet would change your hormones and your mood and, in turn, your mental health. I am working on adding fatty acids to my diet right now (for my skin!) so I’m on the right track! Haha! When your body is healthy, your mind is able to focus and that’s huge!

  9. Kalyn Brooke (@kalynbr00ke) August 6, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    You are so brave to share this!! I have a very similar mental health story, but am still praying about how God would have me share it. Thank you for being so transparent and an inspiration. <3

    • Everly Pleasant August 6, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

      Thank you, Kalyn!
      I would love to talk about our stories, if you’re ever ready to share publicly or privately. There is so much joy in pushing through the fear and letting it off your chest.

  10. Natasha Metzler August 6, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    Love your bravery, Everly. <3

  11. jessiquawittman August 6, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    Wow, this is awesome! I love the way you were so succinct and vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I think your big Papa, who loves you soooo much, helped you with this. :) (He’s cool like that)

    • everlypleasant August 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

      I KNOW he did. Couldn’t have done it without Him. When I’m embarrassed of myself, He’s proud of me. That makes all the difference in the world.

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