A special thanks to the pullers and pickers in the online community that commented and added to the dialogue on this topic. I have quoted some one you and paraphrased others, but have left all of your comments anonymous. Just know that I really appreciate all of your input and it was key to writing this piece.
I’ll admit, as a skin picker, I don’t involve myself too heavily in the trichotillomania side of the community. I follow the stories of a few pullers on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr, I have friends who are hair pullers, and I’m curious about the disorder in relation to BFRBs as a whole, but I don’t immerse myself in the trich community the same way that I do the derma one. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t know that I can offer the same support to someone who pulls their hair as someone who picks their skin. But, I do pay attention to what goes on in the trich community, and that’s what leads me to write this.
What glimpses I do get of the trich community seem to have a pattern to me. From what I see posted online, including the massive Trichotillomania group on Facebook, being pull free is heavily emphasized and constantly spoken about. Whether it’s a post that comes up on my feed of someone celebrating how many days pull free they are, or someone leaving an encouraging comment with PFV (pull free vibes) tacked on the end, being pull free is always there.
I began to wonder why because this is not something that I see in the dermatillomania community. We’re more likely to talk about how to heal, or conceal, or what sort of situations we pick in the most. True, there are many who celebrate how many days they’ve gone without picking, but they don’t use the term “pick free” and usually also offer some explanation or advice as to what has been working for them. It doesn’t bear the same heavy weight as it does in the trich forums, or at least that’s how it feels to me.
I decided to stop wondering why this is and see if I could actually find out, and figured the best way to do that would be to go to the community itself. I posted to four different Facebook groups and to my personal Tumblr account and received a great deal of response from pullers and pickers alike. There were many different opinions and ideas, as well as many overlapping areas, and I think I may have found my answer in all the comments.
Being pull free seems to be so heavily emphasized because the alternative simply isn’t spoken about.
What do I mean by “the alternative?” The alternative is acceptance of the disorder. The acknowledgement that being pull free may or may not be an option, but that either scenario is okay. That is the side of the trich community that is missing.
I feel like this should have been obvious to me since I’ve heard Youtuber Beckie0’s story of how she is more or less shunned for her views of the disorder. How she’s spoken about not being pull free and maybe never being able to get there, only to have that thrown back in her face as “wrong.” Maybe the problem for me was that had been the only story I had heard about that sort of situation, until I received comments on my post in the Trichotillomania group. It seems Beckie0 isn’t the only one feeling pressured into silence over her opinions on being pull free.
One person who commented on my post noted “a tendency to pounce when anyone says ‘I won’t even bother quitting!’ or anything like it.” So while the alternative thought seems to exist (probably in varying extremes), it is shunned in a way that it isn’t in the derma community, so I suspect trichsters who do feel like acceptance is okay just don’t even bother talking about it to avoid the drama.
In the derma community, going along and accepting the disorder isn’t a popular idea by any means, but it isn’t attacked either. That leads me to believe that is why we see more than a cluster of pick free posts in the derma groups. While we may not agree with everything, we can still have a conversation about whatever.
But why is acceptance so shunned in the trich community? Some who commented suggested that there are more pull free success stories than pick free ones, and so we as pickers don’t really have much to aspire to and avoid setting ourselves up for failure, whereas trichsters would know the possibility is more readily attainable. While that could have something to do with it, and is something that I hadn’t thought of, I think there’s more to it than that. Others suggested that trich is more self-esteem based than derm, but I think that’s not right because I’ve experienced and have seen how picking can destroy a person’s self-worth.
I think what it really comes down to, in both communities but somehow more strongly in the trich community, is fear. Fear that accepting means surrendering and giving up.
Another girl left a comment saying, “I think I refuse to accept that Trich controls me and by being pull free, I feel in control and strong.” While she doesn’t mention the alternative, what she does suggest with what she says is that to accept the disorder would mean that it would be in control. This is something I’ve heard from others, too, both pullers and pickers. Many see accepting as surrendering, and this fear has come to manifest more strongly in the trich community to the point of censoring the idea entirely it would seem.
I think we have to try to ease that fear, or at the very least lessen it to the point that people are able to speak about acceptance without being attacked. Not everyone has to agree with the idea, but to respect people’s choices in living with and dealing with these disorders is an ideal we should strive towards. Besides, as I see it, acceptance is being widely misunderstood.
Once upon a time, I shunned the idea of accepting my disorder, too, and definitely saw it as surrendering. To me, accepting my picking would ruin my life and mean that the disorder had won. It took me years and years before I could come to where I am now, which is accepting dermatillomania. It took me years to understand that it didn’t mean I was surrendering to it if I did.
The truth is, we can accept these disorders without having to raise the white flag of defeat. One comment I received and that I really think addresses this accurately is, “I have come to look at it as I do my blue eyes—it’s just how my DNA came together; it’s simply a part of who I am.” There is evidence and speculation that we are born with these disorders—we don’t have to like them, but if we’re born with the possibility of them developing, then it’s just a part of our makeup.
And so what if it is? We can accept it and still go on fighting and looking for ways to improve our lives despite our BFRBs. Acceptance means that we realize that while we have the potential to succeed, we will also have setbacks. But those setbacks don’t have to control us and make us feel like we’ve failed, because we haven’t. So long as we have the desire and continue to make the effort to get better, we haven’t lost. Not picking or pulling is of course the ideal, but those of us who have come to accept trich or derm realize that it may not be possible and that it’s not the end of us if we can’t. Interestingly, there are many stories from pickers and pullers of the behaviour lessening once they came to accept the disorder, and I think that may be because they’ve taken some of the pressure of being “free” off of themselves.
Does acceptance work for everyone? I would say no. I had to get into the right frame of mind before I could accept my disorder properly. I had to get to the right frame of mind before I realized that it wasn’t surrendering and that I could still work to minimize my picking. I had to get past the desperation of all or nothing, finding a cure or throwing in the towel, before I could find peace with it.
I’m not trying to suggest that accepting and lessening the focus on being behaviour free is the only right way either. I’m only trying to clear up what I feel must be a misunderstanding about it since many don’t seem to want to talk about it. I don’t think it’s right that trichsters feel like they will be attacked if they express anything other than the pull free ideal. Aren’t we here to support one another?
The alternative to pull free might not be something you are comfortable with, or that you think will work for you, and that’s okay. But it’s unfair to treat it like it’s wrong when it has helped others get better. Even if others have accepted their picking or pulling, that doesn’t mean you have to stop your efforts to be pull free. Both ways of going about it are perfectly acceptable.
Keep in mind that we each deal with these complicated disorders differently. We each struggle differently and we each find peace in our own ways. For some, it’s by striving to be free of the behaviours, while for others, it’s by accepting this may be lifelong. We can still be supportive of and respectful towards each other no matter which path we’ve chosen to take.