My Trich Story
(possible trigger warning, discusses trich behaviors in detail)
I knew what trichotillomania was long before I had it because I’ve always loved learning long words and discovering rare phobias and manias. I didn’t know that trichotillomania isn’t that uncommon. And I had no idea that one day I would suffer from it, too.
I should also note that for as long as I can remember, I’ve had dermatillomania or skin picking disorder and the two disorders often go hand-in-hand. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I started picking and pulling at my hair, too.
Three years ago, I spent six weeks in a residential treatment center for self-injury and eating disorders. Two of the girls there struggled with trich, one more severely than the other, one on her eyelashes and one on her scalp. It was barely noticeable on either of them, and it was not the primary reason that they were there, but it stuck with me. I wouldn’t say that hearing their experience planted the idea in my head, but it definitely fed and nurtured the picking thoughts enough to bring them to the surface.
It started with my eyelashes. Just a few at first, pulled with my fingers, long blonde lashes coated with clumpy mascara, carefully laid and counted on the white paper before me. Then came the tweezers, and then I stopped wearing mascara because it only called attention to the large gaps.
One day I was extremely frustrated at having pulled out every single eyelash and still not being satisfied. That’s when I started on my eyebrows. Once I started on them, I couldn’t stop. I pulled out almost all of them that day. I remember looking down at the little pile and thinking it looked almost like a little nest, or a tiny haystack for a centimeter-tall farmer. I counted them, too, but I can’t remember how many there were there. I was really surprised at how many hairs there were in an eyebrow. A couple hundred at least.
Come January 2012, it had escalated quite a bit. I was pulling (tweezing) twice a day. It was the first thing I did when I woke up in the morning in bed and the last thing I did at night before turning out the light. My face was pretty much completely bald, but I always managed to find a tiny bit of regrowth, albeit only a few tiny hairs. I was fascinated with the root of it. I played with it and rubbed it on my lips. I kept them in a jar even. It wasn’t just the pulling anymore. It was the rituals. I couldn’t stop.
Over the school year, it continued to get worse. 2 times a day became 3 times a day, which became 5 or 6 or 7 times a day. After school on weekdays, mid-morning and mid-afternoon on weekends, and several times in between. I woke up in the night with urges. I knew I should stop but I didn’t want to, and I was too afraid to cry.
At the start of summer 2013, I was out of control. I pulled and pulled and pulled. In July, I pulled from my head the first time. It was a different feeling. A different sensation. A different product. And I liked it. At first I used tweezers, but soon I was wrapping big sections of hair around my finger and pulling it out in chunks. I continued with the rituals. Feeling them and rubbing them against my lips. I picked the best of the batch and cut off the roots with scissors and put them in a pile. I kept the roots, and discarded the rest. My hairline receded, first slowly and then quickly, as I pulled for hours a day. It went all the way back to the crown of my head.
At this point I couldn’t hide it anymore. I told my parents, and they had guessed.
Two weeks later, I shaved my head.
I was lucky to have a hair stylist that was familiar with the disorder. Her aunt has it, too, so there was no judgement from her. We put it all in three ponytails and chopped them off. Then we shaved it. She let me do some most of it. It was empowering. For the first time, I was in control of my hair loss, not the other way around. I watched my hair fall to the floor and said “Fuck you, trich.” It felt great.
That night I threw away all my tweezers and compact mirrors. I have since bought Tangle toys, Play-doh, and other fidget toys to keep my hands busy. Shaving my head has helped a lot, but when it comes to my eyebrows and eyelashes, it’s been a struggle to stay pull-free. Sometimes I try to recover and sometimes I don’t. But I know that in the end, I am in control of my hair and my actions and my recovery, and I refuse to let trichotillomania get the best of me.
Eileen is in high school, a trich survivor of 3 years and derm survivor of 13 years. She is in recovery and she runs a blog at freeingeileen.tumblr.com.