Try saying it out loud. (I’ll give you a hint: trick-oh-til-lo-mania.)
I’m sure to most of you, the word means nothing; in fact, the majority of you have probably never even heard of it. But it is something that I’ve been living with for seven years now and while there are without a doubt more debilitating mental disorders out there, I absolutely hate it. I hate the fact that I pull my eyelashes, eyebrows, and head hair out. I hate looking at pictures of myself from the eighth grade where the front half of the top of my head was entirely bald, and I hate rarely accepting invitations to the beach or pool – and if I do, I make sure my face is touched by water as little as possible – because water washes my makeup off. I am lucky to be at the point where the worst my head hair experiences is some thinning, but I still hate having to put on brow pencil and eyeliner every morning just to look normal.
Many people don’t understand how it’s not possible for a trichotillomaniac to just stop if they want to and know what they’re doing is self-destructive; I might not even have understood myself if I didn’t have it. But I can’t just stop. Whenever my hand brushes against an eyebrow or eyelash or piece of hair that is not to my liking – it’s too short, too sharp, too long, too thick – I become overwhelmed with an urge to remove it from my body. Many times I argue with myself: Why do you think you need to do this? You don’t need to do this. You know you are above this behavior. The hairs are just growing in and you can only pull so many times before they stop growing back. But in the end, the urge almost always overcomes the logic, and I allow myself to pull not just one, but two or three or four or who knows how many hairs, for periods of time that can last from five minutes to over an hour. I examine the hair, feel its texture, and remove the squishy hair follicle if there is one. If it’s a hard hair to pull out, I start to feel extremely tense and anxious and cannot focus on anything going on around me until I am able to return to my room and pull it out with tweezers. I’ll pull when I’m bored, giddy, angry, sad, frustrated, stressed, when I’m studying, when I’m in class, anytime that I’m feeling over- or under-stimulated. I recently read a theory that states that trichotillomania is an individual’s way of maintaining internal homeostasis, which makes sense to me since I’m an emotional and generally active person. So when I’m emotional, the pulling puts me into a trance-like state, allowing me to tune out the overwhelming, usually negative emotion. When I’m bored or inactive, the pulling gives me a relatively intense source of stimulation. After the pulling session, however, I feel incredibly guilty and angry with myself for the damage I have done.
I’ve been blessed to have a family who has been generally more than understanding of my condition, and a boyfriend who tells me I am beautiful even after seeing me without makeup on. I was never bullied when I was younger and didn’t think to use makeup to hide what I was lacking. For all of this, I am grateful, I promise. But even being told I am beautiful without makeup on does not prevent me from looking at my face after a shower and being repulsed and disgusted by what I see. And even though people are accepting of my condition, even though they say that trichotillomania is not necessarily uncommon, I am desperate for someone I know to understand it. I need to talk to someone about it not over the internet, but in person, I just have yet to meet someone who has it. I love my boyfriend and my friends and my family but I feel so isolated because they don’t really know what to say to me when I want to talk about, so I try to only bring it up on the days when it is really bothering me, like today. Hence why I am writing this letter to the readers of LINS. So if you got this far, I thank you immensely for reading. <3
The problem with trich is that people still don’t know what to classify it as. Thus far it has been filed under a tic, an obsessive compulsive disorder, a mere “bad habit”, and a chemical imbalance; most recently it’s been classified as an impulse control disorder not elsewhere classified. But because it has yet to be determined exactly why people do it or which people are more predisposed for it, there is no definite treatment for it yet. I’ve been to two psychologists and a cognitive behavioral therapist without much success and yes, there have been times where I’ve gone a few weeks without pulling, but I’ve always relapsed.
The biggest problem with treating my case, though, is something I’ve just recently realized: I want to stop… but I don’t want to stop. Does that make any sense? I hate the makeup, I hate vacuuming the floor to get rid of all the hair, but pulling feels so good. I am so used to living with its negative side effects that it’s hard for me to imagine what life would be like without it, so the motivation just isn’t there. I hate saying that, but it’s true. So I am waiting for the day I gain the courage to want to stop what I am doing to myself and pray that it won’t be too late for my hair.