Trichotillomania

Trich Update

It’s been about a month now since I shaved my head and I have to admit I haven’t made a ton of progress. I wish I could say I had tiny little baby hairs growing where I’d pulled out chunks – actually, that’s true. I do have new hairs. But I also have new spots where I’ve pulled out more hair. I just haven’t been able to keep my fingers away.
I keep blaming these last few months as the reason why I can’t stop pulling hair; I keep saying, “Things have been really stressful” and, “I’ve just been busy” and, “I’ll do better once things calm down,” but…life is busy and stressful. I can’t continue to cope with life by pulling out my hair. And yet here I am! That is how I’m coping with everything.

When I shaved my head, I did it with the hopes that not being able to pull my hair out as easily would help the temptation die down and I’d be able to feel more “normal,” and then start the process of growing my hair out again. But instead of the temptation going away, I’ve just tried that much harder to pull the hairs out. I pinched those tiny little hairs between my short fingernails until I cracked my nails and caused them to split open. And then I cut my nails shorter so hopefully I wouldn’t be able to grasp the little hairs between them, which has just caused my nails to become shorter and shorter until I’ve finally had to start cutting them up into the quick.

I have pulled until the ends of my fingers are raw from my sharp, bristly little hairs and my nails are chewed up and broken and I have bloody, bald spots on my head. I am a mess. I look in the mirror and shudder.

And my sister-in-law’s wedding is this weekend. This coming weekend. As in six days from now. Weddings are supposed to be pretty and everyone attending is supposed to look nice and well-groomed. How am I going to go looking like I just got into a fight with a woodchipper and lost???

I won’t lie – I am freaking out. I broke down into hysterical sobs about it tonight. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to show up to this wedding and pretend like I’m happy and doing well and everything is great. I’m going to see people I haven’t seen for over a year and I’m going to look like the same freaky, bald weirdo as I did when I moved away.

I think that’s what is stressing me out the most – seeing friends and family I haven’t seen in a long time. I was supposed to be getting better and getting a grip on things out here in California, and now I have to go back to Virginia and admit defeat. I haven’t gotten better.

And I didn’t just cry tonight; I pulled out a ton of hair. Yeah, I did. I got the tweezers and just yanked and yanked until the sink was full of tiny little black hairs and there were little pin-pricks of blood all over my head. I pulled them out because I was angry and stressed and I felt like, maybe, if I pulled enough of them out my anger would melt away. Or maybe that I’d release all the pressure bottled up inside my head. Or maybe that I’d look so horrible I’d just have to tell Shawn I couldn’t go to the wedding at all.

I know this is absolute nonsense but the irrational (and incredibly convincing) voice inside me keeps telling me if I go on this trip for my sister-in-law’s wedding, I’m going to die. That’s how worried and stressed out I am! I have this horrible, overwhelming sense of dread like I’m not going to survive the trip. I know it’s ridiculous but I’m still in complete panic-mode.

And let me just add this while I’m at it: I know my problems are trivial. I know there are people with painful diseases, people who are starving to death, people being persecuted for their beliefs, etc., and that my problems are laughable compared to theirs. And that just makes me feel even worse inside because I know I’m such a wimp compared to most people in the world. There are so many people truly suffering right now and I’m complaining about not looking quite normal and having to go to a wedding?

What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be normal? (Or even do a better job of acting normal?) Why do I have to blow everything out of proportion and freak out and cause everyone around me to be stressed and upset? A normal person could go on this trip and smile and be happy and enjoy seeing old friends. But me? Not a chance. I have to stress out and pull hair and cry and imagine myself dying in countless scenarios.

I’m sorry this update wasn’t more positive. I know things will get better and I won’t actually die on this trip, but man – right now it’s difficult for me to remember that! I feel like I’m unraveling.

Christianity, Trichotillomania

I Am Free

I was on Pinterest the other night, scrolling through pictures of cute little succulents, animals, and far away places, when a quote caught my eye.  It was Galatians 5:1, which says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What Paul (who wrote Galatians) is saying is that Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin – we are no longer slaves to our mistakes because Jesus paid for all of them when He died on the cross.  Even after we get saved, we’re still going to mess up and make mistakes and sin, but we don’t have to worry about it because Jesus has already paid our ransom.  On top of that, we now have the Holy Spirit inside us to help us resist the temptation to sin in the first place!  Because of these things, we are truly free.

But I don’t live like I’m free.  I don’t know about you but I definitely carry the burden of my sins even though I no longer have to.  Not only do I feel enormously guilty for past mistakes, I also fall back into the same old cycles and habits I used to fall into.  With God, all things are possible – but I don’t live like they’re possible.  I live like I’m not strong enough to make it through the day, like I can’t carry my burdens anymore because they’re too heavy and I’m exhausted.  But God has made it so that I don’t have to carry all that crap around with me anymore!  I can live free of the sin that used to have a hold over me.

This last week has been incredibly difficult.  There have been a lot of changes at work (most of them negative), and there’s been family drama, and I’ve just been under a lot of stress.  Because of that, I started pulling out my hair.  At first it was just a little bit but it quickly escalated into obsessive pulling, standing in front of the sink for several hours at night just pulling, pulling, pulling uncontrollably like a broken robot stuck on the same task.  After a few nights of this, I had a bald spot the size of a golf ball on top of my head and it was really difficult to hide.  That made me panic and stress out so I pulled even more hair.  I felt like I was losing my mind!  I literally couldn’t even think about anything else except pulling hair.  My fingers were screaming at me to pull and pull and pull.  I had to do something…so I shaved my head.  And I cried watching my three-inch-long hair fall into the bathtub in little curling tufts.  Months of growing my hair back – gone.  And when I looked in the mirror, I was a different person.  I recognized that sad, pitiful, bald girl because I’ve spent a lot of time with her in the past.  But I missed the prettier, more normal-looking, and much happier me that I’d been five minutes prior.  I don’t know when I’m going to see her again.

And I thought about Galatians 5:1.  I’m not a prisoner to this stupid habit, or at least I don’t have to be.  My God can overcome anything which means I can overcome anything with His help…so why am I still living like this hair-pulling problem controls me?  Why am I letting it control me???  I can’t do that anymore – I have to take control back and kick this habit.

I believe with all my heart I was made for more than this.  I was made for more than spending my nights crying and pulling hair, and then spending my days feeling ugly and wishing I didn’t have to leave my house.  There has to be a way I can beat this with God’s help.  I honestly don’t know what else to do…I’ve tried everything I can think of to beat my Trich.  Therapy, fidget toys, wearing a hat, meditation, etc.  Everything.  But that can’t be it; I can’t give up.  I won’t roll over and take it because my God is a mighty God and He is capable of helping me beat this.  I believe that.

Christ has set me free.  I need to live like it.

Trichotillomania

Some Helpful Tips for Dealing with Trichotillomania

I’ve spent a lot of time pulling hair and I’ve also spent a lot of time seeking treatment for it, too.  I’ve seen many different doctors and tried many different methods to stop pulling hair.  I’m not “cured” and may never completely be cured because technically there is no cure for hair-pulling…which really sucks.  There are, however, ways to manage hair-pulling so as to keep it to an absolute minimum.  (Please know I am not a doctor and don’t have any qualifications; if you are suffering from Trichotillomania, please see a real doctor and get their advice!  I’m just offering my collection of experiences and opinions to hopefully help.)

As of right now, there are two main ways of dealing with Trichotillomania.  One is behavior modification, in which different techniques are used to alter undesirable habits.  The other is medication.  There is unfortunately no “magic” pill that makes hair-pulling go away, but there are a handful of anti-anxiety medications that can help with the urge to pull.  I haven’t actually tried any of them because of the negative side-effects (such as weight gain and hair-thinning), and the fact that I’m already taking an anti-depressant.  I have tried many different behavior modification techniques though and I will list them for you below (and rate how helpful I thought they were)!

  1. Wear a hat.  When you’re feeling tempted to pull hair, eliminate that possibility by covering your hair with a hat.  I’ve done this many times at home and it’s helped a lot.  The only problem is that I get annoyed by it and take it off too soon.  If I were able to leave it on, it would be extremely effective.
  2. Cover the bathroom mirror.  I do most of my pulling in front of the mirror.  If I see a gray hair or a wiry hair, or just any hair in general, I want to pull it.  When I realized that, I covered the entire bathroom mirror with newspaper.  It cut the pulling down by probably 90%.  The only difficulty was having to be able to use some mirror somewhere to get ready to go out of the house.
  3. Wear a rubber-band.  Thump yourself with it every time you pull a hair.  It didn’t work very well for me but, hey, maybe it would work for you!
  4. Set a timer in the bathroom.  I pull most of my hair when I’m in the bathroom getting ready, so I found that setting a timer helps me to stay focused and not be in the bathroom any longer than necessary.  It also helps me snap out of a hair-pulling trance if I’m in one.
  5. Set up a reward system.  Set goals for yourself.  If you can make it to the end of the day without pulling, have a piece of chocolate.  Make it to the end of the week, you can get that new Twenty One Pilots album you’ve been wanting.  Pull one hair and you can’t.  This works really well for me…when I can afford to do it!
  6. Peppermint oil.  After I’ve pulled from a certain area, it gets sore and extra-sensitive, which makes me want to keep pulling from the same spot.  It’s like I can feel the hairs squirming around and they’re itching and I can’t think about anything else!  That’s when I rub some peppermint essential oil on the spot and within seconds, the area is cool and tingly and almost completely knocks the urge.  (Peppermint oil is also great for acne and stimulating new hair growth…so there are many benefits!)  I keep this jank in stock and I use it all the time.
  7. Get a Pavlok.  This is similar to the rubber-band idea, but it was much more effective for me.  The Pavlok is a bracelet that shocks you when you touch the surface, so if you’re pulling you just tap it and it shocks you.  It can help break you out of the pulling trance and also help re-wire your brain to associate hair-pulling with pain instead of pleasure.  I have to admit this thing was awesome when I bought it and it was 100% effective because it hurt like a motherfudger!  But after several weeks I started getting used to the shock and it didn’t deter me like it did at first…which is unfortunate because it was $200.  Still…if it cures you, it’s worth it, right?  (You can buy them on Amazon which is what I would recommend because Amazon’s return policy is better than the actual Pavlok company.)
  8. Count every single hair you pull and write it down.  This was actually suggested to me by the first therapist I saw, and he said when he told another patient to try this, it cured her immediately because she didn’t want the embarrassment of having to tell him how many hairs she’d pulled.  For me, though, it didn’t work very well.  I ‘estimated’ how many hairs I pulled and then wrote that down because I was too ashamed and angry with myself to actually sit down and count all of them.  (When the sink is full of hair, counting them all seems kind of daunting…which is the point, I suppose.)  Maybe you’ll have better luck with this one.
  9. Join a support group.  I’ve never actually done this but I know they’re out there!  Having people to talk to who can relate to your issues can be very helpful.  And even if you’re too afraid to join a group, at least tell some friends and/or family members you trust about your hair-pulling problem.  Their support and encouragement will be priceless.  Trust me.
  10. Buy a fidget toy.  If you pull because your hands need something to do or because you’re bored, get a type of toy that will keep your hands occupied!  There are many different types of fidget toys from clickers to little tangly things to stress balls.  Whatever floats your boat, man.  I had a Tangle Jr. plastic noodle fidget toy and it really helped me (and was a lot of fun!) but I just never seemed to have it when I actually needed it.
  11. Self-hypnosis.  I bought a self-hypnosis cd and have found it to be extremely helpful (when I have the time to actually sit down and listen uninterrupted for 35 minutes).  The cd I have is called Growth and is 35ish minutes of a pleasant-sounding British woman speaking to you and telling you you are “effortlessly and easily pull-free” and that it’s not your fault and you shouldn’t feel guilty.  It’s a very positive and soothing experience and I highly recommend buying the cd.  (Also, the website that advertises the cd is also very helpful for all things Trich-related.)
  12. Meditate.  You might be thinking meditation is just a hyped-up hipster trend that has no actual physical and mental benefits, but hear me out.  I actually used to think the same thing…until I tried it.  The neurologist I go to made me read a book on meditation called Mindfulness Is Better Than Chocolate and then actually try to meditate, and I cannot tell you how much it has helped me!  You don’t have to buy a Buddha statue or burn incense or anything like that (even though incense is awesome!), you just have to sit comfortably and quietly and count your breaths.  Set a timer on your phone for just two minutes and during that time, breathe in and out and count each breath.  When you get to 4, start over.  Think about nothing else except your breathing and whichever number you’re on.  I won’t lie, it was very difficult for me starting out and I had to keep redirecting my thoughts, but I eventually got better and was able to start setting my timer to five minutes and then ten minutes.  I’m still not great at meditating but I really enjoy it – it calms me, refocuses me, and allows me to be present in the moment instead of stressing out, thinking about a million different things at once, and absentmindedly pulling hair.  (If you read the book, you will be amazed at how beneficial meditation can be for your health in addition to hair-pulling!  It doesn’t just make you calmer, it strengthens your immune system too.  How nifty is that???)

Those are the techniques I’ve tried so far.  Basically, figure out where/when you pull.  Are you in a certain room of the house?  Is it when you’re by yourself?  What are the circumstances – are you stressed about something or bored or…?  Try to figure out when you’re most vulnerable and then take the appropriate steps to limit your ability to pull hair.  Another thing my neurologist told me is that our brains create pathways – in other words, the more we do something the more habitual that thing becomes.  (Like a path in the forest…walk on it long enough and the plants die and you have an actual dirt path to follow.)  He said when people have seizures, it’s incredibly important to start medication and stop the seizures as soon as possible because our brains remember how to get back to that point and the seizures will quickly get worse and last longer if left untreated.  Trichotillomania is like that – the more you pull, the more habitual it becomes.  So break the habit before it becomes a habit!

Do you have any tips or tricks to add to my list?  Have you tried any of the suggestions I listed?  I’d love to hear from any of you about which methods worked or didn’t work, or just your experience with Trichotillomania in general.  I hope this little compendium of my knowledge helped you at least a little!  Best wishes!!!

Trichotillomania

My Trichotillomania Journey (So Far)

Hair
Me with my beautiful mom.   (Look at all the HAIR I used to have!)

Trichotillomania is a huge and scary-sounding word that basically just means I pull my hair out.  It’s actually a type of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  The few of us who are cool enough to have this disorder (that was definitely a joke!) refer to it as ‘Trich’ because, let’s face it, that’s a much less intimidating word.

I started pulling my hair out when I was in kindergarten.  I can remember sitting on my cot during nap time at school, not being sleepy, and pulling my eyelashes out one by one and lining them up on my pillow like little black trophies.  Pulling my eyelashes out stung just a little bit but, weirdly, I liked the sensation.  It was a good pain…like popping a pimple.  Oddly satisfying.  And being in kindergarten, I didn’t really miss them either.  It’s not like I was remotely interested in boys or cared at all what I looked like.  They were just weird hairs growing on my eyelids – I didn’t need them.

Fast forward to middle school.  That was a rough time for me.  (Yeah…’rough’ – it was more like slow and painful torture.)  I’d moved from Virginia to Alaska and simultaneously gone through puberty, so not only had I lost all my friends during the transition, I’d also acquired a depressing amount of big red zits all over my face.  My hair was curly and I didn’t know what to do with it, and I’d also started developing my bosoms.  I developed earlier than everyone else my age, so while all the other girls were still flat-chested, I was already having to go on the awkward bra-shopping trips with my mom and buy these horrible things called pads for ‘that time of the month.’  I felt like my body hated me, and not having any friends at my new school made it feel like the rest of the world hated me too.

These problems only made my Trich worse.  I started pulling my eyebrows out along with my eyelashes, and I also began wearing makeup in an effort to appear normal.  I wore heavy black eyeliner to cover up the fact that I had no eyelashes, and then I drew a thin brown line over each eye to stand place for my eyebrows.  It was horrible – I still can’t look at my middle school pictures without grimacing!  (I keep telling myself I’ll get to the point where I can laugh about it but that hasn’t happened yet!)

After countless nights spent crying and wishing I looked different, I finally made it through middle school and then high school.  I’d managed to tame my hair-pulling tendencies so they weren’t very noticeable, and I actually had some eyelashes to put mascara on.  (And my mom had forced me to grow my eyebrows out again…for which I am very thankful.)  I went to college with basically everything in tact.

College was stressful.  It was fun – a lot of fun! – but stressful.  My senior year was when I finally had my breakdown.  There was too much to worry about between classes, future careers, finals, graduation, whether or not to get married immediately or hold off for a year or two, etc.  I couldn’t take it, and one night when I was supposed to be studying I just starting pulling out hair from my head.  Hair after hair, handful after handful, until my fingers hurt from yanking hair and my scalp was raw and bleeding from all the hairs being ripped out.  I went and looked in the mirror and there was a softball-sized bald spot on the lower side of my head behind my right ear.  It was ghastly.  I started bawling.  I was terrified – what had I done?  What had caused me to do such a thing?  I called my (then) fiancé who came over and immediately started trying to analyze and fix the situation.  Failing to do so, and with me in a useless crying heap, he then called my parents.  They had no idea I’d ever pulled my hair out and were completely blindsided.  My mom caught the next plane out and came to live with me for the rest of the school year because I just couldn’t handle things on my own.

I got married right after graduation, which probably wasn’t the wisest thing for me to do.  I thought it would “fix” all my problems because then I wouldn’t have to be 3,000 miles away from my fiancé and we could live happily ever after!  Wrong.  Getting married meant I had to live 3,000 miles away from my family, and I fell into a very dark depression.  I slept all day long (all day long), pulled hair, cried, and then slept some more.  I couldn’t even hold down a part-time job.  I was useless and miserable.  I can’t even think back on those times without getting upset because they were just so, so incredibly horrible.  I had no hair at all.  I’d had to shave my head to stop myself from pulling.  I had no eyelashes and eyebrows either.  I looked 100% different than I had a year earlier, and I couldn’t stand myself.

I wanted to die.  Truly.  I thought about ways to kill myself.  I couldn’t handle being left alone all day while my husband was at work because I just sat in front of the bathroom mirror and pulled hair and cried and pulled hair.

You might think, “Well why didn’t you just stop???”  But it’s not that simple.  It’s like there’s something wrong in my head and I can’t get the signal down to my fingers to stop pulling.  It’s like I’m screaming in my head to stop pulling but I just can’t.  My hands just keep reaching up to my scalp, finding hairs that feel ready, and yanking them out.

This went on for several years until my husband and I were finally able to move out to be with my family.  This has greatly helped things and I’ll admit I’m much happier now, but I still struggle with my Trichotillomania.  It’s a daily battle.  Some days I win.  Some days I lose.  Some days I accomplish lots of things and don’t really think about pulling hair, but other days all I can do is stand in the bathroom crying while I pull hair after hair out in a stupefied, horrible trance.

I can’t explain why I pull my hair and I can’t explain why I can’t stop pulling, either.  It’s so complicated – there’s not just one reason or explanation.  It’s usually because of stress but sometimes it’s because I’m bored.  Sometimes it’s simply that one hair feels different from the rest and I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve pulled it out.  It feels good.  It’s calming.  I use the time to think about things in my life, almost like meditation.  But then immediately afterwards, I feel immense guilt.  Overwhelming guilt, as if I’ve murdered someone.

It’s a horrible mental and physical cycle.  It has caused me years of self-hatred and shame, and it has greatly altered the way I look.  (My hair is much thinner now and I have many gray hairs…when I even have any hair at all!  And as for my eyebrows and eyelashes, I’m still just hoping and praying they continue to grow back.  We’ll see!)  It’s hindered me in many ways, one of which is being able to hold down a steady job.  I’m 27 years old and tired, so very tired, of letting this absurd disorder rule my life.  I don’t want my Trich to define me!

Have you ever heard of this bizarre mental disorder?  Are you going through some of the things I described or do you know someone who is?  I’d love to hear your story, your thoughts, or basically anything you want to say on the subject.  Even if you just need someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through – I’m here.  And thanks for reading my post!  Best wishes!

Trichotillomania

Trying Something New!

Hello, world!

I’m finally taking the plunge into the slightly terrifying world of blogging.  It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time and just never worked up enough courage to do until now.

What do I plan on blogging about, you might be wondering?  That’s a very good question.  I’m not quite sure yet, to be honest with you!  When I was doing a bit of research about blogging, one blogger suggested choosing something you could be considered an expert on to write about.  An expert? I thought to myself.  The only thing I consider myself an expert on is taking naps!  I laugh, but it’s kind of true.  So instead of trying to pinpoint one topic to concentrate on, right now I’m just going to jot down a few things to help you get to know me.  Sound good?

A brief history of myself:  I grew up in Alaska and I now live in northern California.  I’m married to a wonderful guy and we have two fur-babies, Chippy and Roo.  Chippy is a mean little Chihuahua and Roo is a sweet, clumsy Corgi/Beagle…we think?  We love to go on hikes and spend time outdoors, but we also love binge-watching our favorite shows on Netflix until our butts are numb from sitting too long.  (Game of Thrones or Supernatural, anyone?)  I work at a library where I mainly tell people they can’t eat inside, and I like to go to metal concerts as often as I’m able.

Things I’m passionate about:  Jesus, animals (especially dogs!), books, nature, history, music, staying healthy and fit, and art.

Things I want to accomplish in life:  publishing a book, traveling all over the world (especially Europe), earning my Masters and eventually PhD degrees, learning a second language, and saving as many shelter dogs as I can.

Favorite book:  Dracula  (this might be a ‘hipster’ thing to say, but I was into vampires before they were mainstream, ok?).

Favorite bands:  For Today, Underoath, Silent Planet, Dayseeker, Memphis May Fire, and Fit For A King.  (Basically anything metal, metalcore, post-hardcore, or screamo.)

Pet peeves: blanket fuzz that gets stuck on the carpet, people who don’t use their blinkers to change lanes, and the incorrect usage of ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re.’

Things I struggle with: Trichotillomania (that ridiculously long word means I pull my hair out), depression, social anxiety, guilt, regret, self-confidence, and anger.

As you can see, I struggle a great deal with my mental health.  There are many facets to this because ‘mental health’ itself is just such a wide topic, but the main issue I have is Trichotillomania.  Basically, I pull my hair out.  Yeah, it’s weird.  Really weird.  And inconvenient.  And time-consuming.  And incredibly embarrassing.  My struggle with Trich has caused more heartache, pain, and tears than I care to admit.

I guess, more than anything else, I’m an expert on Trichotillomania!  I’ve had it for 25 years so I think I probably know everything there is to know about this disorder.  Do you have Trichotillomania or any similar disorders?  How do you handle it / keep it in control?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Any feedback is welcome!