It’s the very end (actually the last two hours) of BFRB week. For those of you that don’t know, BFRB stands for Bodily Focused Repetitive Behavior. BFRBs include trichotillomania, an issue that I’ve struggled with since I was about seven years old. Trichotillomania is a condition of unknown origin (not sure if physical or psychological) which causes a person to pull out strands of hair.
The first time I remember pulling was when we were in a hotel room after just moving to Mobile, Alabama. We were looking for a house and I was bored so I was jumping on the bed a lot and generally misbehaving and getting scolded frequently. I remember looking in the mirror – I think I might have had something stuck in my eye – and pulling out a hair. Then I pulled out more hairs “to see what would happen”. I don’t know what I expected to happen. No magical portal to another realm appeared, and I wasn’t imparted with any kind of arcane knowledge. What did appear was a small gap in my eyelashes.
Ever since then, I’ve pulled my eyelashes and eyebrows. The only time I stopped was when I moved to Massachusetts and started middle school. That wasn’t really a great year for me, but at that time in my life I was absurdly, naively optimistic. When I lived in Alabama, I felt like an outsider because I didn’t talk and didn’t have anything in common with my peers (I was tiny, Jewish, and didn’t have an accent). I thought when I moved to Massachusetts, everything would be awesome. I imagined enjoying snowy winters and meeting other kids who liked to read and didn’t like boy bands and Britney Spears. I thought people would accept me and I would be popular… I listened to “White Flag” on the radio while putting in cheap Target earrings every morning. I wore bright colors and smiled at everybody to the point where someone once demanded of me, “Why are you so happy?” It wasn’t really the words of the question that mattered, but the tone. The tone meant, “Why do you have a right to be so happy?” It implied, “You’re supposed to be miserable like the rest of us. Stop trying to be a special snowflake.” There was also something else wrapped into it, an accusation of naivete, of “you don’t know what it’s like out here in the real world” and by association, “you’re not real”, “you’re weak”. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but after that point I decided to stop being so aggressively happy and adopted a gothic persona as a cover, a grasping attempt to seem more “real”, but the funny thing about that is that sometimes you become what you pretend to be…
Anyway, I’ve noticed that I’ve recovered a little bit of that crazy stupid optimism. It might be the result of not being in school, or spending more time with cats, a greater sense of security, feeling wanted, or starting on a new degree in Computer Programming. It might be because I’ve decided to stop putting depressing stuff in my brain and I’ve made an effort to be diligent about pulling up the bad sprouts as soon as they pop out of the ground. I hear a voice in my head say “die” or “useless” and I imagine it shooting out of my ear. It remains to be seen whether I’m just pushing it back to have it surge out again later, but so far, so good. And I’ve noticed that I’m pulling less lately.
I’d like to show some pictures of how my hair looks now. When I used to look up “trichotillomania” the search engine would return only badly lit medical pictures with miserable-looking subjects, so I want to fight back against this trend by showing a picture of someone (myself) who doesn’t look like a sufferering subject of medical curiousity, but like a relaxed, normal person in natural lighting:
I have one patch in the front, which I keep pulling because it feels bumpy as it grows back (>.<) and one on the back right, where I have a scar from when I was a kid and I like to pull around the edges. I find personally that trying to stop pulling is counterproductive. I try to think about pulling as little as I can, and then I forget about it. Thinking about pulling makes me want to go pull, same as thinking about a favorite food makes you want to go eat it. When I was in high school, trichotillomania was classified as a form of OCD. I tried hard to see the connection, but it never quite made sense… there are some OCD aspects to trichotillomania (for example, the need to make a certain patch completely clean and devoid of hair, and the sense of peace and relief that the trichster feels when that patch is smooth), but the first letter of OCD is Obsess… and I never obsessed about trichotillomania? You crave it physically, but on the other hand, you do it automatically, you don’t think about it while you’re doing it. While I’m pulling hair, my thoughts are racing, I’m thinking about everything but the pulling. I’m coming up with imaginary dialogues in my head, planning things I need to do, stressing out about the future, but thinking about pulling, although I’ll admit it’s on the list, is the last item.
Now trichotillomania is classified as an impulse control disorder, and I think that this fits it much better. Pulling hair out is something you do in the moment, without really thinking about it, oftentimes without being able to stop yourself. A lot of the things that they tell you to do to help keep (limited) control over other impulses help with trichotillomania. It’s a lot like binge eating, where if you stop pulling by force of will you eventually end up snapping and spending 3 hours in a massive pull-fest. It’s better to let yourself have little treats throughout the day. My advice to people with trich is not to sweat it – the more you worry about pulling the more you pull, the less you worry about pulling the less you pull. The people I know who used to pull and now don’t pull can’t really pinpoint the reason they stopped. They just kind of stopped one day.
While I may not be anywhere near stopping, I’ve learned some new tricks lately which I’ll share with you. The first one is to wear a thin hairband or stretchy bracelet on your wrist at all times. This gives you something to play with and keep your hands busy. Hairbands can take a lot of stretching, so they’re great when you’re studying something difficult and need to vent your frustration with something that can take a lot of punishment. There’s something about the way that a hairband pushes back into you that makes it more satisfying than a passive toy like a stress ball.
If you’re so inclined, you can also use the hair band to do aversion therapy, where you snap yourself when you catch yourself pulling. I’ve only done this a couple times, but it was kind of fun to experiment with and I think it might work if I weren’t so busy in the moment with pulling that I forget to do it…
So, to break it down:
- Don’t sweat the pulls. The less you think about it, the less you do it.
- Don’t get down on yourself. Everyone is beautiful to somebody.
- Cultivate optimism, argue with negative thoughts.
- Keep a hairband on your wrist.
That’s it! Have a good night, y’all!
(did I say I didn’t have a Southern accent? haha. Night!)