I pull out my hair. I’m trying to stop.

I pull out my hair.  I have trichotillomania.  I don’t think I’ve ever written about that here, although I once wrote about it for Substance.  A lot of alcoholics do have a hair pulling disorder, or a skin picking disorder (dermotillomania, if you’re a fan of long words) – or rather, it’s the other way around.  A quarter of the people who pull out hair or pick at their skin also have a substance problem.  A quarter.  It’s enough to drive you to drink.

So. That sucks.  Oh, and also it’s basically incurable, or so the science says.  There’s precious little research into it at all (try http://www.trich.org if you recognise yourself in this post, for what there is) for a start.  And the research that does exist – well, I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty confident that I’m summarising it correctly when I say nobody knows what the hell the condition actually is (Science: “it’s a body focused repetitive behaviour!”  Well, thank you, that’s very helpful) – a compulsion?  An addiction?  Is it chemical, genetic, learned-behavioural?  And they CERTAINLY don’t know how to treat it.  I researched this in depth last year, and I talked to a long-time trich sufferer who was really enthusiastic about a new cognitive approach she’d been taught.  It was – get ready for this, because this is groundbreaking stuff – it was to do something else with her hands when she wanted to pull.  “Simply pull your hand back down to your side!” chirruped her counsellor, who apparently had a degree and everything.

unhelpful advice

Unsurprisingly, it has a very low success rate.  Even in long term studies where patients get a combination of CBT and medication, the success rate is maybe 15%.  We’re defining success, here, as a temporary reduction in symptoms.  Temporary.  Reduction.  Don’t spend all those eyelashes at once, kids.

ANYWAY.  All of that sucks.  And after spending my teens, and my twenties, basically hating myself for it, I decided that the only rational response was to accept this thing about myself.  So I carry eyeliner pencils wherever I go and draw in the lines where my hair isn’t.  It’s a way to live.

Recently, I was on an upswing, meaning that my eyelashes had grown in enough that there were no major bald spots, although these upswings never last long, so the eyelashes are always short.  Usually, when this happens, I enjoy it for a few days but I’m always just waiting for it to crash down and I’ll go back to looking like a freak.  I pluck a hair here, a hair there.  I make rules with myself about how many is okay – shades of moderating alcohol.  And then there’s always a night when I pull them all, in an orgy of self loathing, and the cycle starts again.

self destruct

This time, I decided not to.  I decided to see if I could, in fact, just do something else with my hands.  And so I’m on a bit of a journey, my friends.  This is what this post is supposed to be about, although I did get a wee bit distracted up there with all the statistics, sorry about that.

What’s it like, actively trying to resist trich?  It is like white knuckling ALL the time.  On the worst days, I walk down the street, or drive the kids to school, watching for traffic and listening to their stories and wondering what to cook for dinner, and at least half of my brain is thinking about plucking.  I know which lash.  I can feel it on my eyelid.  It’s wrong, it’s out of place.  It’s sticking out, longer than all the others, and if I just pluck that one, the wrong one, it’ll be easier to resist.


This is ridiculous.  It’s compulsive thinking, and there’s nothing rational about it.  Which doesn’t make it even slightly easier.  Most of the time I just feel like, why am I bothering to try this hard, when all it takes is one slip and I’m back to square one.  I’m just delaying the inevitable.

But I used to think like that when I was drinking and trying to moderate, too.  And I kept not drinking, and one day I didn’t miss it any more.  So maybe…?


So I’m still trying, and I’m winning for now.  My eyelashes are longer and thicker than they’ve been in more years than I can remember.  And it feels like it might be getting easier?  I don’t know.  I don’t have a lot of hope, because, see those first few paragraphs above.  The statistics are against me.

But for the first time since I was fourteen and my mother still thought therapy could fix me, I do feel some hope.

And leaves you wanting more

It’s a chilly evening,  but the lounge room is warm and clean.  The children are in bed, Lovely Husband is out at a class and I have the night to myself.  In front of me is a huge bowl of lentil soup, my favourite food in the world.

The first bite is heavenly.  Hot, spicy, creamy and thick, laced with lime and yoghurt for tang. I am perfectly satisfied, and in the very next second I feel a spike of anxiety. Eventually this bowl of soup, enormous though it is, will be gone and the pleasure will be over.  Even reminding myself that there is more soup in the pot doesn’t help, because there is no way I’ll be able to eat more.  Once this bowl of soup is done, it is done, and I am mourning its loss even as I contemplate a second spoonful.


You are, at this point, either nodding in recognition or thinking that I am entirely insane, and both are completely legitimate responses!  I laugh when I catch myself doing it now.  I used, of course, to do it with alcohol; my anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough pleasure in a bottle would almost outweigh the desire to drink it at all, which is both ludicrous and also explains part of why it is so much more peaceful not to drink it at all. I’d be watching a film, which would be coming up to the most emotional moment, but if my glass was almost empty I’d pause the narrative – and lose the tense build up – to make sure it was full again.  I couldn’t possibly lose myself in the moment if I didn’t also have that glass by my hand.

I haven’t lost any of that anxiety.  I still feel as if somehow, somewhere, I’ll hit upon a magical combination of fulfilling leisure and sensory pleasure that somehow satiates me completely and propels me into a new world.   And when I do find something that gets close – right now it’s Pretty Little Liars and knitting – I do it again and again, every evening.

Sleeves being knitted and worn at the same time

I cannot do this, in case you’re wondering

Sometimes I think that learning how to just be is the hardest thing of all.

Crisis management

(I haven’t been here for months, will you all forgive me?  Truthfully, I talk to you all in my head on a near-daily basis, so it was something of a shock to log in and discover that none of those words have made it into print. )

About two months ago, a huge stack of identical letters arrived in my mailbox, all bearing my old address.  I opened one.  It was a fine for $1100 – apparently my car registration had lapsed and I’d been driving unregistered without knowing.  $1100, and it was dated three months earlier.  My hands started to shake.  I opened another, and another, until I had a stack of fines totalling well over $10,000.  I sat on the floor because I didn’t think I could stand for a while.  There was a lot of noise in my head.

When I told Lovely Husband, he was not.  Lovely, I mean.  He was distant and then angry and then hostile and then distant again.  I cried a lot.

In the morning, I dragged Little Girl from government department to government department, trying to sort it out, and by the end of the day I thought it was under control.  I could legally drive again; some fines were paid; others were in abeyance pending review.

And then six weeks later, a police car pulled me over in the school yard, lights flashing, siren on, because there were more fines, ones I hadn’t known about, and I no longer had a licence.  Another day of sorting things out, another assurance that everything was under control.

This time, I didn’t tell Lovely Husband.

And it just kept spiralling.  I’d get a letter telling me that my payment plan was in arrears, when I didn’t have a payment plan.  I’d ring up to address one letter, and be informed that something else was now overdue and another fine levied.  Every time I got back up, another surprise would knock me down.  I no longer felt safe driving my children to school.  I dreaded opening the post.  I burst into tears several times a day, for no reason.  I snapped at my children.  I couldn’t sleep.


So I went to my GP, and I asked if he could give me anything for the anxiety.  Something very temporary, I said, and I added a caveat: I’m in recovery from a drinking problem, so I don’t want to take anything that will be problematic from an addiction point of view.

He wrote down Has a drinking problem.

No, I said.  I do not have a drinking problem.  I don’t drink.  What I have is a history of addiction, so I need help but I don’t want to risk anything potentially addictive.

I can prescribe you Diazepam, he said.  It mimics the effects of alcohol, so you’ll feel more relaxed, maybe a bit sleepy or just silly and euphoric, but like alcohol it can also exacerbate the feelings of depression if you’re struggling with that.


be happy

In the event, he instead wrote me a prescription for a series of therapy appointments, so now I’m in therapy, about which I am deeply fucking conflicted, thank you for asking, but I’m going anyway.  Report back here for my extremely interested musings on What Is Normal Mental Health Anyway.  But in the meantime, here are some things I have learned:

  2. Government departments suck
  3. I mean so do I but mostly them
  4. This whole thing has really, really sucked.  Like, I could write you an entire novel about this.  It has left such serious bruising in the tender flesh of my marriage, and I’m still working through how to deal with that and move on.  Also the original issue, re: the fines, is still at large.
  5. Doctors could maybe do with some training about non-active addiction because really?
  6. But, and this is important, I have ROCKED this shit.  That might sound ridiculous, given that I’ve just talked about bursting into tears constantly and stress-induced insomnia.  But I used all the tools I have at my disposal, doling out doses of sunshine and knitting and uplifting books like medicine.  I accepted that part of working through this was just going through it – the feelings were bad, but they were just feelings, and I sat with the anger and the terror and the sadness for a long time.  And when I could no longer function on a daily basis using my own resources, I went and asked for professional help.
  7. I see no reason at all why I would ever, ever drink again. Alcohol would have been the perfect solution to most of this situation.  But it hasn’t really been an option for me, not because of the dire consequences but because…it’s not one of my tools.  It’s not something I do.  It is astounding to me, this total absence of something that was once so important, but it is completely legitimate nonetheless.

Anyway.  So, that’s what’s happening in my life.  It’s not over.  It’s not yet a funny story from my past.  I’m not entirely sure that it won’t white-ant my marriage.  But I’m still here, and I’m still sober.