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.
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.
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.