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This is not the face of trichotillomania; I've never been brave enough to photograph myself at my lowest point. This is the face of recovery.
My relationship with my hands has been one of the love/hate variety for nearly my entire life. My hands do the most wonderful things: they caress, they write, they type, they clasp with the hands of others. But, they have also put me through some of the worst times of my life.
I don't remember what triggered it, but I'm forced to believe it was the constant ridicule I faced because of my weight in my pre-pubescent years. I don't remember the first time it happened. The oldest occurrence I can remember was when I was ten years old, not long after the criticism of my body began. I was in the fifth grade. I was at my grandparents' house, sitting and chatting with them and my mom right after she had gotten there to pick me up. I can't remember if I had already pulled or if I was pulling right in front of them, but I was chastised in front of everyone for it. Instead of concern floating around, I was being threatened with punishment. I didn't think too much of it at first and I wasn't too self-conscious about it.
I was doing it one morning in the car on the way to school and my mom told me she was going to take me to the doctor if I didn't quit. I wish she would have.
This has been a curse that has plagued me for sixteen years. That's over two-thirds of my life. I don't remember not struggling with this disorder. I've faced ridicule and adversity from my peers and, on occasion, people I thought were my friends. I've spent a lot of my time hiding behind my hair, fake eyelashes, and refusing to let people see me from my side profile. I can't think of anything else in my life that has destroyed my self-esteem in the way this disorder has. This disorder is an absolute monster. It is a demon and it cannot be stopped. There is no blanket cure for it. There is no medicine specifically designed to treat it.
This monster is called trichotillomania and it affects nearly two and a half million Americans. It is an anxiety disorder which is characterized by hair-pulling. Some people pluck hairs from their head, others from their arms or legs, and some from their eyes or eyebrows. Unfortunately, I am one of the latter. I spent many of my teenage years eyelash-less. I didn't really start digging into my eyebrows until later in high school; probably my junior or senior year.
I've never really bothered categorizing my hair-pulling trends, like what feelings trigger it or when I'm most susceptible to the urges. But, I am curious to know about these trends and how I can curb the things I'm feeling that cause me to pull my eyelashes and brows. I've noticed that, when I'm upset or crying, it seems to strike. But, it also pops up when I'm doing nothing; boredom pulling. It's like a habit. Most of the time, I don't even realize I'm doing it. It's just second nature and that's terrifying to know that I could become so entranced in thought that I don't even realize I'm destroying my own face.
I've gone through phases where the urges subsided and suppressed themselves. Fortunately, I was able to curb them a few years ago and grow back my brows and lashes and they were beautiful. But, old habits die hard and the monster reared its ugly head again last year. The urges started to slowly creep back up right before my wedding, but fortunately, by the time the wedding came, I hadn't lost much; nothing noticeable anyway. But, the last few months have been the worst in three years. I'm not sure why either. I've got a nearly-perfect marriage, I'm comfortable financially, I'm comfortable with my job, I've been writing and keeping the house up. I have slacked off with my exercising in the last six months or so. I would name that as the culprit, but I was still pretty actively hitting the gym around the time the urges began again.
I spent much of junior high and high school as a somewhat shy girl. I had no self-esteem, I thought I was ugly because I didn't have thick, beautiful lashes like the other girls. I'm sure my low self-esteem was written all over my face.
I've never come out about this before publicly, because the only times I tried to come out about this to other people, I was somewhat made fun of. The first person I told was one of my best friends as a teenager. We were sitting in my clubhouse in the backyard, hanging out and listening to music. That's when I told her. "I have an anxiety disorder that makes me pull my eyelashes out." She laughed. Looking back now, I can't imagine she would have ever laughed at me. I think, maybe, she laughed because she was shocked by my confession - maybe she just didn't understand it. The second person I told was my ex-husband. I told him right after we got engaged, because I thought he deserved to know exactly what he was getting himself into before he married me. We hugged, he said he understood, he was very supportive. But, when he became both verbally and physically abusive, he seemed to forget my confession. We would be lying in bed about to go to sleep and he would roll over and ask, "why don't you have any eyebrows?" And I would say, "I don't wanna talk about this. I already told you why." And he would claim amnesia; that I never disclosed the details to him.
It's been, probably, seven years since I've told anyone about my disorder. I've never been clinically diagnosed or medicated. I've been dealing with this beast by myself for sixteen years. In high school, my peers would ask, "why don't you have any eyelashes?", "where are your eyelashes?" Teenagers have no filters and then pride themselves on the fact. It's nothing to be proud of when you're kicking someone who's already face down in the mud.
At one point in my previous relationship, I was completely eyebrow- and eyelash-less. My face was literally bald. I tried my hardest to learn how to fill in my eyebrows and, when people would make remarks about my 'drawn-on' eyebrows, I would just say that my eyebrows were naturally really light and didn't match the shade of my hair, so I filled them in. It's true, though. Ever since I dyed my hair brown, even when I do have eyebrows, I fill them in or my face still looks bald. But, back then, I was just lying to cover my own ass.
One time, I got into an argument with a friend of a friend over social media and she tweeted, "how are you gonna talk shit when your eyebrows are crooked?" Or something along those lines, I can't remember exactly. I just sat there and thought, "wow...this person is literally making fun of me for something that I basically have no control over; she's poking fun at a mental illness." My own flesh and blood cousin commented on my selfie one time and asked if I drew my eyebrows on with a Sharpie.
Currently, I'm one month pull-free. My eyebrows look like unkempt shrubbery. However, my eyebrows haven't been a big problem in a long time. In the last month or so, I kinda pulled the ends and left them bare, but I still have my brows. My lashes took a real beating last month and I was virtually bald on my eyelids...again. My lashes are finally grown back; not fully but almost.
I read stories of people suffering with the same disorder and some of these people lament that they've been dealing for fifty or sixty years. Do you know how terrifying that is to me? To know that I could be dealing with self-esteem issues because of my appearance for the rest of my life? Having been tortured for my weight my whole life, I can deal with that. I will never be the beautiful, thin girl who eats whatever she wants and never gains a pound. But, to deal with this horrific mental disorder for the rest of my life...I'm reduced to tears just thinking about it. I've always hoped there would be an end in sight, but there isn't. Not right now, maybe not ever. This is something that I am going to have to wake up and fight with every single day of my life. I'm going to have to be vigilant day and night for decades to come. And, to know that I'm putting all of this effort into dropping this bad habit once and for all...for the hundredth time...and there's a good chance it won't even stick...it sucks. It fucking sucks.
I really hope, for the sake of my sanity, that a cure for this is discovered sometime in my lifetime. I can't imagine dealing with this forever. I want to be unaffected by my lashes and brows. I don't even want to think about them unless I'm putting on makeup. I don't want my fingers to constantly wander to them when I'm bored or upset or mad.
This is the quiet disorder that no one seems to talk about. This is the disorder that people conceal from their loved ones in the hopes of preventing people from thinking they're freaks.
We aren't freaks. I'm not a freak. I'm not weird. I'm not crazy.
This is a disorder that needs to be addressed and I'm here to address it.