First, I’m going to ask you to do a bit of thinking.
Image you’re doing something you love. A project, hobby, reading a book, playing a game, anything. But then there’s something in your eye. Or, you think there is. Your hand automatically tries to remove it, prodding around in the sticky tear duct and flicking at your eyelashes. You blink and find that it’s gone, but you can’t move your hand away. Your fingers are playing with your eyelashes, nipping at them like a puppy with a toy. Your brain screams ‘no! no! no!’ But you can’t hear it. You can’t stop. You stand up, pacing the room with your hands clenched into fists. You tell yourself to calm down, that everything is fine, that you’re strong and you can beat this. Sometimes you do.
But the other times…
You give in. The desire to grab your hair becomes uncontrollable. Painful, and merciless. You have no choice. Your hand drifts back towards your eye of its own accord. Just one. One won’t make a difference. You can limit it to that. The sharp tug and twinge of pain is satisfying. The eyelash falls to the ground. You don’t make a wish on it; you spent your allowance many years ago. You watch it fall and feel better, but there’s another one. Just next to the one you pulled out. It feels odd now, exposed. Two won’t make a difference… Oh, oops. You missed it, got a different one instead. Better try again…
Then imagine the next day. Getting up, having breakfast, showering. Steeling yourself. Doing something new and having to face the same fight again.
I have from a compulsive behaviour disorder known as Trichotillomania. It’s related to OCD and other anxiety based conditions. I’ve struggled with it for as long as I can remember; hair pulling is just something I’ve always done. I don’t know when, or why, it started happening. I didn’t even discover the name ‘Trichotillomania’ until I was 17. When I was a child, my parents didn’t think of it as anything more than a silly habit I would grow out of. As a teenager, I grew weary of everyone telling me to ‘just stop it!’ or ‘you really need to grow some eyelashes’ as though lacking them was an immense flaw in my character. Like I needed them to be normal and accepted. No-one, myself included, understood why I pulled my hair out in the first place and why I couldn’t stop doing it. Reaching my wit’s end and turning to Google, it didn’t take me long to discover that I wasn’t alone and that I had an genuine medical condition. I burst into tears of relief. I wasn’t a freak. I wasn’t the only person in the world who suffered like this. I had a real condition. I could name it. I could FINALLY give people a reason. There wasn’t anything wrong with me, I just had Trichotillomania.
The liberation which came with learning this improved my confidence. I began to talk more about my hair pulling, and be less ashamed of it. Even so, many people still didn’t understand it. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to recognise situations which may trigger an attack. I can go for days, or even weeks, without pulling, as opposed to when I was younger and would pull every day. But the urge always returns eventually, and if I’m not careful all the progress I’ve made can be destroyed in an instant. I’ve accepted that I will never be free of it. Trich is so integral to my life, I can almost get defensive about it. I hate it, but at the same time, it’s a defining part of who I am. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have hair pulling attacks.
Of course, I was bullied at school. Other kids would ask me why I didn’t have eyelashes, and I’d shrug and pretend I didn’t know. If they caught me pulling they would laugh and whisper behind my back. One time in class I heard a boy behind me murmuring to a new pupil about the girl over there who pulls out her own hair. The new guy sneered in disbelief, but then later on he saw the evidence. Another face watching me like I was a circus attraction. Those bullies used to upset me, but now I pity them. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so narrow-minded and cruel. To not even think to ask someone if they’re okay, to just automatically decide to taunt them because they’re different. But if anything I should thank them, because their cruelty makes me appreciate the kind people who now surround me far more.
If you also have Trichotillomania, then fair greetings to you, my fellow comrade. Look in the mirror. Smile. Write ‘don’t pull’ on your hand every morning to remind yourself. Be brave. Leave a comment on this post and say hello.
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