I’m going to ask you to do a bit of thinking. Just, go along with it.
Imagine that you have an idea for something – a project, a story, anything you’re excited to start doing. Imagine getting started, the rush of creativity, that joy of beginning something new. Then you stop and take a breath. Stretch. Go over your notes and prepare to carry on with the next bit…
But then imagine that 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 suddenly 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 summon the will to stop. Imagine standing up, pacing the room with your hands clenched into fists at your side. You stare at your work and tell yourself to calm down, that everything is fine, that you’re strong and you can beat this.
And 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 absently back towards your eye. Just one, you tell yourself. One won’t hurt. 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 notice. 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. Approaching your work and having to face the same fight.
I suffer from a compulsive behaviour disorder known as Trichotillomania. It’s related to OCD and other anxiety based conditions, and is often brought on by stress or depression. I’ve struggled with this 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. It just did, and kept on happening. I didn’t even discover that it had a name until a few years ago, and since then things have gotten a little bit easier. For one thing, realising it was an actual medical condition and that I wasn’t the only person who has it was incredibly liberating. Since then, I’ve been to workshops and learned ways to keep it under control. Often I can go for days without pulling, but the desire always returns eventually. I’ve accepted that I will never be free of it. It’s something so integral to who I am, sometimes I almost get defensive about it. I hate Trich, but at the same time, it’s a defining part of who I am.
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 some sort of circus act. 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? They must have such sad lives. If anything, I’m thankful to them for shaping me into who I am today. Years of ignoring snide comments has given me a thick skin, and taught me to appreciate the kind people who now surround me.
I’m writing this post for many reasons. But mainly, because I want to help people. Trichotillimania is hell. I spent years dealing with it alone, and I don’t ever want anyone to go through that. So if you’re reading this, imagine the future. Imagine telling someone your dark and deadly secret, and having them put their arms around you and tell you it’s alright. Imagine walking out into the street, without a wig, hat or make-up, and holding your head high and facing the world. I’m telling you this now, and please remember it: You are beautiful, and you always will be. If anyone tells you different, like the people at school did to me, then they’re the ones who are ugly. Not you. Never you. So just hang in there – one day you will find the people who matter, and you will shine.
If you have made it to the end of this long post, then thank you for staying with me. And if you’re one of the lovely university people or someone I’ve told about Trich, then thank you some more. I can never express how grateful I am.
If you’re a stranger who has just discovered the world of Trichotillomania, then I’m going to ask you a favour. If you see anyone hurting, not just hair pulling – anyone crying, screaming, self-harming or walking around with a little rain cloud over their heads – go up to them. Tell them they’re beautiful. Tell them they’re strong and that everything will be okay. There is enough pain in this world without us creating more by judging each other.
If you’re a stranger who suffers from Trichotillomania, then you are not a stranger. You’re a comrade, a fellow soldier in this war. 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, I would love to chat to you.