Why Do I have Trichotillomania
For me when I was 7-8 years old, someone told me that if an eyelash fell out, you could blow on it and make a wish and it would come true. I remember going to our downstairs bathroom and methodically pulling eyelashes out and making wishes. I would wish for all sorts of things. From treats for Ariel, the family cat, toys, stuff for my family, and world peace. Obviously none of these came true.
At the same time, my parents were divorcing. There was so much yelling and screaming. I remember when I use to go to my friend's house how quiet I thought it was. My mother supported two kids for many years alone and needed a partner to meet her half way. I remember her coming home late after 9 pm many days. I remember missing her. It must have been awful for her. My father was either mentally ill or not, but couldn't get along with anyone to stay at a job. Sometimes I wonder if he had/has autism. Either way, providing for his family was just not on his agenda.
I remember my father came into my room when I was watching my favorite tv show "Family Matters" and looked at my lack of lashes in disappointment. I just remember his face reacting to what "I have done to myself". I felt shame. If you have a child who pulls their hair out, try to make a different experience for them.
When my parents finally divorced and I lived with my mom, I got to see my dad every so often. He would usually ask "So, are you still pulling your hair out?" Please don't ask your kid this. There is no point. It puts a lot of pressure on stopping which is harder on kids than adults I imagine. Ask them how they manage uncomfortable emotions, ask how they soothe themselves, and ask if they would like to try new things like yoga or meditation for a few minutes. Those were not even sentences my parents knew to ask since they themselves had poor models growing up for self-love and self-comforting.
Anxiety is a fact of life. I think how we decide to manage anxiety dictates so much of our future. Some people don't pull their hair out but resort to chain smoking, drinking, drugs, stealing, cheating, or all sorts of things that are more known about but much worse than bald spots in my opinion. Trichotillomania can't cause cancer or destroy your liver and take years off your life.
I think trichotillomania can result from either nurture or nature. Over all, if you don't model how to self-soothe or self-comfort, your child can be at risk for some dysfunctional behaviors.
My father spoke at nauseam about the "amygdala" being the source of all humanity's troubles. I am really regretful he did not ever find a therapist or support group to teach him how to calm the "amygdala". Only later in his life did he try meditation. Stress is a part of life. Our response to stress can be modeled for us in ways that are problematic later.
Parents do the best they can so looking back there is no use in the "what if's". I know my friends who came from different families have their own set of unique issues. When you have trich, you wear your issue on your sleeve so it's more public.
OCD can also be a way someone copes with stress so when I read the scientific study that showed people with trichotillomania usually have one first relative with OCD, this was not surprising. Research article here.
So what can you do if you or your child have trichotillomania and want to learn to self-soothe behaviors?
1. Meditation- Headspace app is free! 5 min or 10 min can set your day back on track. I like how it teaches you to allow your thoughts to "come and go" like watching cars. Finding a peace in your mind when it's so loud and busy is very important. I learned how to distance myself from bad emotions better after doing it. I regret not learning more from meditation earlier in life.
2. Pets- This blog starts with a picture of a guinea pig because that was my first personal pet. Animals were always soothing to be around. They don't "talk at you" or criticize or hurt you. It wasn't until this year that I got my own dog that I learned the power of someone happy to be with me or just be around me no matter how I felt. I love taking her on walks and throwing her ball. I wake up to her sleeping by my side everyday now. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like if I had gotten a dog sooner. I think things would have been better when I was younger for sure. I moved a few times and felt some really lonely years. If you can't have a pet now, you can visit pets at the pet store or shelter. I use to walk dogs at a shelter as a freshmen.
3. Working out/ yoga/exercise- I don't want to write much on this since we all know the benefits of endorphins running through your body! Maybe dancing and cleaning to favorite song can be a way to self-soothe when you are pulling and anxious. I am not going to sit here and pretend I have been to the gym recently though! lol.
4. Hair care/ Showers/ Bubble Baths/ massages- I have wanted to experiment with hair growth ingredients and I have found those times were soothing. Taking a shower is always enjoyable for me and so at night when I tend to pull, I started also doing "hair care" which included doing hair masks and growth serums. So I would take a usual shower, hop out and apply mushroom hair mask and/or Crescere growth serum. Then I would wait (usually however long something else lasted like homework...maybe 10 min or an hour) and take another shower to wash it out with baby shampoo. Remember wet hair, is harder to pull! I'd also do my brow treatments too. Oily brows are harder to pull too! Sometimes I ask my partner for a massage or scalp massage.
5. Drinking tea/ Eating popcorn with your dog watching Netflix comedy or "extraordinary homes"- I know this is random but it's my favorite thing at night now. Watching tv can be a "high hair pulling scenario" so popcorn is nice because it keeps your hands busy and makes them greasy. You probably aren't gonna stick your hands in your hair when they are coated with butter!
6. Gardening- Plants are calming. I don't know why but I love them. I like building terrariums. I like watering something and watching it grow. It's just slow and peaceful.
7. Art- Even if you don't think you have much ability, it does keep your hands occupied. Art was an outlet for me during some dark times. There was a year I painted nothing but horses in high school which angered my one art teacher to no end. I look back and I am pretty disappointed in how some of my teachers interacted with me. I had one AP English teacher who use to point my trich out to the class by saying "I can't stand that hair thing you do". I started sketching instead to occupy my hands and he became even more irate and threatened me in front of the class that if i didn't stop drawing he was going to "put the paper somewhere I didn't want him to". It was humiliating. My parents really should have spoken to my teachers about my trich so they understood what was happening. Teachers reading this should be aware that some behaviors are not personal digs at you and your kids come from varied backgrounds resulting in different psychological manifestations. To parents reading this, don't let your kid have this experience, send a quick email. Maybe go to parent-teacher conferences or call the school guidance counselor.
8. Cog. Behavioral therapy- Now, let's be clear. There are good therapists, mediocre ones and some that really you should skip. They are people too! You don't have to commit to someone just because you spent one session or a few with someone. Standard practice is usually 6 sessions anyway. If you call them and ask them about trich and CBT, and they aren't familiar or have experience, you should keep calling around. I saw a few who didn't know much about trich and it was kinda useless for trich. They told me to "use a rubber band" on my wrist to replace pulling. It didn't work for me and I have literally not seen anyone attest that it worked for them. One did suggest a trich journal where you record time, place, date, feelings, how many hairs pulled etc. That was interesting and helpful. You DO need to become aware of the triggers and the dangerous times and places. He also suggested bagging the hair and bringing it in each week. Kinda makes me uncomfortable but I guess that's the point. It really holds you accountable. He wasn't a trich specialist but had a few helpful ideas. Maybe they can help you?
What was the best therapist for me? Not a therapist but a life coach. I remember walking in and saying how "My dad said I should work on X" and he was like "Why? Do you want to work on that?" and I didn't. Instead we made a list of things together. It was active. Afterward, I would leave his office and implement the list. It wasn't just me going into someone's office with a bunch of sound machines and crying about people and failures I couldn't change and then handing over a check. You could do that in your room for free!
9. Napping- Enough said really. Make yourself yawn, meditate, and drift away. ZZZzzzz. For all those people who can't sleep, I challenge you to wear yourself out midday and then read dense articles for hours in a cold room after eating potatoes or doing calculus.