Sunday, April 19, 2015

Trichotillomania | My Journey, Tips & Trichs

If you find yourself pulling out your hair on a regular basis, please go and book an appointment with your local doctor. I can give you advice from my own experience, but I do not have any medical qualifications.

Trichotillomania 
This post is all about my experience with trichotillomania. I've had trichotillomania for ten years so this post will be long but also very personal. I am open about my hair pulling so please do not hesitate to contact me further if you have any questions or just want to chat. I've always been really open to my friends/family about it and no one has ever rejected me, so please do not be scared about opening up to someone about it.

I aim to be able to get my story out to as many people who suffer from Trichotillomania as possible. I want everyone to know that they are not alone. It is incredibly common and as many as 4 out of 100 people could have it.

For those of you who aren't aware of what it is, here is a definition from dictionary.com:

Trichotillomania - noun, a compulsion to pull out one's hair

In my case, I pull out my eyebrows and eyelashes.

Unfortunately I did not take many pictures of my face during the worst periods but I have added the few photos that I have found.

My Trichotillomania Story

My journey started when I was around 11 years old when I started boarding school.

I have absolutely no idea what set it off. Perhaps it was the fact that I was starting to wear mascara, maybe it was a subconscious way of dealing with new surroundings. I cannot and will not ever be able to tell you why. 

I am now 21 and I still pull.

The way I pull is that I tend to fold the lash until it breaks, they will get shorter and shorter until I finally pull out the entire lash. As for my eyebrows, I play with them a bit, twist the hairs between my thumb and forefinger and then eventually just pull them out.

The older I got, the worse my pulling became. I have always thought it was linked with stress and the older I got, the more academic stress I had. I had GCSE's, then A Levels and now I have my degree.

I have found that my pulling goes through cycles throughout the year, typically following the academic year. The summer is when I will pull the least and then winter time until exams is when I pull the most. I don't know if I pull less during the Summer because the weather is nicer or because I don't have any academic work. Who knows!

Between 11 and 18, it was mostly just my eyelashes I pulled out. I did not go to see a doctor during this time, as I thought it was just a weird habit.

February 2009 - Bald Patch On Right Eyelash Line
However, I did see a hypnotherapist when I was around 13 or 14. To summarise, he got me to wear elastic bands on my wrists and "trained" me to "ping" myself with the elastic bands whenever I touched my lashes.

The elastic band idea did work whilst I was wearing them, but I do think it is slightly abusive. It was basically a form of punishment for being yourself, which I think is quite degrading. Seeing as what I was doing felt natural to me, by punishing myself, I was subconsciously telling myself that I was a "bad" person. 

From my experience, I would advise to not bother seeing a hypnotherapist. All it did was prolong my battle with the disorder. The same goes for "self-help" audio hypnotherapy that you can download or get in CD form. 

When I was 18 years old, I somehow managed to contract Henoch-Schönlein Purpura. I would get a rash all over my legs and a lot of inflammation in my ankles, which really impaired my ability to walk. This really affected my last six months of school, and I was really starting to pull out my eyelashes a lot.

February 2012, Henoch-Schönlein Purpura
I was dealing with my A Level exams, the pressure of getting into University as well as the fact that I had to write and deliver a speech in front of around 500 people in May. By the end of the school year, I had very short eyelashes.

During the Summer 2012, my legs started to get better and I was able to enjoy my life again and my eyelashes grew back.

I started University in Autumn 2012. My trichotillomania peaked at its worst during my first two years of University.

In November 2012 it had hit one of its lowest points. I remember feeling my lashes and there being 2 lashes on one of my lids. It was completely bare. The weird soft feeling of my lash line still clings in my memory today. I used to wear false lashes on nights out, and even that was a huge struggle because there were no lashes for them to stick onto.

As the academic year progressed, I managed to let my lashes grow after that November but started attacking my eyebrows instead. The picture below was taken during my exam period (April/May 2013) where I had very little to no eyebrow.

Spring 2013, First Year University - Sparse eyebrows

Like I said, Summer is when I seem to pick the least. During the summer of 2013 I let my lashes grow completely and I think most of my eyebrows as well.

My second year of University is when it got to a point where I needed serious help. Between the end of Summer and Christmas Holidays, I had started picking/pulling again. This is where Trichotillomania became more than just a having a bare face. On Christmas Day I couldn't even be around my family. I spent the entire day crying in what felt like non physical pain.

The next 2 months continued like this. I would cry myself to sleep and just feel constantly tired, ill and that anything could set me off. I had multiple "breakdowns" where I would be in a public place and then just had to leave because I would be sobbing so hard.

Spring 2014 Second Year University - Sparse Eyelashes

I felt so beyond helpless. I used to cry before going to lectures, and often missed them. Luckily I was able to catch up with them online later on in the day. I had to reschedule a few seminars (i.e. go to another group) because I just couldn't face going to my own seminar.

I have always really cared about my grades and so I sought out help. I told myself that I couldn't go on like this, and I knew that I needed help as soon as possible.

I tried to go through the NHS but it was so slow that I took matters into my own hands. My parents were able to pay for my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I was extremely lucky to be able to have done that, and I know that most people in my situation would not have been given that privilege.

CBT helped me understand my disorder. It helped me understand what it is and why I do it. By finding out why I did it, I was able to find solutions on how to deal with it.

I was lucky to be able to postpone my exams and did them at the end of August instead. During the Summer of 2014, I grew back a full set of eyelashes and even had full eyebrows. Even though I had spent the entire Summer revising, I was still able to grow everything back and got a happy 2.1 at the end of it.

August 2014 - Full Eyelashes & Eyebrows (Wearing Makeup) 
Fast forward to today, April 2015 and I have started pulling out my eyebrows again. Obviously that's not great but I am happy. I know what triggers me, and I know how to deal with it and I am still pulling less than I used to. This time last year I had no eyebrows or eyelashes. Today, I have a full set of lashes and half eyebrows and my happiness. That to me, is progress. It's a long journey and I will always have good and bad days. 


How I deal with Trichotillomania 

Long Term Solutions

Unless I have missed something, there is no quick and easy way to stop pulling. 

I really hate saying it, let alone posting it to the entire world, because I hate the fact that it's true. I have spent so many hours on the internet reading about the various ways of keeping your hands busy or keeping the areas covered. They will not work long term. This is not something I have been told, this is what I have realised. I have tried all of the different methods. Of course, they will help in certain situations and can work short term. At the end of the day, the reason you want to pull will always be there, with or without a hat on your head or glasses protecting your eyelashes. 

The way I think you have to deal with trich is to get down to the core of what you're feeling. As it comes under a mental health problem, you may want to speak to your doctor about a possibility of having anxiety and or depression as well. Again, I am still not a doctor. But, I will offer some advice that I would have given to a younger version of myself.

I had to find out what triggered my trich and what made me feel like I needed to pull. I needed professional help to realise what my deep rooted issues were, so do not be surprised if you can't figure it out yourself. 

Apart of the obvious cycle of pulling out a hair, feeling like I've failed myself and then pulling out more hairs as a coping mechanism, I had other issues.

My issues were;
  • Low self-esteem, in particular feeling unintelligent
  • Procrastination
I genuinely thought I was stupid, hopeless and just couldn't do anything. I know it sounds ridiculous and borderline attention seeking but it is the truth. I had extremely high standards for myself and anything below that, I deemed a failure.

I had thought that I wouldn't get into University and so when I started, I had the attitude that I was going to fail. I didn't think I was cut out for the course. I ended up just believing I couldn't do the work, then I would procrastinate a lot and not do the work. Then my grades would suffer. When my grades suffered, I felt stupid and so I would pull more. It was a downward spiral.

My solutions were to believe I could do it, then get the work done and to stop procrastinating.

This is so much harder said than done. I just focused on not worrying about the hair pulling, as long as I got some work done. I found that once I did some work, it reflected in my seminar where I could understand what was going on and being able to join in with answering questions etc. My grades started to improve. That made me feel good about myself and made me feel less stupid. I realised that I could do it and I felt better about myself, I was less stressed and as a result: I pulled less. 

It's a positive cycle.

Procrastination in itself had a solution; stop procrastinating. This was a bit of a knock on effect from the low self-esteem. Don't get me wrong, I can still procrastinate until the cows come home. The difference now, is that I understand what happens when I procrastinate. I know that I will pull more and I know I will be more stressed later on. So, I just try and not procrastinate as much as I can. I find making "To Do Lists" really help with this. 

My Cycle

There are so many layers to my trich that it's difficult to simplify it to one written cycle but here is a basic version of it.

Think I'm unintelligent > Think that I can't do my work > See I have a lot of work to do > Put off doing my work because I don't think I can do it > Pull > Don't do the work > Grades suffer > Pull > Feel like a failure for pulling > Pull 

So by telling myself that I was clever and that I wouldn't be in the position that I was in if it weren't for my intellectual capability, I was having a knock on effect on my cycle. The same goes with procrastination, I am breaking the cycle a little bit more by not procrastinating.

Think I'm intelligent > Feel like I can do my work > Do my work > See my progress > Do well > Feel less stressed > Pull less > Feel good for pulling less > Feeling like I can accomplish things > Pull less 


Short Term Solutions

If you have scrolled down to this section, please scroll back up and read everything else first. This section will not help you tackle your hair pulling in the long term. 

Taking on board everything that I have learnt about myself and how to deal with my thoughts, I also still have the issue of stopping myself from actually pulling. Guess what the solution is.

Stop pulling.

Again, easier said than done. 

This is the most mentally draining part of the ordeal. It is really hard, but it can be done. 

Whenever I catch myself pulling, I will move my hand away. It is really hard to move my hand away, and most of the time, I will find my hand back there within 30 seconds. But the more I do this, the less my hand goes back there. The key is to not feel bad about it. You are not a bad person or a failure for doing something that feels natural to you. 

Somedays are bad days and I just don't have the energy to stop myself, that it is ok because it is a process. I'm pulling far less than I was two years ago, and hopefully I will be pulling less in two years time, than I am today. 

When I find my hand going back a lot. I will try and get myself out of the situation. If I am doing it during studying, I will get up and get a cup of tea. Or if I'm trying to sleep but attacking my face instead, I will get up and go to the toilet. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you can't remove yourself, take a deep breath. I like to do this even in situations where I can remove myself. Breathing really helps, it is a natural relaxant and can change your mindset within 10 seconds.



I have a few things that help me when I'm pretty desperate:
  • Alice bands on my eyebrows
  • Wearing reading glasses (you can get ones with false lenses)
  • Putting vaseline (or any similar product) on your areas to make it harder to pull
  • Wearing gloves 

Please remember that you can't rely on these methods, they will not 'cure' you. 

For other types of trich
  • Hats
  • Long sleeved clothing
  • Long trousers
I like using incentives to help me stop. For example, eyelash and eyebrow serums. In the past I have used Mavala Double Lash. I have a rapid brow in the post and I am hoping that will help me during this exam period.


My last piece of advice is: 
Do not let it become your identity. Do not let it stop anything you want to do. It is not you, it is something you deal with.


To Summarise
My advice to you would be: 

- Do not feel bad about pulling out a hair
 - Take it day by day, there will be good and bad days
- Find out what triggers you & find a solution  
- Go and speak to a doctor about your condition
- Speak to loved ones about how you are feeling
- Remember that hair grows back!


Thank you for reading this post and I hope that I have been able to help at least one person. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want someone to talk to. I am active on a lot of social media, Twitter and Instagram being my main ones but I am also contactable through my Facebook page. 

I am planning on writing a blogpost and or doing a youtube video describing how I create my eyebrows. Please do subscribe to my Youtube channel, or at least follow me on one of the aforementioned platforms to make sure you don't miss out on those tips! 

Love, G x

G Beauty
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