Category Archives: 5 Things Thursday Linky Party

5 Things Thursday {#15}—The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good: A Trichotillomaniac’s Tale

If you’re a title reader, then your first two thoughts after reading today’s title are probably: A) “Didn’t she mean ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly?’” and B) “What in the living heck is a ‘trichotillomaniac?!!’”

In answer to A) I jacked up the order on purpose.

As for B) a Trichotillomaniac is someone who has Trichotillomania (trick-o-til-o-MAY-nee-ah).

And that, according to The Trichotillomania Learning Center, is “a disorder that causes people to pull out the hair from their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest, legs or other parts of the body, resulting in noticeable bald patches. Hair pulling varies greatly in its severity, location on the body, and response to treatment. For some people, at some times, trichotillomania is mild and can be quelled with a bit of extra awareness and concentration. For others, at times the urge may be so strong that it makes thinking of anything else nearly impossible.”

To put it a bit more succinctly, I am a trichotillomaniac.

I mentioned in my {third} P.S. at the end of yesterday’s post that today’s post would be the hardest I’ve ever written, and some of you may have thought I was being a smidge dramatic.

But after reading the description of trich, you might have changed your mind.

You might even be cringing at the thought of a tell-all downer in which I use you guys as my free psychotherapy so I can get this big bad secret off my chest.

Well, I am indeed heaving a thing or two off my chest today, but I hope that you will bear with me through, yes, the ugly, the bad, and the good, keeping in mind that I ended with that last one for a reason (warning: this post is long).

I’ve titled today’s post “A Trichotillomaniac’s Tale,” so I suppose I should just start telling.

I’ve pulled my hair for as long as I can remember.

Oddly enough, until a month ago, I had never asked my mom when I started exactly.

Her response: “You were itty bitty. 4-years-old, probably. I came to pick you up from Ronda’s house, and your eyes were completely bald, but you didn’t have a clue. You just smiled and said, ‘Hi, Mama!’”

Since the beginning of trich is often associated with a traumatic event, I asked if she knew what had set me off, but she just shook her head and said, “I don’t know. And you didn’t either.”

It’s actually a bit frustrating to know that I’ll never pinpoint an exact cause for the demon that’s plagued me for the last 25 years.

But, mostly, it doesn’t even matter.

The crucial thing is not that I began pulling (or why) but that I continued—chronically, obsessively, uncontrollably—for a quarter of a century.

My eyelashes have always been my area of “expertise,” but I started pulling both my hair and my eyebrows somewhere in my late teens/early 20’s.

(I do know why I added those two, but it’s not important to share here).

I can remember Ronda’s (my childhood best friend) mom saying things like, “Abbie! Don’t pull out your pretty eyelashes! God put them there to keep your eyes safe…to keep yucky stuff out!”

Of course, she was right, but, unfortunately, five-year-olds aren’t terribly motivated by ick-free eyes—not when there’s the lovely cathartic ping and accompanying surge of satisfaction that can be had with one swift yank of the fingers.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)  says that trich “includes the criterion of an increasing sense of tension before pulling the hair and gratification or relief when pulling the hair.”

That last part about gratification…yeah…I totally get that.

Until today, I could count the number of people who know about my trich on two hands, but almost every single one of them has asked me the same question: “Doesn’t it hurt?”

My first response is, “No.”

But the truth is that it does a little, but it’s a “good pain.”

(Are you worried yet?)

Also, that part in the definition of trich at the beginning of this post—the one where it says that “at times the urge may be so strong that it makes thinking of anything else nearly impossible”—I can relate to that too.

On more than one occasion, I have spent a full hour methodically searching through the hair on my head for just the right candidate to pluck—coarse, wiry, not too long—until, awaking from my stupor, I have found myself with 100 “perfect” hairs on my pillow and a dime-sized area as smooth as any baby’s behind.

I’m so busy these days that the thought of spending one full hour doing something so incredibly unproductive almost makes me laugh.

Almost.

But not quite.

The thing is…

Trich is not just weird.

It’s not just an oddity.

It’s not even just a bad habit.

It’s a living thing that follows you everywhere.

To places like the pool, where it whispers, “Are you sure you want to get in that water? Aren’t you afraid that your carefully applied mascara and brow-liner will all wash away, and everyone will know just how big a freak you really are?”

It sits right beside you at the salon and helps you come up with creative explanations (also known as lies) when your hairdresser discovers that bald patch on the side of your head.

It makes you turn away to avoid profile pics that show just how scraggly the few lashes you have left are.

It makes you wonder what your husband is really thinking when he leans in to kiss you.

It makes you feel like something much less than a woman.

But—and hear me on this—I did not say that trich is a disease.

And hear me on this as well: if you suffer from trich, and you disagree with the above statement, I’m okay with that.

I’m not here to start a fight.

I’m only here to tell my story in the hope that it might help others, whatever they might struggle with.

The DSM-IV (and yes, I’m a little uncomfortable with quoting an entity whose title includes the words “mental disorder”) defines trich as “an impulse control disorder” right up there with “pyromania, pathological gambling and kleptomania.”

So, here’s my reasoning: a disease is something completely out of your hands, something that you must live with, unless you have access to medical intervention.

But each of these “disorders” is treatable.

A pyromaniac can stop setting fires.

A gambler can never set foot in a casino again.

A klepto can start paying for his purchases.

A trichotillomaniac can stop pulling.

Please, Jesus, may it be so.

So, why in the name of peanut butter sandwiches and chick flicks am I telling you guys all of this?

Why not just go on posting cute little DIY projects and wowing you with my we-built-an-entire-house-with-nothing-but-our-bare-hands-and-some-boot-straps posts?

(Thank so much for all your sweet comments, by the way; totally encouraged and blessed!).

Because, although it is the nature of a blog to only show the good stuff…the impressive stuff…the finished product stuff…

The truth of the matter is that I am very much a work in progress, and there’s a lot of that process that isn’t terribly pretty.

And, while I’m not much of one for sharing for sharing’s sake, if there’s something about my honesty in this that might help even one of you to know that:

a) you’re not alone

and

b) there is hope

…then I will willingly (I did not say gladly) puncture the balloon that is your unrealistically positive perception of me and let it drift to the ground where it can stay, shriveled up and not terribly attractive.

But real.

I love that some of you think so highly of me.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m as vain as the next girl.

And I have a pretty good idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t think I’m a loser.

I know that God has gifted me in certain areas.

Please, please don’t read this post and think that this is a cry for validity or a case of I-hate-myself-itis.

Contrary to what most of the research shows about trich-sufferers, I have robust self-esteem, and I have family and friends who build it up by showing me how much they value and love me on a regular basis.

But when I occasionally get comments about my being “gorgeous” (I’m not) or “amazing” (far from it…although I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the sweetness behind such incredible compliments), I want to climb on top of my roof and holler “Oh yeah?!? Well, look at THIS!”

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Not so “gorgeous” now, huh?

The pics above are from several years ago, as part of an accountability project with a friend that ultimately helped me to break my hair-pulling habit.

I got to keep a souvenir, though—this lovely jet-black kinky addition to my scalp as a forever reminder that, even if you break free, there are always scars.

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I’m guessing I know what you’re thinking about now: “But Abbie, you post pictures of yourself all the time. And I’ve never noticed a thing.”

That might be because I’ve never wanted you to notice.

For the most part, I’m just really good with make-up and camera angles, but there has been the time or two when I really wanted a certain shot but couldn’t bring myself to post the untouched-up version.

Not without an explanation, anyway, and I wasn’t quite ready to give it.

Oh, the joy of the “retouch” feature on Picasa.

IMG_4633 The truth.

See that big hole in the middle?

And this is my eyelashes doing “well.”

Now, you might look at the pics and say, “Oh, it’s really not that bad, Abbie.”

I’ve heard that before.

But let me assure you that the pics that I’ve shown you so far are not the worst.

Not by a long shot.

They’re just the worst I had the guts to document.

In my adult years, there have been numerous times when I have had no more than 15 eyelashes on each eyelid and practically 0 lower-lashes (although I tend not to pull those nearly as much…in fact, they’re the only reason that I appear to have practically any eyelashes in the “eyes-closed” version of the makeup-less shot above).

I have had completely penciled-in eyebrows.

And I have easily maintained a 2”X2” bald patch on the side of my head.

Sometimes, I’ve managed to pull off (sorry, bad choice of words) this three-ring circus act all at once…depending on my situation in life and stress-levels.

So, what are my triggers?

Well, stress, definitely.

The more pressure I feel or put on myself to accomplish something, meet a deadline, try to do too many things…the more likely I am to pull.

But it’s not that cut-and-dried.

Sometimes, good things will set me off too.

One time, an editor contacted me about my book, wanting to see more, and I, after busting my tail for months to get a full set of eyelashes and almost succeeding, spent hours upon hours revising my manuscript.

And pulling.

And pulling.

(Writing is a major trigger for me because, as I worry about choosing the right words, I use my fingers to literally worry my eyelashes or hair out).

She ended up passing on the manuscript.

And I ended up starting from scratch.

Again.

It’s quite literally the story of my life.

I won’t say it’s what defines me, but it has played a role in the story of my entire life as I remember it.

You want to hear the weirdest part is?

I’ve never really wanted to stop.

Oh, sure. I’ve wanted full eyelashes and eyebrows and no bald patches in my hair.

But not enough to quit.

Until now.

In December of 2011 (just two short months ago), my eyelashes were the worst they’d been in a while.

It was embarrassing and getting harder to hide.

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It’s a little hard to tell in this shot, but I have practically zero eyelashes on my right eye and only that tiny wisp you see sticking out on the left.

You guys might recognize this picture from its panned out version

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Told you I was good at hiding it.

Well, one night (December 9th, to be exact; I remember because my husband was finally coming home from all of his work-trips the next day), I was on the phone with my brother, and he started talking about getting a tattoo.

I told him that I had considered it but that if I did, it would only be for one reason—because I had beaten my trich, and I wanted a permanent reminder to never go back again.

And he said, “Well, let’s beat it, then.”

Of course, Shae knows that I have always battled trich.

But it’s not something I talk about much (not that you would believe it from this post, huh?), even with my family, and especially with a brother whom I adore and want to have a good opinion of me.

So, I told Shae it wouldn’t be that easy.

And I told him why: I have practically never gone a day without pulling something for as long as I can remember, even at my better points.

His response?: “I will call you every night for a month, and we will beat this thing.”

And you know what?

He did. (He kept calling or texting for the next month too!)

And we did.

So far anyway.

shae and me

This pic was taken on the night of Shae’s surprise 30th birthday barn-dancing bash I threw for him exactly three years ago today.

Today is his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Bro!

I love you!

And I have a little something for you:

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They’re not perfect yet, but they’re a heckuva lot better than this:

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Aren’t they?

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Yes!

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Even in the dreaded profile shot:

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For the past 2 months (as of Feb. 9th), I’ve consistently slapped my hand down almost every time I’ve reached up to pull because I’ve known that Shae would ask me later on “how my eyeballs” were (such a way with words that man has).

I haven’t intentionally pulled an eyelash out in 3 weeks.

I have never gone that long without pulling before.

(Sad, but true).

Am I cured?

No.

Will I ever be?

Probably not.

I will forever struggle (more like all-out wrestle) with the urge to pull.

But I have written many words between December 9th and today (heck, I wrote all of these!), and I have been stressed, overwhelmed, and a little on the crazy-feeling side at various times throughout the last few months.

And yet, I haven’t plunged off the precipice even once.

(A precipice that is both frightening and numbingly discouraging because of the sheer volume of time it takes to grow back even one single eyelash. The number of times I’ve said, “Screw it. I’ve already messed up. Might as well pull ‘em all” is…well, picture the sand on the beach, and you’ve got a shamefully good idea).

So, why can I do it now when I never could before?

1) Because of Shae’s prayerful commitment to keep me accountable.

My husband has never been anything other than sweet, understanding, and supportive in all of this mess that is my struggle with trich.

But he’s too close.

I needed someone who loved me enough to stick it out to the end but who was removed enough to avoid the emotional trauma of the worry about my husband’s seeing me as beautiful (he does, and I know it).

2) Because of the Holy Spirit.

As I have slowly pried one finger at a time off of this life-long source of both pain and comfort, the Holy Spirit has prompted me time and again to hang on one more hour without pulling and then one more hour after that.

3) Because the thought of being 30 and still going through the same daily cycle of temptation, capitulation, shame, despair, hope, then despair again—wash, rinse, repeat—made me sick to my stomach.

4) Because all three of my children have the most beautiful eyelashes, and I’ve seen them pick at them sometimes, and I know it’s my fault.

5) Because of you.

I’ve had this deadline in my mind since two months ago, and I’ve imagined being able to write this post so many times that it practically became another accountability partner, reminding me that it wasn’t worth it, every time my hand wandered toward my eyes, saying, “Just think! You can brag to your blog-readers that you, Shae, and God did it if you’ll just hang in there a little longer and develop a good habit to replace this old, nasty, cancerous one.”

Because, for me, the repetition of not touching is the most important thing.

Well, duh, Abbie.

But no.

Really.

Think about it.

I can do better and still touch my eyes.

But I’m not interested in better anymore.

And I can’t touch my eyes and beat it completely.

Because, with my history, if I touch them at all, I will eventually pull something out.

And I probably won’t be able to stop at just “something.”

It’s like a recovering alcoholic taking even one step into a bar.

He may not have a drink that first time, but if he keeps going back, he will eventually cave.

Same here.

If I pull, even to fiddle with mascara, then I will eventually pull to feel that familiar rush of pain/pleasure.

But if I never touch them, then it’s not an option.

Period.

I’m not quite to that point yet, but I’m the closest I’ve ever been, and I want to take a moment to say thank you.

To you.

My readers.

Who didn’t even know a thing about all this.

And who still managed to inspire me in ways I can’t fully express.

Last of all (I’m almost done…promise), let me just say that, if you struggle with trich or any other addiction, I am in no way saying I know how to “fix” you.

Again, this is only my story.

But I feel your pain.

I do.

And if my “solution” sounds too easy, it isn’t.

It’s a combination of a lot of factors, the most powerful of which are a really great accountability partner, a realistic goal, prayer, and a genuine desire/readiness to finally change for good.

And it’s an ongoing solution that I hope to never take for granted.

If you have a story of hope or struggle to share, either here in the comments or in the linky I’ve provided below, and you think it will help you to have an accountability partner, I will do my best to be that for you.

I’ve been there.

I’m still there and working through it.

If you’d rather email me, I will read.

If you need me to pray for you, I will.

I may be just another screw-up, and I may not have much to offer, but I am a screw-up redeemed by the grace of God, and I will say with Romans 8:38:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,m neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor trich, nor cutting, nor complusive overeating, nor anger-issues, nor…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Not if we surrender them to Him.

I am so grateful for each and every one of you.

Thanks for reading.

I hope you’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. (You know I had to : )) I will not turn this blog into a trich-fest. In fact, I probably won’t mention it very often, except in response to something you guys say or to give you periodic updates on my progress.

Because, like it or not, you’re my accountability partners now too, and I plan to stay accountable.