Trichotillomania. I can’t spell the words “schedule“, “definitely” or “regularly” without the help of spellcheck, but I can spell “trichotillomania“. It’s a good thing, because wordpress’s spellcheck doesn’t recognize trichotillomania as a word.
Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) is the one diagnosis I have that all mental health professionals I’ve met with are in agreement about. I, however, feel very out of place in internet communities for those who share my diagnosis. I don’t pull from my scalp, so my problem is more easily hidden. As a result, I don’t suffer from the social consequences that many people have to deal with.
My favorite hairs to pull are ingrown ones. They don’t belong. They’re already defective, they are guilt free pulling.
First I notice the irritation of the skin. Sometimes I can see the hair sometimes I can’t. When the area is more inflamed I poke it with a pin to release the fluid. Digging with tweezers, pins and fingernails I search for the hidden hair. Sometimes blood obstructs my work. I have to allow a day of rest before resuming.
I question the existence of the hair. Maybe I already pulled this one out and forgot? Maybe the skin was irritated from something other than a hair? Was that a shadow or a hair?
After some healing, I recommence my hair retrieval mission. When finally I free the hair from my , then mutilated, skin, I feel immense satisfaction. The greater the length of the hair the greater the satisfaction. The visual is very important to me. I study it wondering how long it had been hiding in my body. Sometimes dead skin is firmly attached to the strand. I slide it off carefully, examine both hair and skin individually and dispose of them.
I replay the scene over and over in my head, eagerly awaiting my next opportunity to repeat it.
Nose hairs are my second most favorite type of hair to pull. They are also the most uncomfortable to discuss. There’s such social stigma about putting fingers up a nose, pulling out a hair there is even worse. I can comfortably tell therapists I pull pubic hair, but often omit the nose hair.
Using tweezers makes me sneeze, so fingers are the way to go. I wonder about the risks of pulling a hair with such an obvious purpose (filtration of the air). I justify it by pointing out to myself, ‘I can’t reach all of them to pull. The ones farther up are still in place functioning.’ I don’t seem to get sick more than average so I suppose it’s fine.
Eyebrows and eyelashes are the source of the most post-pulling-guilt. I start with light tugs. The hairs coming out in my hands are ones that were about to fall out anyway, right? If I’m not careful this quickly escalates into harder tugs. Now it’s uneven. I have to keep pulling to even things out, right? I have to finish the job. It’s all or nothing. Fortunately, I’ve had this more under control in recent years. I started wearing makeup more often. Mascara makes it easier to accidentally pull more hairs in one tug, but seeing the mascara on my hands helps to remind me to stop. Seeing eyeshadow on my hands when pulling eyebrows helps the same way. Wouldn’t want smudgy makeup, would I?
I also pull arm, leg and underarm hair. These are the socially accepted places for hair removal, but I take it to an extreme. Shaving feels like cheating. The hair is still there. I want it gone. I am in a constant struggle to remove it all. There is always that one hair I missed. I remove that and then there’s another.
I use an epilator (basically electronic tweezers) to remove it. I advocate epilators as aggressively as some women advocate diva cups (diva cups freak me out by the way. I bought one and it sits in my desk unused). Epilating is a very soothing experience for me. Unfortunately is as a noisy device. I try to minimize the time I use it when others are home. I don’t want people realizing how much time I spend removing hair.
At times when I don’t have access to an epilator I will eventually begin pulling out the hairs individually. I can tolerate a certain amount of hair, but I have a limit. That limit is lower when stressed. At my first hospitalization I reach that limit. The staff didn’t understand my situation and wouldn’t let me use my epilator because it had a cord (no wires allowed. I could strangle myself -_-). They also misunderstood my trichotillomania as a type of self-injury. I was individually pulling out my hairs, gripping them with my finger nails. I reached the point where I was wiling to compromise with shaving. I couldn’t have a razor to shave either, because I cut. My roommate, who was allowed to shave, took pity on me and allowed me to use her razor on the condition that she supervised to see I didn’t cut. It was very much appreciated. I was eventually allowed access to the epilator under supervision from staff.
Let me elaborate on that point I just made. Trichotillomania is not self-injury. Some people might pull their hair as self-injury, but that is not trichotillomania.
When I self-injure I want to see destruction. When I pull I aim for perfection.
I self-injure as a direct response to stress. I know I will release that stress by self-injuring.
I often start pulling without even noticing. While stress may play a role, it is not the entire explanation. I pull at times I am bored or have inactive hands as well as in reaction to stress.
What they do have in common for me is the importance of visuals. I have to see the hair I pull out, just like I need to see the damage from my self-injury.
I tend to pull more with my right hand than left, which is interesting as it is my non-dominant hand. Pulling with my left hand feels strange.
I have some ideas regarding environmental root * causes for my hair pulling, but I’ll save that for another post.
*ahah poor word choice