No more Shame
I remember where I was when it first happened. It was March 17th, 2014 and I was considered to be doing well by both my therapist and psychiatrist—even I was proud of how far I had come. That day, however, everything changed.
I was sitting at my senior year internship, anxious about my upcoming college graduation, when I felt my fingers drift to my eyebrows. Without thinking, I put my thumb and pointer finger together and pulled. It started with just a couple of eyebrow hairs but quickly turned into an immeasurable amount that got rid of my whole eyebrow.
I instantly felt relieved. I found a way to channel my anxiety that I could control. However, the relief quickly turned to shame and even more anxiety when I went to the bathroom and saw myself in the mirror. On one side, I had a full eyebrow. On the other, there sat just a couple of stray hairs that my unevenly bitten fingernails could not grab. What had I done? How was I going to explain this to people? Who pulls out her own eyebrows?
As I returned to my workspace, one of the staff members looked at me. She didn't say anything and, honestly, she didn't need to. Her expression said it all and it's something that haunts me to do this day.
On the drive back to school, I plucked out the other eyebrow. For some reason, I thought it would be less noticeable if both were gone. Relief fell over me and I told myself that I would never do this again. My eyebrows would grow back and everything would be fine, or so I thought.
When my roommates saw me, they tried their best to hide their shocked expressions by asking if I was okay. I told them that I did not want to talk about it and that they couldn't ask me questions.
Today, over two years later, it's time for me to talk about it and I'm finally ready to answer some questions.
The promise I made to myself to never pull again did not hold. I finished my senior year of college without eyebrows as every end-of-year social situation and final exam or paper caused me immeasurable anxiety. The only time I felt in control was when I pulled, so that's how I coped with my emotions. I knew people could tell and were confused, but no one asked. Instead, they formulated their own thoughts and opinions and speculated among themselves.
Having to explain myself to my parents was extremely difficult. Unlike the people I previously encountered, my parents demanded to know what had happened and why I had no eyebrows. I lied and told them I didn't know what they were talking about. My mum asked me if I pulled them and I told her no. There was something about admitting to my parents that I found comfort in pulling out my own hair that I couldn't do.
I have struggled with suicidal depression for years. I experience severe anxiety on a daily basis that often prevents me from fully integrating into the community. I have self-harmed, and gone through periods of disordered eating. None of those things causes me shame anymore. However, the fact that I have trichitillomania rocks me to my core and makes me hate myself.
Trichotillomania is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects millions of people. It is characterized by the pulling out of one's hair anywhere on the body. It's a disease I knew nothing about until I began pulling, and I feel its stigma every day.
When I meet new people, they stare at my eyebrows and not at me. If I'm out in public, strangers look and whisper. I'm met with statements like, "Can't you just stop pulling?" and "Don't you know it looks weird?" Family members have said to me, "But you looked so beautiful before. Remember when your eyebrows were full?" It's hurtful, but the way people judge me is nothing compared to the pain and shame that envelops me on a day-to-day basis as I struggle with this disorder.
I am currently working with a therapist who specializes in treating people with trichotillomania. We are working on identifying the times when I am triggered to pull and working on redirecting my anxiety to a more healthy coping mechanism. It's hard and I've honesty not gone more than ten days without pulling. I'll be really proud of myself as I seem them coming in but hate myself after I've pulled them all out again. This ritual has dictated every day of my life for over the past two years and I'm done letting it control me.
I am Mae. A daughter. A sister. A friend. An entry-level social worker. An animal lover. An adventurer. A bookworm. I love love, and life's little things. I have depression, anxiety, and I'm ready to admit that I also have trichotillomania. What I lack in eyebrows, I make up for in hope. I believe that, one day, trichotillomania won't own me anymore. I'll go to my best friend's wedding next summer and stand next to her in pictures with defined eyebrows. I won't hide in my house because I can't handle the way people look at me. I'll stop hiding the top of my head in selfies. I will live fully and embrace my whole self on this recovery journey.
Trichotillomania is a mental illness that few people know about. I'm here to start breaking down the stigma, and to stand with the community that uses hair pulling as a way to handle pain.
For all mental illness took away from me, it gave me so much more. Here's to a healthy recovery filled with joy and grace.