A few years ago, I filled out by birth date details into a “numerology calculator” that would, supposedly, tell me all about my personality and the state of my life from these, actually pointless, numbers.
Of course, if you’re into numerology, I mean no harm or offence. However, this website was barely functional, and frankly, a scam. Also, I did not then, nor do I now, believe at all in numerology. Sorry.
When reading through the extensive results sent to me by email (13 year old me saw absolutely no issue with giving out my hotmail address to a sketchy website written in comic sans), I came across a statement that hit me in an entirely more personal way than I’d expected.
“You may purposefully separate yourself from the crowd, or have developed a disability or condition of some sort to stand out from those around you.”
This quote, of course, is not exactly what was stated in the email from seven years ago, but the sentiment has remained in the back of my mind ever since.
At this point in my life, I knew little about the impulse control disorder that was taking precedence over a sharp corner of my life. I knew it’s name: “Trichotillomania”, and I knew what it made me do and how it made me feel: it made me pull out my eyelashes, and it made me feel shit.
But this sentence had me, for lack of a better word, shook. I considered for the first time that my disorder wasn’t something that just happened naturally – through no fault of my own. I considered that I had actually conjured these symptoms out of a subconscious desire to be different, and separate myself from my peers. Which was a pretty heavy thought for a thirteen year old.
Since then, I have discovered countless other things about my disorder; what it is and where it may or may not come from. I know that it is extremely common, as disorders go, with an estimated 0.6 – 4% of the population being affected (source), and I know that I am absolutely, most definitely, not alone in how I’m feeling. I know that it’s more common in children than adults, that many adults often “grow out of” Trichotillomania as time goes on.
However I also know that, for me, it wasn’t that simple. I know that I’ve tried many different things to stop myself from pulling my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and I know that, so far, not one of them has had any long-term effects.
Which brings me back to the question that thirteen year old me had to face: do I even want to be cured?
Of course, I know that Trichotillomania isn’t something you can just “get over” and even when I’m surrounded by people saying “why don’t you just stop??”, it definitely isn’t that easy. Trich always has been and always will be a mental disorder. Something to do with the chemicals in my brain told me to pull out my hair when I was eight years old, so I did. That’s just a fact. Another fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of other people in the world that commit the same repetitive, body-focused behaviours I do, and that Trich is not a recent phenomenon. These facts cement the idea in my mind that my disorder was not my fault. I know that.
What often crosses my mind nowadays, more than a decade from when I pulled my very first eyelash, is the question of why I haven’t been able to stop.
I often wonder if it’s just plain my fault. If I’m not trying hard enough, not putting enough effort into it, not going to the right doctors or sacrificing enough time and money into getting myself cured of this disorder that makes my life miserable. What if the sole reason behind my still being plagued with this shitty for-lack-of-a-better-word habit is that I just don’t don’t want to get better?
Like I said, I’m well aware that I did not bring this disorder on myself. It could have been anything, from hereditary factors, to unknown trauma, stress, or need for comfort when I was a child, but that’s not the problem. I think the question that will remain on my mind until the day I stop pulling for good is: what if I’m not getting better because I’m not trying hard enough? And what if I’m not trying hard enough because I don’t want my disorder to go away?
As much as having Trichotillomania has ruined my self-esteem, my self-worth and image, caused me inexplicable amounts of anxiety and depression, I will always consider the fact that maybe I haven’t been trying hard enough to get rid of it because I just don’t want it to be gone yet.
Maybe I’m still too attached to the behaviour that comforted me throughout my childhood and my teenage years, maybe I’m too attached to the label and the sense of identity that Trich has given me as a BFRB sufferer, maybe I really am just attached to the idea that this disorder makes me different – makes me special?
Whatever it is, whether these intrusive thoughts are true or not, I want nothing more than to be rid of Trichotillomania for good. I don’t want to look like this, or feel like this for the rest of my life, and the only way my eyelashes and my hair will grow and I will feel in any way normal is if I can manage to stop. Who knows if these ideas that plague my mind about why I haven’t been able to stop are true?
Maybe one day soon I’ll wake up and never have the urge to pull again. Maybe I’ll never stop having the urge, but maybe one day I can learn to manage it, and not let Trich take over my life any more.