Trichotillomania. You’ve probably not even heard of this condition. Neither had I. That was, until I saw a documentary on Channel 4 about 5 years ago where I suddenly realised that other people like me existed and that I wasn’t the “freak” I had first thought. I will point out here that I’m not diagnosed with this condition but I’m 99% sure that I have it and as there’s very little treatment for it, I’m sparing myself from having to add another diagnosis to my official list. But back to the condition and what it is – trichotillomania is an impulse-control disorder where sufferers feel compelled to pull out their own hair. This is often from the scalp but also commonly includes eyebrows and eyelashes. Patients with the condition often experience shame, guilt and embarrassment, and as the condition is quite rare and not well known, most patients only find out through the media or their doctor, potentially years after developing the condition. Treatment, if offered, usually involves patients having some form of psychological therapy as it’s widely believed to be a condition, caused by or linked to stress.
I don’t remember when I first started pulling out my own hair and I’m lucky enough that I’ve never felt compelled to pull out hair from my scalp which often causes sufferers to have bald patches and in extreme cases damage so severe that the hair doesn’t grow back. The earliest memory I have of it is when I was about 12 before I started shaving my legs and I used to pull the hairs out of my knees. It used to hurt at first so I’ve got no idea why I continued but it seemed to give me a sense of relief and I got some sense of pleasure from it. I don’t remember how often I did it but I know it was something I did regularly. When I was 16 I got depression and sometime before or during that period I started pulling out my eyelashes. Again, it really hurt to begin with but it was really compelling and I felt I had to do it. It became completely habitual and I wouldn’t even notice I was doing it. I have very sensitive fingertips and I’d sit at my desk at school or on the sofa or lie in bed and I’d stroke along my lash line forwards and backwards and then pull out hairs. I’d try really hard to stop myself because I started getting big gaps that were becoming very noticeable as I have naturally dark, quite long eyelashes, but I couldn’t stop myself until the urge went away. For months I did this and at various points over the years I’ve had no eyelashes at all because I pulled them out so frequently.
Unfortunately, when I turned 18 I started pulling out my eyebrows too. I regularly end up with gaps in one or both of my eyebrows and it’s really noticeable because I have dark hair and pale skin as you can see from the photos above. There was even a point where I got so stressed one Christmas that I ended up with no eyebrows at all and people thought I’d shaved them off which was awful. I didn’t know which was more humiliating, saying I or someone else had shaved them off, or that I was so stressed that I’d pulled them out. I’ve had some really horrible comments over the years and people are very blunt when they ask about it. I regularly get asked “What’s wrong with you?”, “What happened to your eyebrows?” and even online from a stranger got asked “What the fuck is wrong with you? You look like an alien. Or a man.” On a couple of occasions I’ve even been asked if I have cancer. I’m now very self-conscious and try to have a full or side fringe to cover up my eyebrows so it’s less noticeable. I also used to have blonde highlights because then, at least from a distance, it looked like I just had fair eyebrows and eyelashes that couldn’t be seen. It’s hard though. As a child I grew up doing dance performances on stage and was wearing make-up for that from the age of 6. I’ve only ever worn full eye make-up on stage because by the time I’d have worn it normally, I wasn’t able to. I’ve not been able to wear mascara or dark eyeliner since I was 15 and as silly as it may sound, that’s one of my dreams for when I hopefully beat this condition. I long for the day when I can buy and apply mascara and eyeliner.
My hair pulling is certainly linked to my stress levels as I do it far more when I’m feeling worried or nervous and would often do it during exams while reading the questions or when I was trying to think up the answers. Because it’s habitual I’m not aware that I do it a lot of the time which makes stopping myself very difficult. I’m a very open person normally and there’s not a lot that I won’t talk about, but this is something that very few people in my life know about (until now). In fact, I’ve only told 5 people about it and I feel very apprehensive about posting this online for the world to see. If I didn’t though I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach. I firmly believe that we should all be able to talk about whatever illnesses and conditions we have. People aren’t embarrassed that they bite their nails or smoke so I shouldn’t be embarrassed that I feel compelled to pull out my hair. Maybe if more people knew about the condition, I wouldn’t keep having to deal with horrible ignorant comments about my appearance. So there you have it, I’ve opened up my soul and posted some of my most hated photographs showing just how bad my condition has got over the years but hopefully in the good cause of explaining and answering – What’s Wrong With Your Eyebrows? – Trichotillomania!
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