Nesting In My Hair – An Eyelash Story

“You can’t keep the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” – Sharon Creech

 

I struggle with a disorder called trichotillomania (“trich”) – the compulsive pulling out of hair. People with trich can pull out the hair from anywhere on their bodies, but I mostly pull from my eyelashes and eyebrows. I would love to share the story about the first time I ever pulled out an eyelash, a moment that is vividly emblazoned in my memory, but that is for another day.

Trichotillomania isn’t the socially-sanctioned hair pulling, where people pluck their eyebrows into pre-planned shapes or pull out a few eyelashes because they are uncomfortably poking into their eyeballs. Like most disorders, people cross the line into trichotillomania when it starts taking over their lives and wreaking havoc on their self esteem.

(This is my poetic definition – if you want the technical stuff, contact me and I can direct you to more official resources.)

Sometimes I don’t realize I am pulling out my hair at all. I fall into a trance, and suddenly I snap back and my eyelashes are scattered in front of me – my fingers controlled by an invisible puppeteer that I don’t understand. Other times my picking is more calculated – I see a crooked eyelash and everything else in my world freezes into slow motion. In these moments, I am a cat transfixed with a dancing red laser on the wall: nothing feels more important than pulling out that crooked eyelash, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

I have spent 16 years either pushing against my trich or falling straight into it, tumbling into a hard-to-describe madness. I have clung to it like a weary blankie, defined myself by it, radiated it to the world so I could be The Girl Who Pulls Out Her Eyelashes. Special. The Most Unique. Lots of people had depression like me, but if power came from being different then I needed my trich to sustain me.

If I found a way to let go and let my eyelashes grow, who would I be? If my trich falls away and I “get over it,” doesn’t that make the years of struggle trivial? As if this was a childish phase to be gotten over. As if the people who looked at me blankly and said “… so why don’t you just stop pulling them out?” were right all along.

The possibility is emerging in my mind that my trich is not a problem to be solved but a deeper truth waiting to be unlocked. I have never stopped and listened to my trich because I have been so committed to getting rid of it, but what if it holds a big pesky lesson that has been trying to get my attention for all of these years?

Whenever pushed to sit still for long periods of time, my eyelashes are gone in a flash. I have always seen this as a reflection on my inadequacy, my lack of discipline, my failure. But what if my trichotillomania is actually my illumination, my guide post, my fire alarm that alerts me when I am deviating from Me? What if my trich is part of my intuition?

I have always either fought it, clung to it, or, in the most responsible times in my life, managed it. Made wellness plans. Set goals.

I have meditated on it, tapped at it, Reikied it. I have squeezy balled it, acrylic nails-ed it, short nails-ed it, gloved it. I have medicated it, I have medicated it heavily, I have stripped mirrors away from it, I have bragged about it, I have hidden it. I have cried over it, I have laughed at it, I have been bullied over it.

I have New Years Resolutioned it away, I have therapied it, I have affirmed it. I have kickboxed it, yoga-ed it, Kundalinied it. I have even had a friend bless my brain to release it.

Once, I tried to make a list of all the places I’ve pulled out my eyelashes. Every public restroom, every room in every place where I have lived, every friend’s house, every classroom. I wanted something like Diane DiPrima’s “What I Ate Where” to dive into and find liberation.

I stopped making this list after a few minutes – what good would it do? Nothing could encompass every single place where I have left my eyelashes. I have sown my seeds, shed my hairs all over sinks and mirrors and pillows and textbooks. Pieces of me are literally everywhere.

Maybe it’s time to let them go. To stop tracking them down. To bless every little stub of an eyelash or eyebrow that I have destroyed and let them scatter freely – an enormous cloud of black dandelion puff.

Maybe it’s time to let my trich teach me.

I have been trying to write a memoir about my experiences with OCD and trichotillomania, but memoirs involve the same narrative arc that novels do – which includes a resolution. My hair pulling has intensified tremendously in the past year, and my eyelids look like raw swaths of skin with a few tiny pockets of eyelashes. I have not yet found my resolution.

But I am holding out hope that in this radical act of diving in and listening, my resolution will begin to bob its way to the surface.

 

Love & Vulnerability & Resilient Follicles,

KelseyNic

Finding my own true north.

Finding my own true north.

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21 thoughts on “Nesting In My Hair – An Eyelash Story

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  6. Ive been pulling my lashes since i was 11 im 33 now so its been 22 years. What do u think about what they say about something traumatic happened to trigger it what do u think happened to u

    • Hi Monique – I am so grateful that we can relate to one another when it comes to pulling out eyelashes. Thank you for the bravery to share your story.

      I think for some people, trich can absolutely be triggered by a traumatic experience. I started pulling when I was 7, and I’m 24 now, which puts me at…. 17 years. I can’t think of a traumatic experience that happened when I was 7, but I had been suffering from OCD for awhile by then, and I think trich became a way to physically unleash some of that guilt and shame I had towards myself over not being able to control my thoughts.

      I think that for whatever reason, people like you and I fill that gaping hole inside by pulling out our eyelashes – the same hole that other people (…and us too…) cope with through food, sex, addiction, and a slew of mental illnesses. Maybe that stems from a traumatic experience, or maybe for people like me it’s less of a single experience and more of a generalized discontent and frantic anxiety.

      What do you think?

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  8. Have you tried inositol powder (up to 18 g/day dissolved in juice or water). It helped me with my trich a lot. And I’m also an eyelash/eyebrow puller. Good luck! (Note that some brands of inositol don’t work for me — so don’t give up if the first brand you try fails)

    • Hi Jamie – apologies that somehow I didn’t see this comment until months later! My multivitamin actually has some inositol, weirdly enough (probably not enough to make a hug impact though). I will definitely have to try it now that you have recommended it.

      Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks and the success you have had. I stand in huge heartfelt solidarity with you and your recovery from eyelash and eyebrow pulling, along with everyone who struggles.

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  10. I use a similar approach for tension, tmj, and migraines.. I don’t always remember, but when I do, I like to ask myself: What does the tension in my jaw want to say? Listen to it. If it could speak, what would it say? It usually takes some time but feels right to let it go. Hmmm, maybe I should use this approach for anxiety too!

    • I have tremendous problems with TMJ too – I will try this tactic in the coming weeks and let you know how it goes! It hadn’t occurred to me to speak to physical maladies too, although they have so much to teach us. Even just seeing you write “let it go” feels like a breath of relief. Thanks for reading and sharing your insight!

  11. Sometimes comfort in the act of talking about a “condition” reveals that the condition is actually under control. I believe that many of us have certain areas I like to refer to as “Functional OCD” – I know that I do. But they do not define us, rather they merely add to our character. I read your post because I respect your sister who recommended it. I can see why she is so proud of you. The insights you have and your techniques of conveying them through written word are fantastic. Right or wrong, I quickly moved past your trich being a disorder as a non sequitur due to the ease with which you talk about it and focused on the gift you clearly have as a writer. Truly enjoyed your post. Cheers, Bill

    • Thank you so much Bill for sharing your wisdom! I agree that my sisters are fantastic 🙂 and I am just so grateful that through the miracle of technology, my story was able to find you. Blessings ~ Kelsey

  12. When I read this I thought about the resolution because as a friend, I try to help. The thought that came to me was, can you be still? Still as in not thinking just being. And letting go of the built-in security that ocd provides n just feeling naked n exposed, then dealing with the feelings that are broth fourth and eventually accepting. I’m sure you have done this and that is why you wrote about it, and I’m just repeating something that perhaps never worked, but as a friend, and as a person, I want to help. One thing for sure I know is that you are unique and special even without the ocd and trich.

    • Thank you so much Sandra — for this, and for the picture you put on my facebook wall, and for being You and the magnificent woman and friend that you are.

      I think you hit the nail on the head with the OCD and the built in security. When I started pulling out my eyelashes, it was during a time when I was a child yet I was constantly bombarded with horrific thoughts that I couldn’t control (the dark side of OCD that we don’t see in pop culture), and I think when I figured out I could at least control my eyelashes being Perfect I felt a little more free.

      Isn’t it funny that humans can be so spiritual and positive and “with it” in some areas of our lives, and yet these frightening fear drenched emotions can still lurk and influence our days? I am grateful for your insight and wisdom, and I hope that I can take a deep breath and slowly be brave enough to feel exposed as you recommend. ❤

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