Grace, a 23-year-old from New York, has been struggling with Trichotillomania for 16 years. This is how she’s Conquering with Keen, in her own words.
Supported, Yet Alone in My BFRB Struggle
I started pulling my eyebrows out in the second grade, and moved to my eyelashes shortly thereafter. I have a distinct memory of sitting for quiet reading time, ripping out my eyebrows. I looked up and made eye contact with the teacher’s aide. I remember feeling as though I had almost asked her to comment on what I was doing but she said nothing, at least not to me. I can’t remember pulling for any particular reason, except it was something entertaining to do while reading.
Pulling out eyebrows and eyelashes became a feature of my life, especially when looking in the mirror or reading. I found scalp hair hurt too much to pull, but eventually started touching my scalp when stressed, causing dandruff and related embarrassment, as well as picking at my face. I have dark hair so not having eyebrows, or having very few, changed my appearance drastically. I enjoyed school but I also put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and live up to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations. The most stressful years resulted in the most hair pulled.
I felt alone in my otherwise very supportive family.
My parents tried their best to find helpful replacement strategies for me, including clenching and releasing, rewards for not pulling, imagery, and counseling. The counseling flopped and I became embarrassed or angry whenever my parents tried to offer suggestions. It felt like they never understood. I felt alone in my otherwise very supportive family. In middle school, a friend’s mother bought me an eyebrow pencil. Though embarrassed, I was grateful. I wasn’t too embarrassed to explain my experience to my peers, however, and it made me feel better to share why my eyebrows didn’t usually look perfect.
I made it through high school and college, living in waves of pulling with stretches of less pulling, but always experiencing what my family has termed “struggles.” My eyebrows were always filled in and usually parts of my eyelash lines were, too. Toward the end of college, I had been googling Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder), reading other peoples’ stories, and trying out random strategies and phone apps. And then I finally found Keen, the awareness bracelet from HabitAware.
Using Keen to Retrain My Brain
Upon receiving my Keen, I trained it on my right (dominant) hand to recognize the motions of pulling at my eyebrow and of pressing on my scalp. It seemed to work especially well for me because I do not like phone vibrations; I generally did whatever I could to prevent the vibration once Keen notified me! During times when I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t wear it. I often could feel the anxious feeling I get that signals an onset of pulling in advance, but my ego would get in the way and I would not put on Keen until I had already started pulling. This made it harder to consistently work to retrain my brain.
Applying for graduate school last year was an especially stressful time. My eyebrows suffered. My boyfriend did not seem to notice and thought I looked beautiful regardless, but I never left the house without my eyebrows filled in. This photo is from this period.
Finding "Keen-Given" Awareness
I got accepted into graduate school and moved across the country to the east coast, far from my family and my now-fiancé. My eyebrows were more grown in, but still not beautiful. One night in October, my fiancé asked if I would be able to not fill my eyebrows in for our wedding in July. I said I would try, but felt a sinking feeling. How would I be able to stop when I had tried so many other times?
(Keen) made me feel so much more in control to have it on
A few days later, I (tearfully) told him my fears. He told me that he would love me and be so proud of me, if I had full eyebrows or no eyebrows. Even though I technically already knew this about him and my family, it still felt like a weight lifted from my heart. The next time I felt like I might pull, I snapped on my Keen bracelet. This was one of the first times I can remember that I preemptively put it on. It made me feel so much more in control to have it on from the outset of those anxious feelings. I focused on that feeling of control and ran with it, celebrating every choice I was able to make not to pull, using my Keen-given awareness of the usual timing and feelings associated with my hair pulling.
Now, I am so proud of my eyebrows and eyelashes! They aren’t filled in with makeup at all.
It has been several months without any serious pulling, by far the longest I have ever gone. I now need to retrain Keen for face and scalp touching and work on that BFRB (dermatillomania), and again convince myself that it is better to use Keen before the first picking. I know that I will likely have other more stressful periods of life during which it will be challenging to refrain from pulling, but I am very grateful for Keen and for the support of a loving partner. I can’t recommend Keen enough as a tool to help with awareness and control when it begins to feel hopeless.