Kristi is a 28-year-old from Minnesota. This is how she is Conquering with Keen Awareness, in her own words.
I have Trichotillomania and have been picking and pulling my eyelashes for 12 years, since I was 16. What started as a relatively harmless “habit” that left me with small, nearly unnoticeable bald patches on my eyelids turned into something much worse. By my early 20s, my eyelash pulling had become unbearable. It was rare that I actually had eyelashes to pull, but as soon as they grew back, I was pulling until my eyes were swollen and sore. My hair pulling started having a huge effect on my confidence and my time. I would catch myself picking or feeling my eyelids for extended periods while I was working or studying and as if in a trance, would have no idea how long I had been partaking in the hair pulling.
I became a master at hiding my Trichotillomania condition by applying makeup, and I found myself no longer able to look people in the eye or let anyone near my face in fear that they would notice my lack of lashes. I felt very alone and embarrassed about my condition and only shared the “why I don’t have eyelashes” story with very close friends and family. Although my friends and family were understanding and reassured me that they didn’t notice my lack of eyelashes, their continuous comments and reminders that I should “just stop” became increasingly frustrating. As anyone with a Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) like Trichotillomania, Dermatillomania (skin picking) or nail biting will understand, you simply cannot “just stop.”
Since my pulling became increasingly problematic in my mid-20s, every few months out of frustration I would search for books, websites, tips, stories, and any information I could find about my hair pulling habit. It wasn’t until six years ago that I finally discovered my “habit” had a name – Trichotillomania – and there were a lot of other people with similar habits and stories. I felt relief that I finally had some kind of understanding of what I was dealing with, and I began trying every tip or treatment for trichotillomania I could find. Unfortunately, nothing I discovered helped me for more than a few days. Because there is no real cure!
These periods of frustration and searching for a new “cure” turned into a six-year pattern of picking and pulling to the point of pain, embarrassment, and frustration, followed by a new “cure” and several days – or sometimes just hours – of motivation. I was in the frustration phase of this pattern when a late-night Google search brought me to the HabitAware website where I found Keen, the awareness bracelet. All my years of online searches, reading, and testing new “cures” had not produced a technology even close to what Keen had to offer. I had to give it a shot.
I have a Keen for each hand because I pull with both. I immediately trained both of my bracelets in the three positions that I already knew I pulled the most: lying down, sitting at a desk, and sitting on my bed. It took several days of patient playing with the app to adjust the detection settings, but I found that I am most comfortable with my bracelet vibrations set to the lowest vibration level and length, and with the Motion and Position detection settings somewhere around 6. I find that this vibration level alerts me while being discreet and mostly unnoticed by other people in close proximity. Although a detection setting around 6 produces some false alarms, it also ensures that I do not miss an episode. I actually like the few false alarms, as they are a subtle reminder of where my hands are and my daily BFRB goals.
I started using Keen on its own to become aware of when I pull and to use my new-found motivation to stop to employ other techniques to stop hair pulling after Keen alerts me of my hands near my eyelids. I practice a mix of replacement strategies such as breathing exercises, tapping (I found this idea in a Keen newsletter), and keeping a written log in addition to Keen’s tracking history within its app. I practice a mix of these tactics to divert my hands when I have the urge to pull. Which tactic works best depends on the day. Lately I have been able to stop my hair pulling by repeating a mantra to myself that was also found in a Keen newsletter: "You don’t need to pull; put your hand down and refocus the nervous energy."
During the first 2-3 weeks that I started using my Keen I saw a drastic physical change. Although they were short and stumpy, I had visible eyelashes with no gaping bald patches for the first time in about six years. The first few weeks with Keen taught me A LOT about my hair pulling disorder that I did not previously know. For example, I thought I mostly picked with my right hand because it is my dominant hand. As it turns out, I pick with my left hand about 3-times as often. Also, I knew that I spent a significant amount of time each day pulling, but making the conscious effort NOT to pull made me realize how often I think about it: All. The. Time. Having finally recognized this constant need to pull, I was motivated and excited, and it was easy to stop pulling after Keen alerted me.
However, some of the initial excitement and motivation of my success began to wear off at precisely the same time that I underwent a somewhat stressful and temporary move abroad. I was letting myself be pulled back into my old hair pulling ways. This is to be expected as a 12-year behavior needs time to reverse itself! I found myself slow to put my Keens on in the morning and more willing to take them off if I became frustrated by my need to pull. Thankfully, HabitAware not only provides the Keen bracelets but also an entire support system. I’ve been slowly bringing myself out of this slump by trying new tactics and keeping my hopes high with help from HabitAware’s weekly newsletters.
While I do not yet have as many eyelashes as I did following my first 3 weeks using the bracelets, I still notice a significant difference from past pulling slumps. I am even wearing mascara on part of both of my eyelids – something I have not had enough eyelashes to do since about 2012. Even though I experienced this slump, I am proud of myself for pushing through it and regaining some level of control. This is by far the longest I have been able to stay committed to fighting my BFRB, and I am hopeful moving forward.
I would absolutely recommend Keen to others who feel they are a slave to their BFRB and are ready to put in the work required to make a change. The first 2-3 weeks I used my Keen, I was on a roll. I was motivated by my new habit awareness bracelets and was hyper-aware of each vibration. Unfortunately, after the initial motivation wore off, I had a few bad weeks that left me feeling hopeless again. I had to recenter and refocus my energy and desire to kick this thing. It seems obvious, but I had to remind myself that the Keen bracelets, while effective, are not a miracle cure, and they will not work if you do not use them.
Two months after I started using Keen, I am trying new things to keep my motivation going. I make it a point to put my bracelets on first thing in the morning even if I have to take them off as I get ready (Sometimes they can get annoying as my hands tend to focus around my face as I do my daily readiness routine, but the snooze function can be used to help). Also, I am keeping a written journal in addition to the habit tracking feature in the app. For me, physically writing out how many times I find myself pulling and picking makes the event more tangible than the app alone, and the two forms of tracking ensure that I hold myself accountable and help me stay focused on my goal to maintain control.
Being able to maintain the energy and motivation to stop pulling is something that I have struggled with on-and-off for at least 10 years. Following this last pulling slump, I do not feel discouraged, and I feel that I am still making progress. The Keen newsletters and stories of success from the Keen BFRB family are making all the difference for me. I am starting each day anew and maintaining the hope that I need to keep at it.
You are spot on, Kristi – Keen is not a miracle cure and anyone joining our Keen family needs to be ready to put in the effort required to make positive change. Conquering with Keen is a journey full of ups and downs, but we are here to support you every step of the way. Know that your story will be the support and encouragement other Keen family members need to stay on track and maintain the hope that you do, each and every day!
wishing you love, strength & awareness,
About Keen by HabitAware
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Together with Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, of the Anxiety Sisters, and Lauren McKeaney of PickingME Foundation we recorded a podcast to share treatments for body focused repetitive behaviors like trichotillomania and dermatillomania, along with our mental health stories.
It's important that Keen fits snugly. Here's a quick guide to help you decide which bracelet size to order: