Amy, from Illinois has been affected by trichotillomania for almost all of her 33 years of life. This is how she’s Conquering with Keen Awareness, in her own words.
Discovering a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior – as a Baby
My Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) started when I was baby. My mom said I would “play with my hair” by moving small pieces back and forth between my fingers. I think it was a soothing mechanism for me, similar to thumb sucking. As my hair grew and I got older, I started to twirl my hair. I first remember being aware that there was “something wrong” in 6th grade when my science teacher yelled at me for twirling my hair in class.
As I entered high school, it got worse. I went from twirling the hair on the left side of my head to tying it in knots. Then as I moved on to college, I began to rip the knots out, over and over again, in a horrible, repetitive cycle. I was embarrassed, anxious, and ashamed whenever I had to get my hair done, especially for weddings – and specifically, my own.
Discovering My Hair Twirling Cause: Trichotillomania
My hair pulling disorder got so bad I finally decided to do something to help me stop. About two years ago, I tried hypnosis. It actually worked, and I stopped hair pulling for three months! I thought I had kicked the habit. But then when my sister came to visit me in Chicago and told me she was pregnant, I began hair twirling again. Even though I was thrilled to become an aunt, I realized how much I missed my family and subconsciously I began hair pulling all over again and the cycle continued.
I was so ashamed that I had started hair pulling again and that I couldn’t stop. A few months later, I decided to try hypnosis again, but I didn’t have any luck this time. Hypnosis didn’t work. Then I went to a cognitive behavior therapist. After going to this therapist a few times, I was able to learn more about my hair pulling condition and why I was doing it. I realized that I pulled my hair when I was overwhelmed, anxious, or bored. I realized hair pulling helped me focus. I learned that when I was stressed out, I twirled my hair, knotted, and ripped it as a way to relieve the stress; however, my therapist and I never made it to the point of stopping the habit and replacing the behavior successfully.
From Hair Twirling to Hair Pulling to Skin Picking
Unfortunately, after that, I also began skin picking on my head – first instead of twirling, but then in addition to it. Nothing could stop me. The more I thought about it, the more I did it. I was embarrassed to see my family and friends because I would have to talk about it. I was mad at myself when my husband would find knots of hair on the floor of our apartment. I felt sad and ugly about the bald spots on my head. Then I tried acupuncture to try and figure out why this behavior started. Acupuncture has helped tremendously and challenged me to keep researching trichotillomania treatments.
Finally, I came across the Keen hair pulling bracelet during an internet search. I loved that it was created by someone who lived with the same ongoing struggle with a BFRB. The price wasn’t outrageous, and Keen looked “normal,” like a fitness tracker.
Retrain Your Brain with a Habit Tracking Device
When I received my Keen, I trained it for twirling and hair pulling on the left side of my head and for skin picking on the top of my head. I really appreciated the option to change the detection settings depending on my body position, since I usually do my habits most when I’m laying on the couch or sitting at my desk. I hardly ever take Keen off! When my Keen is charging, I still wear the strap as a reminder to help train my brain. I even wear it to sleep!
I’ve been wearing Keen for two months now, and I haven’t picked or pulled at all! I wear my Keen every day and it has been life-changing. When it vibrates, it’s a nice, gentle reminder – like a hug on my wrist – to take a deep breath, take a break from what I’m doing, or if I’m bored, to walk around or do something else for a minute. It’s a quiet reminder, so when I’m at work and I move my hand up in the “twirl position,” it will quietly vibrate to remind me to put my hand down and no one at work can hear it.
Using Healthy Alternatives to Stop Hair Pulling and Skin Picking
Keen has also helped me replace my self-damaging behavior with healthy behaviors. I started using the deep breathing option with Keen’s button, watching the light to train my brain to take deep breaths, and I love it. When I feel Keen’s vibration, I also keep both hands at my side and simply squeeze and make a fist back and forth over and over again until any urge that I do have goes away. Sometimes, the urge gets pretty bad, but I’ll brush my hair instead of picking or pulling. I also like wearing hats for the sensory input! I have tried all of these techniques separately in the past, but they were unsuccessful. Thanks to Keen, I am now aware of my hair pulling and my skin picking and can use all of the replacements together, along with Keen. It is working for me!
I feel very proud of myself every time I put Keen on my wrist. My husband is proud of me, too, which makes me even more proud of myself. I am no longer embarrassed to go out or to see my family. I feel better about myself at work too. Every day is still a struggle, but I have faith in myself that I will make it further than I ever have in beating my BFRB. I hope to never pick or pull again!
As a special education teacher of 12 years and now currently a supervisor and instructional coach at my school, my goal is to use and apply my newfound knowledge of tracking unwanted behaviors and replacing them with positive behaviors. Keen has been the perfect example for me to use to teach others while also sharing my story and ultimately helping more kids and adults!
And you are setting a wonderful example to our Keen family, Amy, on how to use replacement strategies along with Keen to overcome your BFRB! Thank you for sharing your story!