This is a guest post written by Dana, a Keen family member.
“Mama, why do you pick your little hairs when you’re driving?”
Ugh, the time has arrived when my youngest daughter is finally aware of my repetitive “picking” at my hair. They learn so much from me: how to speak correctly, how to behave in social situations, how to work hard, and how to be honest. But not this, please, please don’t let them learn THIS from me. And so, the bracelet goes back on.
Not because I feel shame, but because my awareness has dipped back down and I have my hands in my hair without choosing to do so. That means I’ll pull later on. This is what it has taken me 36 years to figure out.
I started pulling my hair out when I was 9 years old. Maybe it was my parent’s divorce. Maybe it was puberty (I was an early bloomer). Maybe it was genetically predetermined. Maybe it was my distaste for my naturally curly hair. Maybe I just liked it. Maybe it is a combination of all of these things.
I believe some struggle in life is needed and makes us better. This would not be the kind of struggle I would recommend. Hiding bald spots, scared of trips because bathrooms may not be private, hiding clumps of hair, cutting my own hair so as not to have awkward judgmental discussions with stylists, scared of intimacy that could reveal my secret habit, always planning and strategizing so that no one would “know.”
And no one did know. I mean no one. I am a very successful human being. I have a great circle of friends. I am a physician. I am athletic. I am super extroverted and outgoing. So, who would have thought? And, I was so good at hiding it. But all of that hiding was exhausting.
I hit a new low in winter of 2021. For the first time I had bald spots that I couldn’t hide. I resorted to root coverup spray and very specific hairstyles. I was devastated, ashamed, and nearly hopeless. I am a fixer. I can fix just about anything, but I could not “fix” myself.
For years I scoured the internet looking for therapists near me, medication, or any information out there to help me understand this condition. Trichotillomania. I hate that name. It pretty much labels you as a maniac. But, naming a condition does help you research and learn about it.
I was desperately searching the internet one night and I came across Aneela’s TED talk. I love me some TED talks. I will watch/listen to anything if it is labeled “TED.” I watched Aneela’s brave bearing of her soul to the benefit of those of us suffering out there with her. I immediately went to the HabitAware website and I purchased the bracelet. I made one mistake. I didn’t train it properly or understand the uber important principle of awareness first. Into a drawer it went. The best decision I ever made was to go back to the HabitAware website and set up a training session with Aneela. I could not believe I was speaking to her directly (on video) after watching her on the TED stage! She spoke to me with such kindness and understanding. It was her courage that prompted me to tell my husband and several close friends about my hair pulling disorder. It was so freeing to have the “secret” out in the open and my revelation was met with surprise, but without judgment.
Then I signed up for Virtual Peer Coaching and met Ellen. I thank the stars for Ellen. She knew I needed the bracelet. She convinced me to put it back on and showed me how to train it correctly. Holy cow, mind blown, IT WORKED!!! I am still floored by the amount of time my hands are in my hair. I had absolutely no idea that I “played” with my hair all day long. This then primed me to pull at night, usually while reading. I love to read. I read 1-2 novels a week. I mistakenly thought it was reading that triggered my hair pulling. Turns out, if I keep my hands out of my hair all day, I no longer have the urge to pull at night.
Six months. I went six months without pulling my hair at all. Bracelet back in a drawer (I really don’t like things on my wrist). Celebration time, I am cured! Well, hold on there sparky, not so fast. Ellen had said multiple times that I would very likely have the urge again, that she hoped not, but to be ready if the urges started again. Ahh, yes. The urges started again. No particular reason, just a habit engrained for 36 years I suppose. I was very resistant to wearing the bracelet again because I was “cured” and I did not want to go backwards. And so, I was pulling again. New bald spots appeared, not as large as before, but still definitely there. And then, my daughter’s soft questioning voice … and so, the bracelet went back on. It has now been three months. The bald spots have filled in and I am virtually pull free.
When I have the urge to pull, I simply put the bracelet back on for a few days. The gentle vibration (hug on my wrist) lets me know where my hand is. That awareness lets me choose a different activity for my hand. The urge passes, and my day goes one. The Keen2 bracelet and the Peer Coaching with HabitAware are THE reason that I am no longer a helpless bystander at the will of this disorder.
Here is what I’ve learned that might be helpful on your trichotillomania recovery journey:
- There is no “perfect fidget.” There are those you will prefer, but just do ANYTHING else with your hands when you feel the vibration – I use the hem of my shirt or the seam of my jeans to dig my fingernails into – always available.
- If you don’t like to wear things on your wrist – don’t worry you may not need the bracelet every day. I only wear it for about three days at a time when my hands start to end up in my hair again. Then I am “reset.”
- It really isn’t that hard to share this with your friends and family, and is very freeing.
- You will likely pull a hair or two here and there. It’s totally ok! Once you become aware that you have, occupy your hands with something else, ideally something that meets the need of the moment, and move on with your day. Shift your mindset from frustration to fascination.
I am no longer angry with myself. I am no longer ashamed. I am fascinated by the urge and desire to pull. It does not make a bit of sense to me. But, I experienced a complete change in my mindset. I have gone from frustration to fascination. I no longer feel helpless. I have a bracelet that keeps me AWARE. When I am AWARE, I don’t pull. When I don’t pull, life is better. And, I am not alone. I have my husband and friends in this with me now. I have Aneela, Ellen, and the BRFB Change Collective. I am humble and grateful and I am AWARE. And I hope the same for you.
Thank you, Dana, for sharing your story with us. Your insight is beautiful, and though BFRBs like trichotillomania is an ongoing condition, we are so happy to see your progress and wisdom bloom!
Wishing you ❤️ love, 💪 strength, and 👀 awareness,
Aneela & the HabitAware team