Helen, from England, has suffered from Trichotillomania for 38 of her 49 years. This is how she is Conquering with Keen Awareness, as told to the HabitAware team.
Helen has had Trichotillomania since she was 11 years old when she started pulling her hair in middle school. She doesn’t remember why she started, but she does remember never really liking her hair. “It’s always been a bit wavy and frizzy. I used to tie it back in a ponytail and I remember all the little frizzy curly bits around my face.” At the time, Helen’s hair pulling habit wasn’t affecting her much and she pulled just a very small patch.
After leaving school at 15, Helen became a hairdressing apprentice. She had started pulling her hair a bit more by this time. Of everyone at the salon, Helen was the one who would try different hairstyles. She had her hair cut very short and bleached blonde. She enjoyed it very much, but the others at work would tell her she needed to stop hair pulling or they would cut her hair in a style that would show her patch. “Luckily, they never did,” she said.
After three years, Helen became an independent hairdresser. Her Trichotillomania was not yet upsetting her. But then she met her husband, and she grew out her hair. She became more conscious of her Trichotillomania, as she was hair pulling more and was becoming upset. “I never spoke about it to anyone. Not even my husband,” she shared.
Helen eventually talked to her doctor about her hair pulling disorder. “They didn’t seem to know much about it but did refer me to a psychotherapist. She asked me to put every hair I pulled into a bag and bring the bag back with me next time. I did still pull, but not as much, as it was embarrassing to think I was going to have to take a bag of hair back to the doctor.” After a few sessions, Helen stopped going.
At this point, Helen’s hair pulling condition was getting worse and it started to really upset her. When she wore her hair down it was more visible, so she didn’t wear her hair down very often. She tried to attach extensions to the short hairs in her patches, but they didn’t stay in well and she couldn’t afford to keep putting them in.
Helen sought medical help for trichotillomania again and this time was referred for Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) counseling. She would pull less for a few months, then a life stressor would occur, and her hair pulling disorder would grab hold. This cycle repeated itself a few times over several years.
Following the birth of her first child, Helen’s Trichotillomania subsided a bit. “I think I was just a bit happier.” But, like many mothers, she put her needs last, and just “lived with it for quite a few years.” When her eldest child went to school, Helen and her husband tried for a second child. She had many issues attempting this pregnancy, which increased her stress as well as her hair pulling. It was a very hard time for her and her family.
After finally welcoming their second child, Helen’s husband was in a terrible car accident. Following a long hospitalization and time away from work, he was forced to find a new job. Helen’s stress continued to increase, along with her hair pulling condition. She started another round of CBT, which turned out to be the most successful of them all. Helen was nearly pull-free for 6 months. “It felt so good!” Then life threw more curveballs at them – the recession hit, affecting Helen’s husband’s employment several times. Her hair pulling came back with a vengeance, and then, her husband had a heart attack. “More stress, more hair pulling! Time goes by and you just have to learn to live with Trichotillomania, even though it really upsets you.”
Helen’s husband continued to have health issues, including three major surgeries in two years. Desperate, Helen tried hypnosis. After two sessions she was no longer hair pulling, and enjoyed her longest pull-free stretch of eight months. But then, suddenly, Helen started hair pulling once again. “Within a few weeks I was back to square one, but worse than ever. I had bald patches on my crown, the back of my head, and had started hair pulling from my temples. The usual feelings washed over me: Failure. Embarrassment. Ugly. Sad.
When Helen heard about Keen by HabitAware, she had this feeling they would work for her. “I knew how Trichotillomania worked. I needed something to help me take control myself, something I could afford, something I didn’t have to keep making repeated appointments or repeated payments for.” Helen thought, “Enough is enough, I want Keen!”
After two weeks of wearing her two Keens, Helen said, “The regrowth of my hair was fantastic. I knew Keen would make me aware of my Trichotillomania. I knew they would work. And I was right!” After wearing her habit tracking bracelets for one month, Helen already had days when she didn’t wear them. “I know when I need the Keens and when I can manage without them. On the days when I don’t wear my Keens, I still don’t pull because I am AWARE! I see them now as my safety blanket, knowing they are there when I need them. I’m a happier person. I had a goal of having hair on my 50th birthday and I’m confident now I will make that goal. I wish Keen had existed so many years ago. Thank you, Aneela, and all the HabitAware Team!”
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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: