Guest post by Keen Family member, Jeff
Hello everybody! My name is Jeff in Seattle and I’ve struggled with Trichotillomania (Eyebrows) for 14 years. This was very therapeutic to write a blog for the first time in my life, and I’d encourage others to do this as well.
When I was in High School, I was self-conscious about my bushy eyebrows. My mom innocently suggested I try getting them waxed, but I was too shy to go through with it. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to try a brow wax until I was 30. Still, I felt that my brows were “too thick” and “too wide”, and that perception has been ingrained in me ever since I was a teenager.
When I was in a stressful Engineering College Internship one summer, I began unconsciously pulling my eyebrows. Originally, it was a stress-reliever and I thought it was an innocent habit. Plus, I started liking how there was less bulk in my eyebrows. Other times, it was a form of aggressive self-mutilation when I was upset at myself for acting poorly or making a mistake. Still, my brows looked patchy, and it wasn’t until years later that I picked up a tweezer and started to actually groom, instead of randomly pulling.
Over time, I’ve had short bouts of successes where I would pull less (not ever completely stopping) followed by long periods of pulling (sometimes going down to almost completely bare eyebrows).
The first time I had heard of Trichotillomania wasn’t until almost a decade into the eyebrow pulling behavior. I discovered that there was a community of people who had the same struggles, and that there were counselors and groups that specialize in helping me.
If I had written this a year ago, it would have been titled “Help, I’ve tried everything, and I’m about to give up!”, as I was at a low point in my BFRB journey. Today, I’ve been nearly pull-free for two months (high point). I don’t know how long this particular high point will last, but even if it doesn’t last, that’s ok.
Short Term Success
Here are things that I’ve tried over the years that have led to short-term success, but didn’t serve as lasting solutions for me personally (but they might work for you!). Try every “trick” in the book, and every tip (we're all different)! Keep trying new things, and don’t give up:
4) Eyebrow waxing. Initially, this was amazing. I thought “Since I’m spending $30 a week to get my brows professionally groomed, I better not touch them!” Unfortunately, keeping my eyebrows looking nice was not a motivator in the end. I did, however, notice that waxing did lower the amplitude of my highs-and-lows. Ironically, my esthetician had a daughter who struggled with Trich and I loved going in to see her just to have someone who really understood what I was going through, and who could encourage me and congratulate me when I had a good week.
3) Fidget toys (I’ve tried them all). Turns out, maybe I’m just not really a fidgeter. I don’t like to play with my hands (ironic since I grew up with my childhood completely consumed with playing musical instruments). I’ve spent so much money on every toy out there, and found none (so far) to be inspiring. Every time I find a new and exciting toy, I lose interest pretty quickly.
2) Eliminate the Stress Factor. My wife and I took a year-long Sabbatical from work. We traveled and climbed mountains all over the world. I usually pull most frequently while stressed out at work (aerospace engineering). The stress of climbing a big mountain doesn't usually lead me to pull (it's a different kind of stress). I thought that by taking work out of the equation for a long period of time, I might not pull anymore since I was basically on a really long vacation. But I didn’t see any improvement throughout the Sabbatical year. In fact, the last two months were spent on an expedition in Pakistan (no cell phones, no internet, no mirrors, no electricity, just sleeping in a tent and eating and climbing), and by the end of the expedition my eyebrows were worse than ever. Turns out, work/stress was not the root cause. Any form of stress or boredom was leading me to pulling, and sometimes there wasn’t even a trigger!
This picture of my wife and I on the beach is during one of my many low points in my BFRB journey. This was taken in the fall or 2020 while we spent two months in Hawai’i with no job and no stress, only adventuring around the island and still dealing with my BFRB.
1) Counseling. I certainly have loved all the time that I have spent with my counselors, and every session was certainly helpful, and I will continue to seek counselors and friends for accountability/tips. Still, for me, it doesn’t go into the “lasting solution” bucket since it usually is prohibitively expensive.
Long Term Success and Lifestyle changes
Here are things that DID work for me with some of the lasting solutions, saving the best for last.
6) Accepting that Trich is a “thing” that I needed to confront head-on, instead of treating it like an innocent habit. This was the very first step of my journey to recovery (think of 12-step). Trich doesn’t just affect the way I look, but also my self-esteem (feeling out-of-control), and can sometimes artificially heighten my level of anxiety/stress.
5) Accept the highs-and-lows. When I met with my first BFRB counselor, she told me that Trich was something that I would likely be working through for the rest of my life. I did not want to hear this! As an Engineer, I want to find the root cause of an issue. Furthermore, as a Christian, believing in the possibility of absolute healing in all things, I didn’t want to accept that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t, one day, be 100% healed. It turns out that what my counselor told me was exactly what I needed to hear! It was important for me to accept that I need to constantly be vigilant and aware of my habits. And if I fall back at times, then I can bounce back and accept the fact that there will be highs and lows in my BFRB journey. Being able to forgive myself and not get too frustrated has been so important (especially for you Type-A's out there like me).
4) Putting away (or throwing away) the tweezers! I never understood the common BFRB suggestion to put the tweezers in the freezer…until I actually tried it. I still can’t explain how it works, but it did for me. I loved my tweezers. I enjoy the sensation of plucking hairs from my brows (strangely, not from anywhere else, though). I needed the tweezers to ensure that my brows stayed looking the “shape” I thought they should be. And if I acquired a bald patch from too much pulling, then the tweezers would help even things out. I am almost fully off the tweezers at the moment, and I won’t go back (or I will only let my wife or esthetician tweeze for me). Tweezers went from being my best friend, to my malicious siren.
3) Cutting nails (which doesn’t help with my ukulele playing!) Both my wife and I keep our nails as short as possible, primarily for rock climbing. While I can still pull and probe with just the pads of my fingers, having short fingernails certainly makes the activity less productive and less pleasurable. I keep clippers nearby, and if I start probing/pulling with nails, I give them all a trim (I'm talking down to the skin). I’d encourage trying to cut your nails for a specific period of time, and see if it helps. I’ve been with my wife for 12 years, and she’s never had long fingernails, and she is gorgeous! If you see success with your short nails, consider it for the long-term as a possible lasting solution. Nobody needs to have long nails! (unless you play a string instrument). As a guy, it's hard for me to truly empathize with the social pressure of long nails for ladies. If you scratch, pull, or bite, try eliminating this major factor instead of trying to compromise ("I'll keep my nails long, and I'll try something else"). My friend group is mostly all climbers; every lady-friend in my life cuts their nails as short as possible on a weekly basis (some paint their short nails after every climbing outing), and they are all total bosses. Another tip: Much the way I thought that eyebrow waxing would help me stay hands-off on my eyebrows, you can consider getting regular manicures if you struggle with nail-biting! Spending money to get your nails looking fresh and clean might just give you that extra incentive to stay off of them.
2) Keen2 Bracelet. I just got my Keen2 bracelet recently and have been loving it! I really don’t like wearing any accessories (necklace, watch, bracelet), and I Don't even wear my wedding band. So there was hesitancy in trying out a wearable. It’s important to keep training the Keen2 Bracelet (like a Tamagotchi, for all you older millennials). I might not wear it all the time, but I will keep it NEARBY and CHARGED at all times if I have an urge to pull. It is a powerful, invaluable tool to have in the toolkit.
1) LOVING MY BROWS! This is the best “trick” I’ve ever tried. PERIOD. The picture with my bushy eyebrows is during the high point of my radical self-love phase in the fall of 2021. In all the books and conversations I’ve had, nobody ever said, “Have you ever thought that maybe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way God made your eyebrows, and in fact your eyebrows are naturally handsome?”. In fact, I love my ungroomed, natural brows! My self-consciousness was the root cause all along for me. I haven’t seen them fully grown out like this since I was a teenager, and I don’t know why I was ever so self-conscious about them. Frida Kahlo owned her brows and she is gorgeous. You all are gorgeous. There are plenty of celebrities with wild brows who look awesome, naturally (Jason Momoa, Martin Scorsese, Oscar Isaac, Dave Franco, etc). Self-love (internally at how I like myself as a person and also externally at how I like the way I look) turned out to be the most powerful tool, and for the moment, it is the driving and hopefully sustaining factor in my current “high”. While I certainly have grown to accept my natural brows as a sort of “radical” self-love, I think a lasting solution will be for me to continue grooming (with my wife and/or esthetician’s help). I had to go through the radical self-love phase to work through my personal shame of how I look, naturally. There is nothing wrong with grooming, but I had to learn that it is not a band-aid to treat the shame that was lying underneath.