BFRB Awareness: Story #4

Howdy! So the #SharingOurStories series is well underway, and this week I'm sharing the experiences of Cynthia. Cynthia suffers from trichotillomania and dermatillomania, having had troubles with skin-picking for as long as she can remember and pulling her hair for the last two years. It is surprisingly common to have more than one BFRB, and Cynthia shows this in her story.

Reflecting on when she started pulling her hair, Cynthia says "I started on my legs. If I missed a spot shaving, I would just pluck the hairs out. That turned into sitting in the bathroom for half an hour pulling hairs out. Then I started elsewhere, including my scalp." She explains that she started pulling here as a result of developing a fear of body oils getting in her hair. "I constantly wore my hair up", she continues, "and any hairs that touched my face, I would pull out. Then it turned into any hair that I felt was 'bad', being any spot of my scalp that felt sore, bumpy or abnormal".

The desire for uniformity is another really common theme and trigger with trichotillomania. Speaking of triggers, Cynthia mentions, "I tend to pull more during times of stress, as I have the tendency to touch my face and scalp more during these times". She says she feels a huge sense of relief through pulling the hairs, leading to usually more than just one hair being pulled. When she feels an 'out of place' one, she has to pull it out. "If for one reason or another, like if I am in the car, I get even more anxious until I get home and can take care of it. I worry I didn't get the 'right' hair, so I just continue pulling hairs out until I have a bald spot".

Interestingly, she is fully aware when she pulls, or picks at her face as a result of her dermatillomania. Cynthia has now shaved her head which she says has "helped tremendously" with trich, but says that measures such as being mindful of when you pull and trying to find ways to calm yourself during these times helps. "I found fidget toys like koosh balls to be helpful", Cynthia continues, "Being in front of the mirror was always hard for me as I tend to linger and look for spots to pick or pull. I try and have something planned for right after I shower to avoid this, such as watching my favourite shows or working on a crochet project".

Speaking of the disorder, Cynthia says, "I think it sucks, quite frankly. I think it is especially debilitating for women, who have a lot of pressure to look nice. It makes me feel badly about myself. I don't feel attractive, especially after an episode of picking or pulling. I would try and hide it by putting my hair up in a certain way so people couldn't see my bald spots, but it got to the point that I couldn't hide it anymore as I had more bald spots than I had hair. That's when I decided to shave my head. I struggled with the idea for a few weeks. I came up with the idea to turn what felt like a negative experience into something positive. I decided to shave my head as a way to raise money for kids with cancer through One Mission's Buzz Off events. So, I spent a month getting sponsors and raising money, then shaved my hair off and have kept it short since."

Cynthia mentions that it is frustrating that many don't understand that we cannot help our pulling, but awareness needs to be raised about the fact that "trichotillomania is a mental health condition. It is not a bad habit, it is a diagnosable condition. People cannot stop the urge to pick or pull any more than someone can stop the urge to scratch an itch. Please be kind!"

If you have the disorder, Cynthia urges "get help sooner rather than later. It's OK to ask for help. Picking and pulling are just a symptom of something larger going on. There are a lot of loving, supportive people out there, but there are a lot of ignorant people who may say or do something harmful, and not always on purpose." But ultimately, it's important to remember, "you are not alone. You are more than your diagnosis. Don't give up. You got this!"

Thank you so much to Cynthia for sharing her experiences on this blog, and what a total inspiration she is.

If you wanted to share your story (anonymously or not), please get in touch!

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