Auntie SparkNotes: I'm a Trichotillomaniac
I'm a 16 year old girl, and last year I started pulling out my hair compulsively, specifically my eyelashes and eyebrows.
I looked it up to see if it was a common habit or something, and I saw that hair-pulling actually is a disorder called trichotillomania. Every website I looked at told me that I should immediately tell someone because it is a form of self harm. However, I don't know if I agree, and I don't feel like I could tell anyone without them bugging me for the rest of my life about it. My parents are out of the question and I don't trust my school counselor's judgment. It's not like I can just stop altogether like I would for a habit; it's more like an addiction in that way. But is it really a form of self harm? If it is, how do I stop? And do I need to tell someone?
Well, okay: for starters, let's not get too hung up on the is-this-or-isn't-this question when it comes to labeling trichotillomania as "self harm." For the record, it's generally understood to be an OCD-related disorder, which means its motivations are more of a satisfaction-from-a-sense-of-control thing, not a hurting-yourself-on-purpose-to-feel-pain thing. But the motivation behind your behavior isn't the self-harmful part.
That would be the part where, y'know, it is just objectively not good for you to compulsively pull out your own hair.
But look: if you're not comfortable with the words "self harm" and their attendant baggage, that's all right. Because what you call it is beside the point; what's important is that you find a way to stop. Yanking out your eyelashes and eyebrows, particularly, can lead to infections or scarring—not to mention that you probably won't be thrilled with the way you look if/when you pull them out to the point where they stop growing back altogether, which is an unfortunate but possible outcome of doing this long-term.
But unless you can identify exactly what it is that's triggering you to pull your hair, you're going to need some help—which, alas, probably means your parents are going to have to know what's up.
And I'm sorry about that, truly, because the onset of trichotillomania is oftentimes associated with stress and anxiety—which means that when you tell me that your parents' response to an issue like this would be to give you a lifetime of grief, all my internal tuning forks as to the possible source of your troubles go hummmmm.
The good news is, you do get to decide where, how, and from whom to get that help to begin with. And when you do that, you can also give yourself an ally—in the form of a reasonable adult who'll be there to moderate any conversations with your parents, and be on your side if they flip out. A teacher, a family friend, an aunt or uncle—if there's someone you trust, let that person be your first stop. You may also want to visit or contact the Trichotilllomania Learning Center to find resources in your area and information on seeking help. And ultimately, you'll want to make an appointment for a medical checkup (or ask to have one made for you) and tell your doctor what's happening, including the part where you'd rather deal with it without telling your parents. Whether that's possible remains to be seen; the first step is getting more information, and the next one could be anything from habit-breaking methods you can implement yourself to a session with a therapist. You won't know until you look into it.
I'll be honest: this doesn't change the fact that you might be in for some shizz. Getting help when your brain goes haywire is hard. Doing it with prone-to-freak-out parents is harder still. But if you start the conversation, if you put yourself in control, and if you take responsibility at the outset for getting help, you'll have the best shot at handling this on your own... and at keeping your eyelashes in your face, where they belong.
Do you pull your hair? Share your stories in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.