It’s never just “one more” is it? Stop it or your efforts will seriously be for nothing.
George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
We are more than the worst thing that’s ever
happened to us. All of us need to stop apologizing
for having been to hell and come back breathing....
Since Habit Reversal Theory has led to my most long-lived successes in battling my own Trich (up to several years at times), I’ve begun revisiting some of the old techniques I used to use and some new ones in a new round of attempts.
In my research, one piece of advice struck me as highly significant: the easiest place to change a bad habit is on vacation.
The reasoning behind the advice stems from the fact that environmental cues play a huge role in the habitual neural loop and simply removing yourself from your normal environment can provide a useful kick-start to a habit-reversal session. I am about to move in 2 weeks, and I’m hopeful that this change of scenery can be a useful tool in my own renewed attempts at habit reversal. For me, a particular spot on the couch we currently own (but aren’t bringing with us) seems to be a particularly bad trigger zone.
In the meantime, rather than wholly try to replace the pulling behavior with another habitual act, I’m going to try and do so specifically when I’m sitting in my particular trigger spot and see if that helps bleed over into other parts of my day. In this particular bout of Habit Reversal training, my ultimate goal is to incorporate meditation and breathing techniques into my daily routine along with my current exercise regiment to try and combat the underlying stress. With that in place, I’m hoping that if I can rid myself of the habitual aspect, while simultaneously treating my own personal methods of dealing with anxiety, a relapse will be less likely that with the removal of the habitual behavior alone.
Does anyone else have any significant environmental cues that seem to influence their own pulling? Or, has anyone had any success with something as simple as re-arranging a room to provide a jolt to the norm?
On a somewhat related health note, I have started paying way more attention to what I’ve eaten right before I have a particularly bad pulling session. I already track the foods I eat daily for exercise purposes, but I’ve also started journaling the ups and downs of my pulling cycle to see if I can identify any diet-related triggers. And I have to say, out of all the food-related theories out there, I’m really starting to buy into the assertion that sugary foods can be huge instigators of trich urges.
Yesterday afternoon, after a particularly good gym workout and a low-calorie day I decided to reward myself/cheat with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Health Bar Crunch ice cream (it shouldn’t be legal, really).
I ate the whole thing, all 120g of sugar, in one tasty but probably ill-advised sitting (there may also have been Doctor Who involved, but that’s neither here nor there….). And last night, I had the worst bout of eyebrow/eyelash pulling I’ve had in weeks, bar none. I’ve recently stopped drinking soda, but all my life I’ve had a particular sweet tooth. I don’t know how successful I’d really be trying to cut out all or a majority of the sweet things I eat in my diet, but it seems like it might be worth a little more consideration… Just some food for thought. :)
Last week, as part of my yearly physical, my blood test revealed that I had a substantial vitamin D deficiency (one of the lowest my doctor had seen in a while). Vitamin D is typically acquired through exposure to sunlight, and though I typically get a fair amount of sunlight (I walk my two dogs every day and run outside in the summer months), it can apparently also be caused by an irregularity in the way your body synthesizes the sunlight as well.
Apparently this type of deficiency is very common in New England, where I now live, during the winter months and isn’t frequently tested for in other parts of the country. Having recently moved here from the South, I can’t say I’ve ever been tested for this type of deficiency before, so this is potentially something I’ve had since childhood (i.e., since my Trich behaviors started), but never known about. My doctor prescribed me a weekly high-dose supplement for two months and then recommended I start taking a lower daily supplement after that.
In doing some research about Vitamin D deficiencies before starting this regimen, I stumbled across several websites discussing the effects that Vitamin D has on the body’s production of the neurotransmitter dopamine and it’s relevance to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and depression. In fact, I found several testimonies from Trich patients specifically with VERY similar stories to my own (never been tested for Vitamin D deficiency before, prescribed a high dose supplement) in which they found their urges to pull drastically reduced after starting the supplement.
So, I started my supplement dose today, and I’ll be curious to see if it has any effect on my Trich urges. I’ll be sure to report my personal experiences with this here on the site so others might be able to benefit. I certainly make no claims to being able to provide medical advice, but wanted to bring this up since it might be worth asking your doctor about if you have Trich and have never been tested for this type of deficiency before.
Has anyone else had a similar experience with vitamin deficiencies/supplements and compulsive behaviors? If so, I’d love to hear about it as I go through my own trials!
Trich Sufferer Testimonial:
Another Trich Sufferer Testimonial:
Vitamins Linked to Trichotillomania:
Neurochemical Study on Vitamin D & Dopamine:
U.S. National Institute of Health Vitamin D Dietary Fact Sheet:
In assessing how I was going to try and combat this latest relapse, I had some thoughts about how I’ve tried to motivate myself in the past. Usually, I try to focus on some positive thing that I want — for example, my most recent success followed a desire to have my own eyelashes while being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. And while this strategy has served me well in the past, it comes with the unique limitation of expiring whenever the positive thing has passed.
So, this time, in an attempt to discover a more permanent motivational solution, I have decided to focus on the potential long-term negatives of continuing to pull: specifically, that if I over-pull too much (especially my eyebrows) they may never grow back. It’s not “negative reinforcement” in the strictest sense of the term (i.e., receiving some kind of negative stimulus when the action is performed, but a negative thought is a kind of stimulus so I think it still qualifies).
It seems harsh to focus on the negative aspects, especially since so much of the advice I’ve encountered in the past encourages people to dwell on the positives, but I’ve found that whenever I start to get truly worried that the hair might this time be permanently damaged, that I have perhaps finally gone too far, pulled one too many times, the thought stops my actions cold for a pretty significant period of time. So, I thought, why not capitalize on this aspect of the situation. It has proven effective (at least for me) and it is not something that will ever go away as soon as a particular event or life moment has passed. The fear of it, the potential for it, will always be there. It may seem a bit depressing, but I think that fear of permanent negative consequences can potentially be a bigger motivator than temporary positive consequences.
The associated risks, of course, are potentially increased depressive moods in the event that I do still pull (which I’m sure there will be setbacks), but I’m determined to at least give this approach a try coupled with a renewed exercise routine and see where I can get.
To make sure the thought gets triggered whenever my desire to pull happens, I have set up the following reminders:
Complications & Problems
The main complication I see to this approach is that I don’t always use tweezers for my pulling, nor am I always at a mirror, and since I no longer bite my nails, I don’t have acrylic nails on as an added buffer. My main thought was that I might litter some scattered notes in various places around the house that typically incite pulling episodes (near the couch, by my pillow in bed). Any suggestions about additional ways to implement this approach welcomed or thoughts about similar methods that have worked for any of you! :)
As always, it’s a trial and error process, so we’ll see what comes of this new strategy.
So it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this site, and fortunately it’s been due to a period of really great success with absolutely no hair pulling. However, despite some really great changes in my life (finished grad school, new job, new city) I have started slowly creeping back into old ways and despite a significant lack of the kind of stress that had previously incited pulling incidents, I have the least amount of hair on my eyebrows and eyelashes (they’re basically totally gone) than I have had since I started pulling nearly 14 years ago now.
Even more curious, I have almost completely stopped biting my nails, something I’ve done since well before Trich ever entered my life. After just ignoring the problem for a little while as things got settled down, I am not ready to start focusing on trying to beat this all back once again, maybe for good.
Given the new set of circumstances, I’m ready to test out some new approaches in combination with a few of my old tricks. Having now accomplished at least two separate pull-free periods of several years in my life, I’m confident it can be achieved and my new goal is to create ways once I’m there to avoid potential relapse. I have found that accountability (even to the Internet) helps me tremendously, so I’m going to try updating this site with new tricks as I try them out. I’m also definitely going to take up an exercise regimin again, as I found that whether I feel like I’m stressed or not, it’s a great way to feel better about myself in general, which always helps.
As always, feedback on tips and suggestions of your own always appreciated!! :)
So far, I am nearly two weeks pull free (on my eyelashes at least) and they’re looking great! I really haven’t even found it too difficult this time, crazy how it really all depends on the mindset because two months ago I couldn’t even make it a few hours. One of the other things I’ve been doing more of is going to the gym and trying to get a lot of cardio in. I used to be a swimmer in High School, and that was the time when I went about three years without pulling at all or even remembering that I had had trich, so I definitely think there’s something to be said for exercise helping to relieve stress and just generally make you feel better about yourself and your potential. It’s also a great way to tire yourself out before bed, since I know that for me bedtime was always the worst as I tend to be a bit of an insomniac, so I’d just lay there, bored, pulling until I fell asleep. When I go to the gym (especially if I swim) I’m usually so tired that night that I fall asleep much quicker and thus have a much easier time controlling my pulling. Also, it’s (relatively) free depending on what you do and whether you have access to a University rec center or have equipment at home. A good alternative to trying out medicine for stress relief.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I’d also like to get into something like Yoga to supplement my work out and add a bit of meditation and further stress relief to my routine to see if it will help keep my trich from a relapse. For me, high amounts of cardio seem to be the best thing for tiring me out and keeping me from pulling.
Does anyone else have any good work out routines or tips that have helped with stress relief or pulling in general?
Here’s a few links if you’re interested in some of the effects of exercise on stress:
Happy to report I could wear mascara today for the first time in close to a year now. They’re not super long yet, but I haven’t touched my eyelashes in about a week and a half, which is a huge victory on this relapse. It has come at the expense of giving up being completely cold turkey and allowing myself to mess with my eyebrows a little but not too much. Sometimes, just like with diets, having a cheat day can help rather than hurt. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a tiny setback. In the past I’ve often thought, well there goes one so I guess that’s it for this attempt. But why?
Compromise has been a huge help for me this time. It also allows me to focus my energy on one thing at a time. When my eyelashes are fully in I’ll focus on scaling back the eyebrow plucking and hopefully be totally pull free again. It has worked in the past, and I’d definitely recommend cutting yourself some slack. Hope everyone is having a fantastic Holiday!