People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Naked Eyes and Angst

Trichotillomania [trik-uh-til-uhmey-nee-uh]

tricho – hair
till(ein) – to pluck or pull out
mania – madness

When I have trouble writing, the cause is usually a story right behind my eyes that’s clogging up the works.

Not always; sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, but often, I’m gutless and full of fear and…stuck. A writerly constipation, if you will.

I have to tell the story that’s right behind my eyes, but I can’t find my way into that story. The cursor? I wish it would quit blinking at me in that nagging, accusatory way it has. Tell your truth. Expose it to the light. Don’t let it fester. Tell your truth, dammit!

Or maybe I’m projecting.

The story that is right behind my eyes is also ON my eyes, right there on the front of my face. My teenage-angst poetry was full of references to “naked eyes,” which is not an uncommon metaphor for the teenage-angst-poetry writing set.

For me? Not a metaphor.

I was eight years old in October, 1979, when my Aunt Nadine (my dad’s younger sister and only sibling) took her own life. Her sudden death and the week we spent at my grandparents’ house (where I was steeped in my family’s horrified grief) were traumatic.

What followed was worse. My parents, unable to find the support that they desperately needed, began to disassemble a few months after Nadine’s died.

This story? It might have nothing at all to do with that story. I don’t know.

But sometime in the year after Nadine’s death, I started pulling on my eyelashes and eyebrows. Pulling them out.

I don’t know exactly when I started because there was no way for me to know then that this little habit would become an important layer of suck amongst many layers of suck. A Dagwood sandwich of suck.

Why I did this thing was a mystery, and in the beginning no idea that it was anything other than a pleasurable habit. I did learn in a big hurry to keep it a secret; in fourth grade, a friend saw the discarded hairs in a tiny heap on my desk and cried out, “Ewww, gross! Quit doing that!”

Already, I couldn’t quit doing that.

And pleasurable? Yes. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t hurt. It never hurt. The after hurts; the swelling and the rawness and the styes. Windstorms? I’m here to tell you that eyelashes are more than ornaments; they serve a function and without them, even a breezy day can hurt. But the pulling itself? Never painful.

If I pull hair from my head or any other part of my body, there is pain. I imagine it feels the same for me as it does for other people, but for the lashes and brows, no pain.

It’s not because I’m used to it, either, because it never hurt. Not when I was nine or 16 or 25 or 32 or now.

If it had, I don’t guess I would have kept going.

I wish it had hurt.

No one really knows what causes trichotillomania (usually called trich or TTM). Right now, it’s technically classified as an impulse control disorder but among the twelve gazillion and nine proposed changes to the DSM5 is one that would move TTM to a new class: anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. The most recent research indicates that TTM’s closest relative is Tourette syndrome since both disorders have been linked to a mutation of the gene SLITRK1.

Way back in the beginning, though, I had no idea that I wasn’t the only person in the world who did this strange thing.

Ashamed?

Oh, yes.

Why couldn’t I stop pulling the same way I had stopped biting my fingernails?

I pretended to have trouble with my eyesight so that I could get glasses. I thought glasses would camouflage the missing parts of my face. I told ridiculous stories about my missing lashes (the lashes are always a bigger problem; you can’t draw those on like you can brows). Usually I claimed that I suffered from bizarre allergies, but sometimes I claimed to have a form of alopecia areata that only affects the brows and lashes. (No such form of alopecia exists.)

The bald-faced and weird looking part was bad enough; that I was causing it myself? Exponentially worse. I was desperate for any explanation for my bald face that didn’t involve me, alone, reading books and yanking hair.

I was twenty years old when I finally put a name to the cause of my naked face. My mom came across an article about TTM in a women’s magazine – I don’t remember which one; LHJ or Women’s Day or Redbook – but the day she handed me that article was an important one.

For a dozen years, I thought I was the only one. Age and experience have taught me that the perception of aloneness is almost never true, but I didn’t know that then. I just knew that I was making myself ugly by doing something I didn’t think anyone else had ever done, and I couldn’t stop.

After I read that article, I cried for days. When I was done crying, I went to a psychiatrist for the medicine mentioned in the article, the medicine the author said showed promise in treating TTM.

That was a bust, as were several other medications, supplements, lots of non-medication therapies, and a long list of self-help attempts that range from somewhat reasonable to downright ridiculous.

A therapy that I created in the early 1990s, known as spicy fingers, is not recommended.

Not recommended.

The typical course of TTM begins in adolescence, though it can start earlier (as my TTM did) and, if not treated (or, as in my case, not treated successfully) waxes and wanes over the course of a person’s lifetime.

My TTM mostly waxes and rarely wanes. On the other hand, I have not developed other pulling sites.

I was on the hunt for a treatment that worked until Carter was born. At that point I decided that, as much as I hate this thing, as much as I would like to look and feel normal, it is, ultimately, a cosmetic problem.

With all of Carter’s needs, I don’t have time or energy to devote to cosmetic problems.

That right there? It’s a fancy, sneak-up-on-it way of saying I gave up.

I have to draw eyebrows and line my upper lids everyday. If I don’t, I look weird.

Weird enough that people stare.

I’m still ashamed. So terribly, acutely ashamed.

When I first read the research implicating SLITRK1 in TTM, I thought I would feel better. I thought the pain would dissapate and float away like magic.

Nothing ever works that way. When will I learn?

Trouble is, whatever the cause, whether I could control it if I really tried hard or not, whether I’m a person suffering with an illness or a person with a weird habit, making excuses to maintain it, it’s still me, still my hand reaching up from my book toward my face.

In that way, it is very much like Tourette syndrome. I can control the impulse for a little while; a few minutes, an hour, a day, but eventually, the cork will pop.

This thing? I almost never tell anyone about it. Brian knows, of course, and my parents. My kids know because they have watched me draw on my eyebrows hundreds of times. My ex-husband knows because I told him way back when we still liked each other.

I can’t think of anyone else I’ve told.

I doubt that there are many people close to me who haven’t noticed, but they’ve been gracious enough not to mention it.

Honestly? I don’t really understand my reticence to talk about this. I’ve been forthcoming about things that, objectively, are more shameful. Based on the dedication I have for keeping this secret, you’d think I was some kind of criminal and not a person who has a neurological disorder that causes me to pull out my hair.

Secrets are a burden. Ultimately, I believe that secrets will do nothing in the dark but fester and grow.

This is me, putting my money where my mouth is.

Maybe.

If I hit publish on this, it’ll be a miracle. Sitting here at my desk right now, I’m pretty sure this thing will never see the light of day.

I don’t know yet. If there is a picture of my naked eyes anywhere on this page, I found a heaping pile of courage somewhere around here and decided to use it.

If you want to know more about TTM, go to the Trichotillomania Learning Center.

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106 comments to Naked Eyes and Angst

  • Just…thank you for sharing.
    Lulu recently posted..color me surprised

  • thenextmartha

    So now I’m reading this not really knowing if you meant to publish or not but you tweeted it so you must have found the balls to sack up to this. I hope you feel lighter giving this out to thousands of people knowing that you get thousands of hugs in return.

  • In this and a million other ways you are so brave.

    Thank you for letting us in and sharing.
    Abigail @ Skywaitress recently posted..Insert best caption here

  • i have a friend who has the same thing. and i thought? she was the only one!

    you are so brave and so beautiful.

    thanks for trusting us enough to bare your soul.
    cathy recently posted..Do You Really Need to Know That Now

  • Applause.

    You have courage. And heart.

    See, cowardly lion? You didn’t need the wizard after all!

    (I used to cut. And I never talk about it)
    Barnmaven recently posted..So

  • Thanks for sharing with us, as scary as it is to share with the world you’ve got some really wonderful friends who are incredibly supportive.
    Niki (Strawbrykiwi) recently posted..New Doo!

  • Jo

    With or without lashes or brows, your eyes are beautiful. YOU are beautiful. Thank you for trusting us.

  • Thank you for being REAL and opening yourself up like that. You won’t believe this, but I was actually pulling my eyelashes right before I clicked on your link. I have a terrible habit of pulling the mascara off of my eyelashes and have noticed that I’ve been pulling my eyelashes at the same time. You’ve really opened my eyes (pardon the pun) to a the compulsion this could become.

    Thanks again for being real. It’s a breath of fresh air in a world so caught up in trying to convince everyone everything is perfect.

    • Oh, I believe it! I’ve pulled while reading TTM books and websites.

      Thank you. Yes, things are far from perfect here. It does me more good than I can even say to tell my truth.

  • It took a lot of courage to not only write this post, but to publish it as well. Even if you had not published it, simply writing it is a huge step in my opinion.

    We all have “demons” that we have to deal with on a daily basis, and letting those around you help support you is very healthy. We may not be able to directly do anything, but we can virtually hug, virtually stand behind you and virtually sympathize with your struggle with this demon.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Brad recently posted..A drink

    • Thank you! Yes, when I publish something raw, I’m usually afraid, and the result is always the same: I find out that I’m not alone and that people care.

      There’s more healing in that than I ever could have imagined when I started this blogging adventure!

  • Thank you for stepping forward, I’m glad you found the courage.
    thepsychobabble recently posted..Six Years

  • You have a big swingin’ pair of ovaries to have published this. Good for you, and thank you for sharing this.

  • Your bravery and beauty — inside and out — bring tears to my eyes. You’re a strong, courageous woman. And one helluva writer!
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted..9 things I now understand about grandmas

  • The beauty of this medium is that we love you so deeply before we ever see you that it wouldn’t matter if you had lush and thick lashes and brows, no lashes and brows, or blue light-up lashes and brows.

    The beauty of this medium is that it gives us the wonderful luxury of learning things about people before the irritatingly pushy impression of appearance ever gain a foothold. We can decide that someone is stunning in the most deep and meaningful ways before being distracted by something as silly as missing lashes, or crooked teeth, or pudgy bodies. And it allows to see people who are cruel, or bigoted, without risking falling under a spell of prettiness.

    How wonderful this is that you shared a thing that is hard for you and frightening for you and our ONLY reaction is, I wish you weren’t so fearful of it. But you shared it, and we are proud of you.
    Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points recently posted..A Dialogue Betwixt You and Me

    • Oh, hello Lori, I just tumbled deep and far in love with you.

      All this time, I’ve been thinking that I’m somehow cheating, that letting all the people in the computer know me sans physical imperfections was dishonest.

      Your perspective? I like it much, much better.

      Thank you!

  • Ant Judy

    May this post be medicinal in lots of surprising ways, some of them fun.

    xoxoxo

  • You? You are my hero, you brave, brave woman, you.
    Varda recently posted..Always

  • Oh. Oh yes. I felt *terrified* when I first posted about self-injury. Absolutely, heart-stoppingly terrified. Convinced no one would like me anymore. Convinced they’d all write me off as that nutbag over there, I used to read her, but she’s just broken. Convinced that the darkness, released, would overtake me.

    But it doesn’t work that way.

    I found support. And heard “me toos!” And received love. And now, only because I was heard then, I can say: I self-injure. And I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t like it, but I don’t need to hide it.

    That thing in the dark looks so much smaller, so much lesser out in the light, seen by many. It’s still real, but it’s so much less powerful than we’d feared.

    Thank you for honoring us with your thing-in-the-dark. I am so glad you hit publish.
    Arwyn recently posted..10- No- 40 Things I Never Want to Hear or Read Again- Parenting Judgment Edition

    • Oh, thank you. Yes, you understand.

      Every time I post something that’s straight from my guts, I’m terrified. This, though? So much worse. And I don’t know why; I’ve done, and do, worse things. Things that hurt other people.

      Your fear is my fear; that I would become somehow less in other people’s perceptions of me, that people would decide that I was too broken to be worthy of time, consideration, and friendship.

      But what has happened since yesterday is what always happened: public love and support, plus private confessions. The DMs and emails make me realize that keeping these secrets is selfish because we all need that community.

      Not that I’ll tell my stories before I’m safe to do so, but still, these experiences of being bare-assed naked and loved anyway? They teach me so much.

  • Jen

    I…have dermatillomania. Almost identical to tric, but instead of pulling my hair out (well I do that too…lashes and eyebrows (it never hurts either)) I tear my skin apart. My body, from head to toe, is riddled with scar tissue. And just like your story, mine started after a traumatic event when I was 7.

    You are not alone. 🙂

    Stay strong!

  • Jen

    Sorry, my last link was misspelled. All corrected.
    Jen recently posted..Write righting

  • AmyLynn

    I have a niece that does this. I did not know what it was or why, but I have seen her shame. I am thankful that you posted this so that I can send her some info and let her know she is not alone.

    Thanks for being brave!

    • Oh, I’m so glad! Very, very glad. Please let her know that she can email me. I have no solutions (obviously), but I’m a good listener and I know where the resources are. Many people DO find a treatment that works.

      Thank you.

  • So glad you decided to share with us, Adrienne! Good for you… WAY proud of you!
    Heidi-D recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Anyone need a giggle

    • Thank you, Heidi! It’s always the same; I’m terrified to post a story, but I can’t write anything else until I DO. I hit publish and want to go hide under the bed. And then? People are loving and kind and generous, and some people say, “Me, too!”

      This blogging thing? I like it.

  • My dear you have a big set of balls. I want you with me at my next knife fight.

    I am one of the few. It hasn’t mattered. I just hate the pain and conflict it causes.

    And reason number two you are a bad ass: New Mexico with no eyelashes? Speechless.

  • You never cease to amaze me with your bravery, honesty, and vulnerability.

    I am so proud of you, my friend.

  • This must have been so hard for you to write. Fascinating and brave. I think writing it means you now know that you aren’t the only one who does repetitive actions like this. I’ve had a long time habit of pulling my nails when nervous.

    • When I post something that’s very raw like this, I’m always scared, but every time I hear a chorus of “Me, too!” and “We love you anyway.”

      I’m definitely not the only one. That is an extraordinarily healing bit of knowledge.

      Thank you.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting! My daughter self-harms and I constantly wonder what’s going on in her head. I thank God for people who are open enough and honest to post things that hurt because they make me a better mom.
    Cyndi recently posted..gonna get buff

    • Oh, thank you! I bared my soul and it helped someone.

      That right there? It makes me a little braver for next time.

      Thank you! Is your daughter in treatment? I hope you’ve found some good healthcare providers; I know all too well how difficult that can be.

      • She is in treatment and on a couple of medications. All of our kids were adopted from foster care and have varying mental health issues from a history of meth exposure and neglect.

        When my daughter was 4 she attempted suicide. I had known something was wrong from the day we got her but it took that incident to get her help. She sees a therapist weekly and has in-school help and that has made a world of difference. I just get so frustrated that I can’t make it all better!
        Cyndi recently posted..gonna get buff

        • I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard that story, about needing to reach a crisis before a child can get help.

          Yes, I hear you on that frustration. I don’t know if you’ve read anything other than this post, but my youngest son is seriously mentally ill. Watching my child suffer is the largest pain I’ve ever experienced. I would do absolutely anything to remove that hurt and struggle from his life.

          I’m so glad to hear that she’s getting some good help now!

  • And I am a picker. At least now when I do it I can tell myself, “Self? You must be anxious. Stop self! Stop!”

    And sometimes self listens.

    and other times not.

    I hope this post validates and that the comments support you. xo

  • Good for you my brave friend. You have helped others. On a positive note: I think if you are having a self-pity day or have to see someone who sucks, you should draw crazy thick unibrow eyebrows.
    Ps. I would do it with you. Altho I come by the uni naturally. Also would break out my red velour jumpsuit and triple hair bun action. We would have fun.
    Alex@LateEnough recently posted..No Title Because “Recovered From An Eating Disorder But Still Won’t Eat Brains” Seems Trite

    • So I’m thinking, sometimes, instead of brow pencil, I whip out my Sharpie and just go for it?

      That is awesome. The triple bun – that’s from some movie, right? A woman with a snaggle-tooth, a unibrow, the 3 buns, and a giant mole? I remember the character but I can’t remember what movie that was.

      Happy sighs of being heard. This blogging thing is far from perfect but on days like today, it’s pretty much the bomb.

  • I know I barely know you, even in the weird, bloggy way but I love you. I love the reference to a Dagwood sandwich, I love your honesty, and I love that you’ve shared this with us. BTW- I have some experience w/TTM through a loved one.

  • zell_zyte

    The movie is Dodgeball. A decent film for the humorously inclined.

    I am plagued by the trich myself. As are my mother and my younger sister. I’ve not looked too much into the science of it, but I’d bet anything that gene-link theory is accurate. For me it’s an obsession with creating split ends and then getting rid of them. The intensity comes and goes. Sometimes I’ll dye or cut my hair telling myself it finally looks nice so I’ll stop. I never have completely stopped, but I think it is getting a little better. I just keep thinking how I will feel if I let it get as bad as my mom’s and EVERYONE can tell there is something wrong. Black hair and a messy style are saving me for now. But all the hair on the front half of my head is woefully, unnaturally short.

    Sigh. I haven’t touched it yet today.

    • Oh, we all loved that movie! That’s right; she was on the Russian team.

      Interesting. No one in my family but me has TTM, so your story…it must have been very different, when your illness started. Your mom must have been so upset when her daughters had the same illness! I’ve always watched my kids too closely for signs of TTM, but so far, so good.

      Man, I wish I knew a solution. I wish that a whole lot.

  • wow, i’m so grateful to you for posting this. my brother, who is 25, had a friend who committed suicide 2 years ago. she had trich as well as a few other mental health issues… but her mother, who i am still in touch with, wonders constantly if she waited too long to get her daughter the help she needed with regards to the trich that may have kept her from killing herself.

    seeing this post helps me understand this better… and will help me when i speak with her mother once again.

    THANK YOU.

    • Oh, thank you. I’m so glad to hear that!

      My life has been hit 3 times by suicide and the questions it leaves for survivors are awful. I hope your friend’s mom can find some peace someday.

  • You are so brave to share this. I’d read a lot about it lately because of my son’s potential tic/OCD disorder diagnosis.

    You just made me remember that for a while as a young girl I would pull my eyelashes out too. It didn’t hurt. I never pulled them all out though. But since I bite my fingernails bloody and pull my pinky toenails off compulsively I wonder if some little bit of that gene is in there, and of course if my son inherited it.

    You are beautiful and so very, very brave and awesome to share your story. It’s a disorder that isn’t widely talked about and I think like with OCD and Tourette’s, it deserves true accounts and honesty instead of weird generalizations from fiction and the media.

    Thank you.
    Maria recently posted..The First Day of School- Take Three

    • Thank you! The before is always scary; the after? Usually filled with kindness.

      I love that.

      TTM is one of a group of closely related disorders that includes skin picking and that kind of extreme nail biting and they often go together. I wonder if the same gene is implicated in all of those, or just TTM? Hmmm…I’ll have to look and see.

      Yes, the weird way the media spins problems like this…it’s disturbing. Understandable, I guess, because people don’t want to watch boring TV, but still, it hurts people. So that makes me even more glad I added another real story about TTM to the world.

      Thank you!

  • quazydellasue

    I have a compulsive neurological tick that is quite self-destructive, though not too unusual, I guess. I chew on my lips and inner gums until they bleed and form deep gaps and scabs. I started in my late teens when my life got VERY difficult all at once, and I’ve never been able to stop. I call it “the biting,” and I always know my stress level is too high because all I do is bite.

    Years ago I asked my therapist why I cannot stop this behavior, why it is so much more severe and deeply entrenched than your average nail-biting, which people stop doing all the time. I tried EVERYTHING, but always went back to the biting. And she said – “Because it’s incredibly soothing. Why would you stop?” And damn but she was right. When my mom was dying of cancer and I was sitting perched beside her hospital bed, watching the beeping monitors, biting the shit out of my lips until there was hardly any skin left was the ONLY thing that comforted me. Of course it doesn’t make sense – it’s not rational stuff we’re talking about here. It’s the lizard brain at work, as my beloved therapist also says.

    Enough about me. Thank you for being so brave to publish this, and I am SO glad that so many are coming forward to let you know that you aren’t remotely alone. We’re all different and we all cope with the stress of life differently, but a vast number of us do so with a little self injury.

    P.S. I have mild Tourette’s. Never thought about a connection between that and the biting, though it makes sense.

    • Yes, that does sound very similar. The human brain is an amazing thing!

      Pulling IS soothing. I hate the after, the pain and the ugliness, but during? It’s very much like rocking or patting or the other unconscious things we do to soothe little children. And yes on the stress! Pulling, for me, isn’t always stress related, but it’s definitely worst when I’m stressed, especially if I’m feeling ashamed of myself for some reason. Or no reason; like you said, it isn’t rational!

      And WOW, am I grateful for all these love notes! Whoda thunkit? I’m so glad I pressed publish!

      Thank you!

  • You stopped by my blog just recently and said you came because I bared my soul. That I was occasionally naked. And I said that I liked the naked blogging.

    And I do. It is freeing. And uplifting. And lovely.

    I come here because you bare your soul.

    Always.

    And because you see me and I see you.

    We understand one another.

    So I know that you will believe me when I say that everyone has secrets. I have secrets. And there comes a time when it is time to share.

    To be naked.

    I adore you.

    And I am so proud of you.

    Sigh.

    So proud.

    • Yeah, you’re making me cry, too, dammit!

      Everyone making me cry with their beautiful love notes.

      Which beats the hell out of the other reasons I might cry.

      Seeing and being seen? A rare gift. I am grateful for that.

      Love to you. Much love.

  • You are absolutely one of the bravest bloggers I know. And you are giving courage for others who have secrets of their own, secrets they have been too afraid to put out there. So thank you.

    • Thank you. I hope so; I hope I give courage because as much as I love this, the love and kindness I get after I bare my soul, I also love to see other people’s darkest corners and shine some light on them.

      So many secrets, but out in the light? None of them seem as bad as they did.

  • Wow. Okay, this is the first time I have read your blog. And of all posts. I can’t wait to read what you will type next. Not in a National Inquirer-I-need-drama kind of way. Because this was so authentic, so brave. And even though 99 out of 100 readers have never encountered trichotillomania, we all do something we wish we could change. Something that makes us feel out of control. That, we share.
    The Sweetest recently posted..Operation Beautiful

    • Hooray for new readers! Heads up: I am a loose canon. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Soul baring or ranting? Funny or cranky? Even I don’t know most of the time. 😉

      You know, I do get caught up in that idea that I am unique. I’m always wrong, but I keep getting tangled in the idea anyway. Because it seems people understand this struggle, even though most don’t understand it in any specific way.

      I hope I can remember that this time. Shame makes me forgetful.

  • That was beautiful and brave and I am SO PROUD of you for finding the strength and courage to press publish!
    Beth Zimmerman recently posted..Random Dozen 9–1-10

  • My oldest daughter dealt with this. Well, we BOTH did. One thing you have to know about us is that we are known for our eyes. She even got prettiest eyes in her Jr. High class. I almost did, but this bitch Andrea was friends with the Yearbook chick… but anyway…

    One day, I started noticing that her lashes weren’t as thick. It was around the same time she entered high school. I had just remarried to her step dad who, after a couple of years of newlywed-hood, started being mean to my older kids. She never liked to complain… so she plucked. I didn’t understand, and back then, being still broken by life, I only knew to yell at her.

    We figured out what it was when she took a psych class. Her teacher helped us understand what it was, but she still continued to pluck well into her first months away from home.

    Fast forward several years. She doesn’t pluck too much any more. She’s happy in her life and seems to be enjoying where she’s at. I sometimes see her rubbing her fingertips on her lower lashes, almost as a subconscious response to a thought or a situation. I don’t yell. I just hug her and hope that’s enough.

    Hugs, lady.
    Sugar Jones recently posted..It’s SO Mondo!

    • Thank you. Many, many thanks for that.

      Yes, the part of the story I didn’t tell here was my mom’s response. I don’t remember her yelling, but it bothered her a lot. She nagged, which was frustrating because of course I couldn’t stop. But nobody knew; no one had any idea that this was anything other than a very weird habit.

      I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is doing well!

  • Your posts are inspiring. I can’t imagine how many people you have helped through your writing. Tens of people have you to thank.

    (Seriously, you are amazing even without eyebrows.)

  • This was so brave of you to post. Thank you for sharing your story. xoxo
    Karen Sugarpants recently posted..Free &amp Cheap Ways To Lose Weight

  • Thank you for trusting your readers and sharing this story with us. You are so brave and wonderful and I look up to you as a woman, a mom, and a blogger. Thank you.
    Mommy C recently posted..Almost Wordless Wednesday- Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • Adrienne, I’ve been offline for awhile, and I can’t tell you what good it does for me to creep my way back onto the interwebs just in time to run into a post that reminds me of why I’m here at all.

    In the mid-nineties, “cutter” was just a brand of insect repellent. No one at my high school had ever heard of, much less met, a self-injurer. I was their first. And on the public face of things, I was the only one anyone there knew about, at least until after I graduated — which was shortly before “A Bright Red Scream” came out and the rest of the country began to talk about self-injury as a real, ongoing phenomenon.

    How my entire high school came to know that I was a self-injurer on the same day is a bad story for another time, but suffice it to say that I became the very public face of the issue for a lot of people, and not by my own choice. But you know? As terrible as that public baring of what had been a very, very private pain was for me to endure at fourteen, I ended up very glad it happened. Because it didn’t take long for them to start creeping up to me, one by one … quiet girls, younger girls, some I’d met and some I barely knew … girls who had no one else to talk to. Girls who’d thought they were the only ones, too. Girls who needed exactly the kind of help I was in the best position to give: the help that is empathy. That is compassion born of shared experience. It’s priceless. And the feeling when you’ve found it, unexpectedly, in what you thought was hostile and unforgiving territory? Unspeakably precious.

    What will remain truly, and quite literally, marvelous to me about the internet is that it allows and creates exactly those kinds of encounters, multiplied exponentially, every second. We’re here, if we wish it, to be in the business of multiplying compassion in this world.

    And that’s exactly what you just did.

    Brava, Adrienne. Bravely and well done.

    A note to Cyndi, who replied above, or to anyone else interested: the best online support resource I’ve found in fifteen years of being both actively online and a self-injurer is a board called the BUS (Bodies Under Siege) web board. There’s a Family and Friends forum specifically designed to offer support to the loved ones of self-injurers. There are lots and lots of moms in your position there, helping each other through it. (Adrienne, by the by, although the blogger community seems to have more of what you need, support-wise, there are lots of moms on that forum with mentally ill kids. SI and mental illness don’t necessarily coincide, of course, but it’s common. And there are many, many people around BUS with TTM.) Check us out anytime:

    http://buslist.org/phpBB

    Blessings, naked lady. You done good. 😉

    Brooke

    • “We’re here, if we wish it, to be in the business of multiplying compassion in this world.”

      Oh, hello! Best comment of the week award right there. If you decide to blog? You’ve already written your tagline.

      I couldn’t agree more. We don’t have to understand a person’s specific experience to see that person’s heart. It’s so hard, from inside the shame, to remember that most people are ready and willing to offer kindness. I keep forgetting, but people like you keep reminding me. 😉

      Being heard is such a big deal. Much more important than I think we realize. I wrote about that here. Really, I have come a long way emotionally since I learned to seek the kind of person who can truly hear me, and to be that kind of person myself. We’re all so busy looking for solutions, we forget that the hearing itself often IS the solution, or at least a large piece.

      Thank you, and welcome back to the internet!

  • AS SOON as I started reading, I knew exactly what you are talking about because I have dermotillamania!! (obsessive picking at the skin) I do it on my thumb. Now if I can’t share that with a fellow – tillamania – then pray tell, who can I?

    http://www.pampersandpinot.com

  • First? If I had the authority to do so, you would have just won the BadAss Blogger award for this.

    But really…this is what I want to say to you:

    I love you.

    You have been beautiful to me since I started reading your blog. You have told me to bare my soul. To write what is behind my eyes. To write the story that HAS to come out.

    Sometimes? I have been afraid to do that. So I come here and read.

    And then I go back to my blog and write that which makes me nervous.

    You have written about that which terrifies you. And in turn? You are more beautiful to me.

    I love you.
    Katie recently posted..Thankful Thursday- The Teacher Edition

    • Oh, Katie. I love you too. So much.

      I love that I’ve given you courage because you’ve given me courage more often than I can even remember.

      You’re beautiful to me, and while I think your hair is gorgeous, that doesn’t even have anything to do with it!

      Thank you.

  • I’m out of words. I wish I could just walk over and give you a hug.
    At the same time, I’m terrified because I am making a little hero out of you, and all these posts I’m reading make me fall in love with your strength, your courage, your honesty. Why am I terrified? Because it feels like a dream I’m in and I don’t want to wake up to realize it’s not there.
    Sometimes the Internet does that to me. Virtual people. Or real people met in a virtual environment, close call.
    I so hope you really exist, I don’t want to wake up.
    To me you are perfect, with or without lid hair. (Because that’s really what lashes are, not so sexy now, uh?)
    Maryline recently posted..There is always tomorrow

  • I am so impressed by your bravery in choosing to post this. Someday, someone else with the same condition will happen upon this post and realize that she is not alone. (Maybe they already have — I didn’t have time to read all the comments before mine.) You’ve done a good thing here.
    Heather recently posted..The clock to end all … oops

    • Thanks, Heather.

      Always, that’s the hope, that someone will feel a little less alone. Getting the story out of my body and into words is wonderful, as is receiving all this kind feedback, but to help someone else along the way? Exponentially MORE!

  • Adrienne, for the record, this TOTALLY made my week:

    “If you decide to blog? You’ve already written your tagline.”

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve batted the blogging idea around. You just put one more hashmark in the “pros” column.

    Thanks. 🙂

    *
    ~b
    Brooke recently posted..brightsomeone- So is it really wrong that I LOVE that we made Perez Hilton Someone gag my inner 16-yr-old- pls PerezHiltoncom http-bitly-cs24XB

  • Just did, and commented. After a little crying.

    Thank you, Adrienne. Really … thank you so much.

    *
    ~b
    Brooke recently posted..brightsomeone- So is it really wrong that I LOVE that we made Perez Hilton Someone gag my inner 16-yr-old- pls PerezHiltoncom http-bitly-cs24XB

  • Sarah

    I wish I had known about this when I was a preteen…I was anorexic and pulled my eyelashes out every night in my bed, hating myself for it but I must have liked the way it felt. Your “naked eyes” are a familiar sight for me. I think my 60 lbs frame at 12 was a bigger concern to my family and doctors than my lack of eyelashes but both were resolved.
    I’m not sure what made me stop but I am glad I somehow did. They aren’t the longest set now but I really appreciate them (along with my filled out 6 ft tall body). Thank you so much for sharing, it’s nice to know I’m not the only person who has been affected by that compulsion. Best wishes 🙂

  • […] Within months, I started pulling out my eyelashes. […]

  • […] I shared about my struggle with trichotillomania, people came to say, “I understand.” Most of those people did not themselves have […]

  • […] Naked Eyes and Angst (the blog post in which I first shared my struggle with TTM) […]

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