Participate.

One of the principles of DBT therapy is “participate.”  This comes along side “Observe” (your emotions) and “Describe” (them without being consumed by them).  Forgive me for not doing a stellar job explaining all this in detail. I’m still learning. But, when it comes down to it, participate means don’t just sit back and judge the situation, while ruminating in your mind about it. Work with people – participate.

This was my word of the week in school projects. I’d gotten in an argument with some people in one class several weeks ago. When I walked into the class yesterday, I found myself impulsively withdrawn. I don’t know that I said in my head, “I’m not gonna talk to these people,” but that’s definitely what I was doing.  When one person reached out and asked me several social and polite questions, I found myself hearing the word “participate.”

I returned the conversation, and by the end of the class was totally engaged, having fun and quite happy. Maybe I didn’t get to “show them” by being closed and cold. But I really didn’t miss that feeling in the end anyway.

Also, I tried to add this hysterical widget to my blog that I got from my favorite food tracking website, Livestrong.com.  It has a big graphic that says “I gained 31 pounds!” Of course, it’s meant to be encouraging to show weight loss. But since the last time I used it six months ago, I’ve gained 31 pounds. It cracked me up to see it so enthusiastically announcing that.   The widget doesn’t work since it’s in javascript. So all that worked is the link to Livestrong.com.  That’s ok – I recommend it to everyone.

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Hope.

Anybody ever heard of a type of therapy called DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy?

It doesn’t really have anything to do with treating Trich.  But, it’s a way of learning to recognize and manage your emotions.  My care providers have been encouraging me to try it since I started graduate school. But, it’s group therapy, and I was kind of weirded out by doing that.

Which is weird, since I loved my Trich support group.  Why would group therapy be any less beneficial?

Anyway, things got really bad about three weeks ago at school. So, I went to Student Health and the third person in a year told me to try DBT. So, I did.

I now attend an hourly group each week. I was so encouraged by the first meeting, that I went and found an individual therapist who is now my DBT coach. I’ve had two sessions of each.

I’ve always battled depression. And shame, since I feel like I should have more control over pulling out my own hair. It just feels like I’m crazy some days.  Why would I pull out my own hair? I know better than thinking it’s so simple that I should be able to stop.

DBT teaches you how to recognize your emotions and then keep them from running your life unconciously. I’m pretty excited about it. For the first time in a while, I feel hopeful that at least one part of this is gonna get part. Depression’s a bitch.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s a sunny fall afternoon. I’m in a coffee shop listening to Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” on repeat.  It’s the only song of hers I’ve bought, but I love her music and want to hear more than 3 minutes of it.

Repeat seems to be the word of the day.  I’m also sitting here with a shaved head. Again. I last cut all my hair off just eleven months ago.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit I did it last time hoping to finally get to the bottom of the urges in the months that it slowly grew back, so that by summer I’d have a trich-free life.

Since that’s not what happened, I can still say I’m happy with my decision every time.  Those few months of living trich-free are unlike any other. It’s so freeing. But, as I’ve written before, it is avoidance. I know that.

Here’s a lovely thing. I’d been debating cutting my hair for about a week. But, I came into this same coffee shop yesterday to work. An hour or so in, a woman a little older than me came in – tall and thin, shaved head. I smiled at her.I think she gave me the last little bit of confidence I needed to know I could do whatever I needed to do.

In the end, we all serve the world best when we’re living freely and well.

Today, I came back into the shop to work. My first interaction with any other person since I shaved my head was – literally – to look up and see that same woman at a table with friends, looking at me and smiling.

As much as it feels like I’m stuck in the same loop from a year ago, I also see how I’m not.

Tuesday will be my first session of a new therapy I’ve never tried called DBT, or Dialectic Behavioral Therapy. It’s not technically for trich. It’s for “emotional wellness,” or in my case, not being such an obviously judgmental grump all the time.

But it focuses a lot on mindfulness, which is a key piece to moving through life with trich.

And I also start seeing a weekly therapist as an adjunct to the pharmaceutical treatment overseen by my psychiatrist.  So, that’s all new. I’m hoping we can work on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for trich, too.

Ok, Beyonce’s on for about the eighth time in a row. Time for something new.

My Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.

My mom’s friend once gave her a copy of the book “Alexander’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day” when she was having, well, a series of bad days. I was a early teenager. I thought it was so silly for an adult to give another adult a children’s book. Lame.

Later in life, a friend who is a literacy coordinator raved about the wisdom and literary merit in children’s books. It’s one of those things that I’ve recognized intuitively, but had never really thought about.

I re-read Alexander’s story the other day, after having my own series of bad days. It’s so powerful. A bad mood can really suck you in… Everything starts spiraling down the great toilet in the sky and there’s just no extracting yourself.

At least that’s how it feels.

In addition to trich, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Though I’ve been pulling for 15 years, I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until I was 20 or so. It took another ten years to be diagnosed bipolar. That’s pretty typical.

In me, it means I’m either climbing the walls coming up with projects I want to do and new hobbies I have to practice on a super organized schedule, or I’m crying out of control about who knows what and sleeping 10-12 hours a day.

I’m super caring and nurturing, until I get worn out and upset. Then, I snap. I bark. I bite.

I see trich as one way that my body tried to calm itself down in the midst of all that chaos. It activates some reward system that says “this feels good and relaxing.” So, I pull.

I don’t know if that’s true and I certainly don’t think it’s true for everyone. Just curious, why do you think you pull? I’m sure you’ve thought about it. 🙂

Iiiit’s baaack!

Well, my hair is about an inch or two long now.  It’s growing back nice and full, which makes me very thankful.  But “the monster,” as my friend Alyson calls Trichotillomania, is back, too.

That’s why I’m blogging this morning. Obviously I haven’t been very consistent with this.  Mainly because school has kept me busy and overall things are going well and I have a lot to be thankful for.  But, also I don’t always feel like I have much constructive to add to the conversation about how to quit pulling.  Because that’s what most of us really want, right? To quit pulling?

I do have a couple of thoughts today. For anyone in striking distance of central California, a highly-respected researcher is looking for genetic causes of Trich and needs bone marrow donors for a study.  If you are 19-55 and interested, read more here.

Also, my general mental health has been a wreck lately. The stress of school combined with not exercising or eating well = a lot of tears and sleeping too much.  I have an appointment to see my psychiatrist Thursday, but until then I’ve started trying to track my food and exercise again.  I find this gives me a little more motivation to stay on track.  I’m studying Health Communication at grad school and a lot of research shows that one of the most effective ways to turn intentions into behavioral change is to have an action plan to meet those goals.

My favorite tool for tracking food and exercise is Livestrong.com. It’s free. It will try to sell you an upgraded plan, but you don’t need that.

As for pulling, I’m sweeping my room more often so I don’t see the debris and hoping that depression meds and stress management will make a difference.

When pulling out my hair turns into filling my belly.

just so everyone knows, i started this post. never finished it. i figured i’d post it anyway. it was going to be reflections on how I eat impulsively when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, and whether or not I think that’s related to trich.  But, I guess I got too overwhelmed to write it. And the truth is, I don’t know for sure if they’re related.  Probably.

It’s a funny thing

It’s a funny thing, not having any hair.  I shaved it all off two weeks ago.  My hair was getting really thin and I felt like an old man crafting his combover every morning.  I was spending so much mental energy wondering if it looked ok, if any bald spots were showing, wishing that it looked thicker and fuller and prettier.  So, I cut it off. I’ve done it before.  It’s not ideal – I can tell it makes people a little uncomfortable because they don’t know how to react.  But, overall, people are really kind and the most important thing is that I’m more comfortable without hair for now.

I thought this time would give me lots of opportunities to practice tools and skills for not giving into the urges to pull or put my hands to my head so that when my hair grows back I would be equipped.  It’s weird though: if I used to pull easily ten times an hour, now my scalp might itch two or three times a day.  Regardless, I have learned some helpful tricks.  I now itch my head with my palm when I have to, so that my fingers aren’t in my hair.  I also have been clenching my fists tightly and taking deep breaths to try to wait out the itch. That yields mixed success honestly.  Alot of times, the itches don’t go away.

The itches easily travel all over my body this time of year, since it’s winter and dry skin abounds. So I’ve been making sure to use lots of lotions to keep my skin moisturized.  For my face, I found samples of a really nice Lancome lotion, but it’s too expensive to buy. So I will use Oil of Olay when that runs out.   For my body, Johnson and Johnson has a yummy creamy dry skin lotion that is perfect for me!  Using these also gets me in the bathroom to do a little self-care, which I used to avoid since I didn’t like looking in the mirror.   Which winds up making me feel better about myself. Good practice all the way around!

Whoops.

I managed to ween myself off of my morning cup of caffeinated coffee when I started school. I know that caffeine doesn’t help with stress management and I wasn’t sleeping the first month of school because I was so scared.  Well, friends, just an FYI – replacing morning coffee with morning green tea is probably good for you because of the anti-oxidants in tea, but it has almost the same amount of caffeine. Whoops. Back to decaf coffee or caffeine-free mint tea.

The 30 day intensive

I’m in grad school for journalism and have found that the stress makes me want to pull all of the time.  I’m really glad that I applied to grad school – it is stretching me and exposing me to new areas of interest. (I was super bored in my previous job.)  But it’s also making me fight battles with my insecurity and perfectionism, and I feel a lot of sensory release from those thoughts when I pull.

So, I just shaved all of my hair off two days ago. I’m tired of thinking about how bad my hair looks all the time. I’ve shaved my head before. I like it and it’s immensely more comfortable.

That is not a treatment strategy for trich, though. I know that. It’s avoidance. So, I’m challenging myself to try again to develop skills that will allow me to resist the pulling urges that return when my hair returns. I have a month before grad school classes start back after winter break, so that means I’ll have fewer stressors than normal.  There will be a lot of car time, driving to see family and friends. That’s a trigger for me. And I hope to read alot, which is also a trigger. So, here’s to 30 days of really working to develop tools for my trich toolbox.

I started out on the TLC website, where else?! There are two articles that were helpful.  The first one encourages you to develop a pulling profile – when and where you pull and why. The second is more generic 50 strategies to keep from pulling. I found it helpful to develop my pulling profile first, and then to read the 50 strategies so that I would have a sense of which of those were most likely to help me and why.

I found that I pull as a response to all three of the categories that they describe.  But I have spent enough time thinking about why and when I pull that I can see how and when my urges fall in to those different categories, and can use the specific techniques recommended to combat each one. For example, right now, I am feeling a sensory urge to pull. My ear, neck, hairline and nose all “itch” right now. Putting my hand to my head to scratch is a step in the direction of pulling. So, they recommend a trick called “exposure therapy,” where you look in the mirror until the urge to itch passes. I’m gonna go try that now, and then another sensory trick of running a wide tooth comb over the area that itches or begs to be pulled.  That’s enough for day one.

Another form of avoidance or the best decision ever?

It’s the end of my firs semester in grad school and I have been finally spending time cleaning my room and car. Which means – surprise – sweeping and scooping up lots of piles of hair. It amazes me most days that I have any left at all. I’ve found over the last few weeks that I am super self-concious and always touching my hair to try to see how thin it is in the back and places where I know it’s thin. Which then gives me an excuse to have my hands in my hair and, well, you can guess what that means.

I’m not dedicated to a treatment plan where I have tools to help me once that hands in the hair moment arrives. I just pull or get frustrated, and that happens for me several times an hour. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t pull.

So this weekend, tired of combing my hair to hide the thinness like an old man with a combover, I went to Target, bought clippers and asked my roommates to help me shave my head. I’ve done this at least twice before.

I know it’s a form of avoidance. But, I have to say it is so refreshing not to pull for more than a day at a time. And to not be hiding anything.

I do not recommend that anyone shave their head impulsively. Whether they should or not, people look at you funny when you’re a woman with a shaved head. I want to make a shirt that says, no, it’s not cancer, no, i’m not angry and yes, i like men.

For me, it’s a peaceful and honest release. And I like the way I look.

I’m going to the TLC website now to get some ideas for how to combat the urges when they come up. It’s funny – with a shaved head you’re even more aware of when the urges come. Your hand goes up and you can literally hear it thud against your head. “Oh, right. I don’t have hair.”

So, I want to use this precious time to kick off some healthy habits that should equip me to deal with the urges when my hair grows back.

If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears. Literally. 🙂

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