It started at ten years old. Fourth grade tested my patience; I snuck books under my desk and made myself ill just to distract myself from boredom. I noticed sometimes if I tugged gently at my eyelashes, they would come right off in delicate little clumps. Sometimes three, sometimes five, sometimes as many as eleven would fan across my index finger like I had blinked them off. Eyelashes began dusting my desk at school, the pages of the books I read. Pretty soon the soothing feeling of yanking them out addicted me. I started sporting itchy bald patches on my eyelids, eyes burning and watering.

My mom noticed and asked, what happened to your eyelashes? I lied and told her they just fell out, but she knew better and took me to the doctor. By that point I decided not to pull them out anymore, because it stopped feeling good and I did look kind of funny without eyelashes, like an alien subspecies of human Darwin forgot to include in his notes.

– – –

At sixteen I dyed my hair red for a few years, then blonde for a school play. In college, there were no more plays, no more choir, no more newspaper – only step-by-step instructions for becoming a Responsible Citizen. By nineteen my hair grew brittle, splitting off at the ends and fuzzing out like the bristles of a broom. I could sit through a lecture and covertly pick off my split ends, hunting carefully through the clumps and locating them like mines. They multiplied, those split ends, and soon a fine haze surrounded my face: a halo of broken, picked-through hair. Bi-annual haircuts did not quell the encroaching pests – the only thing that did was a glass of Cabernet, which made the fight against split ends not matter as much.

– – –

I have been off the hormones for about six months now. They don’t mix well with my antidepressants, turning me into a sterilized Stepford-ish creature I don’t recognize. However, as an unwanted side effect to hormone-free living, I now have acne. Blemishes decorate my face and arms as they didn’t eleven years ago during my actual teenage years. They don’t clear up with unscented soap, unscented organic lotion, unscented laundry detergents or unscented fabric softeners; clean eating and a sugar-free diet hasn’t helped, either.

I scratch and pick at these blemishes obsessively, as if raking my fingernails over the rocky surface will render it smooth. My arms and t-zone dotted with scabs and swollen, tender flesh, cry out for me to leave them alone; the day-to-day tedium with no end in sight compels me to pick just a little more, scratch just a little harder until they bleed and scab, when I know I’ve purged the noxious spots from my skin.

– – –

As of right now, this story has no end, no and then I went on Ativan epilogue to tidy up these nervous tics. I don’t want to throw a mask over the symptoms without addressing the issues that extend far beneath the surface.

I’m trying to do that here.

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Comments

Circumstantial Evidence — 42 Comments

  1. Wow. I never pulled my eyelashes, but I pulled hairs from my face for over 25 years. I tried antidepressant medication, OCD medication. I went to trichotillomania support groups. Read, talked, wrote, read, talked, wrote. Nothing ever worked.

    For two years now, I’ve essentially stopped. I wish I could tell you I knew exactly how, but I can tell you two things that definitely helped (me), one of which, alas, isn’t available to you: I grew a beard. A patchy, thin one because of all the damage I had done to my face. But a beard. And I meditate. Every day.

    It didn’t make the urges go away – I still have them. But meditating, practicing mindfulness daily, did teach me how, in other areas, not to indulge my impulses, but rather simply to observe them.

    I wish you well. You are beautiful as you are.
    N. Likes recently posted…Self-destructionMy Profile

    • Thank you. I know it always flares up when I’m deeply unhappy about something and feel out of control. I’m working on trying to fix the situation, but what you said about mindfulness reminded me that I should try to stop (or at least manage) the behavior.
      I’ve been trying to wear sleeves and not look in the mirror. Helps a little.

  2. Good luck in overcoming this. I’m a skin picker myself, trying to figure it all out as well. I began learning about mindfulness, as N. Likes mentioned, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Honestly, I’ve yet to give it an honest try, as I got to the point where I was supposed to start meditating and practicing being mindful, and then I quit. But I do think it would probably help. Maybe look into that? You’ve reminded me that I need to help myself too, so thank you.
    Ericamos recently posted…Cruisin’ CousinsMy Profile

    • Good. We shouldn’t be cruel to ourselves, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like cruelty. I am not the most mindful person either, but I’m trying – with other things, at least. Maybe they’ll translate over…or maybe I should focus on this more? I don’t know the answer.

  3. Thank you for being so open and honest. We live in broken bodies in a broken world, but your writing proves that you are embracing it all with as much grace as you can. Keep at it…I trust more answers are on their way.
    Kristin recently posted…This WorldMy Profile

  4. Wow…you are working so hard. I totally admire that. Your honesty in taking this next step to wellness. First sobriety (no easy task) and now this…its all pieces of the same, yes? I know it’s so hard but just as Kristin said…you are handling it with such honesty and real grace. Best to you on your journey. It’s really worth it which I am sure you already know. Z~

  5. I have been on Ativan before, and I have to admit, I loved every minute of it. I made myself quit b/c I knew I was loving it too much. Constant anxiety is such a burden, and I hope you find relief from it very soon.
    Mamarific recently posted…End of the LineMy Profile

  6. Whenever I’m bored, or tired, or stressed I pick at my scalp. It doesn’t show – unless I’ve been doing it so much that flakes of skin show in my hair. Sometimes it goes to the point where the muscles in my arm ache from digging my nails into my scalp.
    Vanessa recently posted…Well played Monday, well played.My Profile

  7. It is funny when we examine our lives and habits — how we change one thing and the behavior (and whatever need it fulfills) transfers to another action. My daughter picked at her lips. She stopped that but not is obsessed with Chapstick. I sent her off to camp yesterday and other than her phone charger — the most important thing to her as her stick of lip balm. The honestly in your writing always touches me and makes me think. 🙂
    Jamie@SouthMainMuse recently posted…Thank the Good Lord I Skipped Church.My Profile

  8. Dear goodness, you are brave to be writing that! And as I read through your post, my left hand was poking around on my face, unconsciously ofcourse. And with a conscious effort, feeling extremely guilty, I had to put my hands back down. I have had acne forever and when I was a teen, my mom told me that they will go away when I in my twenties. Nope nothing still and I have had this habit of, as you described “as if raking my fingernails over the rocky surface will render it smooth” since and I do it constantly. I hope it gets better for you soon. Take care.:)
    mediumSuccess recently posted…How young is old enough?My Profile

    • It just has always been something I did, and fortunately I never thought of it as a shameful thing or an impulse control problem, so I’ve never had a problem talking about it. The shameful part, the part I am just realizing, is what causes me to do it…
      And isn’t it funny how they tell you skin will clear up in your twenties? I never had bad breakouts as a teen, but now that I’m thirty, I’m having them AND starting to notice wrinkles, lol.

  9. This post was great! My favorite part was that you didn’t have a neat and tidy ending like, “But it’s ok! I’m better now!” Sometimes I worry that posts about bad stuff are only ‘allowed’ or lauded when the bad episode can be neatly tied up in a bow. But life isn’t really like that. I’m so glad you shared this.
    Larks recently posted…Fat cat.My Profile

    • Thank you! I’m trying not to do that anymore. I’ve always kind of been that way – only talking about problems once they’re over – and never realized how much I was missing opportunities for connection with people.

  10. That must have been tough to write. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss treating the symptoms. If you alleviate symptoms and modify behaviors, a change in your state of mind may follow.
    Joe recently posted…A Vision Of LoveMy Profile

  11. This is very powerful, honest writing. And I can understand not wanting to mask the deeper issues. I deal with that too with my panic attacks. I have Ativan for them, but I don’t WANT to take it. I have never been one to pick or scratch (except in the midst of a bad panic attack)but I have other destructive behaviors. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.
    Tamara T. recently posted…Let me out!!My Profile

    • No, you certainly aren’t alone. I am not afraid of taking medication if I need it – I am afraid of taking it and not treating the real problem. For me, stress-behaviors indicates something is deeply wrong with my circumstances, and I’d hate to mask that early-warning system. Everyone is different, though, and everyone’s solution mustn’t be taken at face value. Keep trusting yourself.

    • Normal is definitely overrated. I would like to stop breaking out, though…;) Funny, this isn’t that hard for me to talk about, because it’s something visible to everyone. It’s not like alcoholism – something I can try to hide. I think the hiding is where it gets shameful. It’s just always been something I do, so I don’t think twice about it.

  12. You know it’s so odd how our little habits can soothe our anxieties. I have a weird habit where I make a little flap of skin next to my thumbnail and drag it across rough fabric where it catches and pulls a little. My mother tells me I’ve done that since I was a baby. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone points it out to me but it’s very calming. I think these behaviours might be us training our brains to release endorphins and that’s why they’re addictive and hard to stop. (Endorphins are feel-good hormones.) I think your approach to it is a good one Natalie: deal with why you need the endorphins in the first place. Don’t give up and know there are people out there with their fingers crossed for you.

    • Thank you. I’ve known people who have similar comfort-behaviors, like the one you describe (I think of mine as more destructive). This has in the past been in place of panic attacks – giving me something else to focus on. Now, though, they come side by side with the panic attacks, so I’m a little more eager to get to the bottom of it.
      Wouldn’t it be nice if I just stopped breaking out, lol?

  13. Love reading the pure honesty in all of this week’s Yeah Write posts. They’re raw and tender, beautifully told. I love how each vignette builds on the previous, truly reflecting the circumstantial evidence your title alludes too — loved it!
    erin recently posted…Destination UnknownMy Profile

  14. I love how you structured this piece. This is so well-written and beautiful. And I love how you wrote about vulnerability so directly and honestly. That it isn’t easy to do – you’re brave and wise.

    As for the acne, I keep telling myself it makes me look young. Whenever someone asks for my ID, I always ask, “It’s because of my zits, right?” I frightened a young girl who, upon glancing at my license and seeing my age, blurted out, “Wait. You can get zits when you’re 38?” Yes, dear.

    I wish you all the best. I enjoying your writing so much, and I’m glad I “met” you at Yeah Write.
    Blogging Bibliophile recently posted…I’m part of the 99%, but not Tom-or-rowMy Profile

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