Weeks later, her brows went missing. She’s a light blonde so it wasn’t terribly drastic at first. Then, at Thanksgiving a friend asked me in passing “what’s up with her eyes?” I chalked it up to stress. I blamed school. I thought, “it’ll pass.”
Until it didn’t. Soon enough, her face was bald of any hair; she had become simply two eyes, a nose and a mouth. Like Jared Leto when he bleached his brows or a grunge era Kristin McMenamy. She had the face of a newborn, except she was nearly 10.
For kids with ADHD, a common co-morbidity, or as I like to put it, “side dish” is OCD. My daughter is one of the 4.9 percent of girls diagnosed with the ubiquitous condition, and she has a few side dishes to compliment her meal.
Trichotillomania happens to be one of them. Trichotillomania is a body-focused disorder characterized by the compulsion to pull out your hair. For some, the focus is the scalp; while others ravage their lashes and brows, and of course there are those who do both. For sufferers of Trich, the compulsion is totally outside their control. It’s a devastating place to be, to say the least.
If you love a Trich sufferer, it can be frustrating. This was my baby, I don’t want anyone to hurt her, let alone watch her inflict self-harm. That’s where I learned to play the long game. I’m a classic solver, the know-it-all who always has the perfect restaurant suggestion, hairdresser or hotel recommendation ready. Now, I’d become the friend who had the therapist suggestions and the experience with multiple medications. My daughter’s therapist suggested she use a shaving brush to pull at when she felt the urge. It helped until it didn’t. Like most band-aids, it got worn out and fell off after a few days.
I studied up. I learned what to say, what not to say and that calling attention to it and shaming her were never positive. I joined Facebook groups and saw how much worse it could be. I cried. I read about various treatment options and amino acids that might help. I found a cognitive behavioral therapist to help with habit reversal training; we bought toys to busy her hands. I discovered an app that helped keep track of pull-free days. But mostly, I stopped looking at the pieces and focused on the whole. I made talking about it feel like anything else we’d discuss and once in a while we’d chat about it, my daughter offering “It’s been a while since I’ve pulled,” or “I couldn’t help it.”
She was spectacular, brave and utterly fabulous and was developing a muscle that could only be described as uniqueness. I watched her as she learned to live outside the lines in her own version of what a kid was.
Then, one morning my husband admitted something. He looked at me and said “I do it, too.” He’s had a shaved head for years. For as long as he could remember, he’d been pulling from a tiny spot on his head. He finally stepped forward and talked about what had been a silent battle for him. Days later, her told our daughter and the dialogue widened.
And so we continue, and we relearn once again, how to do this parenting thing. Over and over and over. And we walk down the road, hand in hand looking at the forest, not the trees. Most days, at least.
Erin Zelle is a TV Producer and Writer living in LA, juggling career and family just like the rest of us. You can follow her on Twitter @ErinRZelle.
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