Trichotillomania: My Lashless Love

eyelashesbefore

Eyelashes present and accounted for this time last spring. Sigh.

Yes, so… it seems the eye issues must continue with my young love. Last fall, the poor little man was unlucky enough to develop an awful viral lesion on his right upper and lower eyelids, which landed him in Children’s Hospital for IV antiviral medications, and nearly landed me in the mental ward with insane levels of worry. His eye eventually recovered, after a 5 day stay in the hospital, and he was discharged with no actual corneal complications. If you’re familiar with cold sores, then you’ll know how they behave: blisters erupt, then sort of rupture, forming crusts and later scabs. All this happened along his eyelid margins, and he was discharged after no new blisters had appeared for over 36 hours. He went home with oral and topical eye meds, and as part of our routine, we had to clean crusty goop from his eyelashes several times per day. At first, I did the honors, but as time went on, he got proficient at cleaning his own eye fairly well. The eye recovered within about 10 days of hospital discharge. Or so we believed.

eyeselfie1

I happen to have this documented courtesy of unsolicited selfies found on my cell phone. Here we have the right eye plucked bare, and the left eye looking rather sparse.

Ever heard of trichotillomania? This is my theory, as he’s not been very forthcoming as far as reasons for his behavior… it started several months ago with the right eye, the same eye that had all the blisters along the margin, the eye for which he had been having to clean crusts off his eyelashes. I think that either lingering irritated sensations persisted, or he just began to like pulling eyelashes, but in either case, a couple of months after the viral infection, I noticed his eyelashes were very sparse on that eye. I figured he lost them during the infection, and didn’t think too much of it. Then a couple of months back, I noticed that there were in fact no upper eyelashes on his right eye. Once there were none, he moved on to the left eye, and now my child has no eyelashes at all on either eye. It’s rather weird-looking. Though I must say that at least it’s symmetrical now, which makes it slightly less noticeable than before. Sigh.

His grandparents and teachers have all noticed, and he’s been lectured quite a bit about this behavior of pulling eyelashes, and I’ve tried to explain the function of eyelashes and why they’re important in terms of shielding our eyes against particulate matter and UV radiation, etc… and he will knowledgeably explain back to me the reasons why eyelashes are important, and add that people look funny without their eyelashes (which I can assume may have come from a grandparent or a teacher). However, it seems to be some sort of an OCD-like habit for him at this point.

I can relate to some extent. I happen to derive some level of enjoyment from pulling out a perfectly normal eyebrow hair or an eyelash now and then as well, and I definitely have an OCD-like compulsion to tweeze any erstwhile hairs on chin or around my eyebrows any time one pops up. And I wear mascara daily because it helps me to notice if I’m messing with my eyelashes- there’s a smear of mascara there on my fingers… otherwise I may do it subconsciously. So I can relate, though I’ve never pulled to the extent that the young love has done.

eyeselfie2

Most recent Young Love selfie. As you can see, he’s pulled just about each and every eyelash out. I keep telling myself at least it’s symmetrical.

I read up about it, and the experts say that sometimes trichotillomania is caused by some underlying stress or anxiety disorder, which worries me, except that he seems pretty well adjusted, isn’t having problems at school, has good stability and is loved and doted upon at home. That’s why I tend to think he may have a tendency from me that was just sort of kick-started with the eyelid infection and has now become a “thing”… the experts also recommend not to constantly hound kids with trichotillomania about the behavior, and not to institute punishments etc. because that can just heighten any anxiety they may have, and actually aggravate the problem. Hard to imagine how it could be aggravated, unless, horrors, he moves on to pull out all his eyebrows next. Or the hair on his head or elsewhere, heaven forbid.

So, what to do? I did read that for some kids, the attraction is the act of pulling the hair, and for others, it’s after the fact- they like to roll the eyelash between their fingers after they’ve pulled it. I asked him if he could tell me which it was, and he said he likes to roll the eyelash between his fingers and that he catches himself doing this when he’s alone and doesn’t even remember pulling out the eyelash, just finds it rolling back and forth between his fingers. I asked him if he could think of a substitute item he might roll between his fingers instead of an eyelash, and he suggested a paper clip. So far, we’ve not had success with that because we either forget to send the paperclip, or he forgets it’s in his pocket. So my next approach was to offer something really tempting to him if he can grow his eyelashes back and keep them… I broke my own rule about gaming systems. Well, not a rule, just a dislike for them.

It’s to be an Xbox, if he grows his lashes and keeps them. Doesn’t even have to be a birthday or Christmas, in fact- it could be sooner, but the Xbox is his, with all the capabilities to create his own Minecraft mods that he so envies the YouTube Minecraft gurus… if and when he has a full compliment of eyelashes on both eyes.

He’s pretty motivated by this idea. So wish the little guy luck. We’ll see.

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20 comments

  1. Guylty · April 18, 2015

    I never even know that there was a name for this particular condition! Hope the little man will become more conscious of this habit now that you have addressed it – and can stop it. You’ve definitely thrown in a very tempting incentive. The trouble is, of course, that it will take a few weeks before any results of the effort will show. That must be quite frustrating, especially as you can’t keep an eye on him 24/7 to gently stop him when he forgets that he is not supposed to pull his lashes… Definitely wishing him luck with this.

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    • jholland · April 18, 2015

      Yes, and since I kind of know first hand how easy it is to pull out a lash or an eyebrow without even knowing I’ve done it, it’s extra hard. I did offer him one other deal so he wouldn’t feel as hounded if I catch him in the act. He’s permission to point out to me if he sees me pulling my eyelashes (I didn’t mention eyebrows because I was scared to give him ideas!) and he’s permission to inspect my eyelashes whenever he wants and let me know if my eyelashes look sparse to him. We both have this problem and we will monitor each other. He hasn’t caught me pulling an eyelash yet, but he does inspect my eyelashes when I inspect his, and he thinks my right eyelid looks suspect, he says. LOL. I asked him what should we do about it and he suggested I use a paper clip like him. =)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cath · April 18, 2015

    I’ve had my own share of health issues with my 3 boys.( more than I care to mention! ) I agree with your thoughts , do whatever it takes. They are only young once and I think you have to be flexible to their needs etc. I wish you the best of luck and hope it all works out ok. Xx

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    • jholland · April 18, 2015

      Welcome, Cath, and thanks for commenting. I guess any mother’s fear is that the child will wind up being teased, bullied, picked on. Especially when he had one eye plucked and one with full lashes, he looked super strange and I was very worried that some mean kid might decide to ridicule him. Plus, he’s a little boy with typically grubby fingers. I worry about eye infections or even a relapse on the viral lesion- we all know cold sores are more likely to return under stressful conditions, and eyelids that have been continually manhandled and abused in this fashion seem like a good candidate for relapse. Sigh.

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  3. MargotMat · April 18, 2015

    Bad habits are hard to overcome, but often children do better than adults in that kind of situation. I wish him luck and to you too – mothers take so much to heart when their kids are involved. 🙂

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    • jholland · April 18, 2015

      Too true. I’m really hopeful that he will be successful. I am starting to see a few stubby little lashes popping out, probably too short to get ahold of yet, but he’s excited to see them because he can almost taste that Xbox. My other worry is once we have the Xbox, what to do if he relapses. May have to set rules from the get-go that the Xbox goes out of commission if the eyelashes disappear. I think if we frame that as a rule from the start, it may not feel quite so much like a “punishment” if we have to use the Xbox temptation again in future. I don’t know. Parenting! There’s never a clear answer, is there?

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      • MargotMat · April 18, 2015

        Hardly ever, yes. Sending you good vibes. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. linnetmoss · April 18, 2015

    Poor wee man! The twin strategy of providing a substitute, and offering a reward sounds like a good plan. Wishing you both success.

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    • jholland · April 18, 2015

      I am hopeful. He has great eyes. Big and blue. It’s a shame to see them looking so oddly naked. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Servetus · April 18, 2015

    You sound like you’re really on top of it. Oh, the things that parents have to worry about!

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    • jholland · April 18, 2015

      Yes… they never warn you about stuff like this. No way to prepare. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hariclea · April 18, 2015

    oh, he’s a lovely one with beautiful eyes 🙂 I think you went about it great, by getting involved and talking to him about it and offering to let him check yours and so, i am sure it helps him to relate 🙂 And the xbox will be a great temptation/prize to work for. I think there is also a very good chance if he is able to get on top of it now and leave the lashes alone long enough to let them grow he’ll forget about them altogether, fingers crossed. But i can imagine how this worries you, big hug!

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    • jholland · April 19, 2015

      Thank you, Hari. I hope that we can help him overcome this or train himself to be aware of it. From everything I’ve read it’s not always a simple recovery. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing he’s so young or a bad thing. Of course I worry that this is just the beginning of something that could progress. I guess that time will tell. I truly hope he can get it under control early on and leave it behind. Sigh.

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  7. kimberlyadams800 · April 19, 2015

    I have trichotillomania. I actually pull out my eyebrows and have no idea what I am doing until later when I look in the mirror and I have bald patches in my eyebrows. I am starting to become aware of when I am doing it like when I am reading or talking on the phone. I have started holding on to a stress ball when I am on the phone so that my hands are busy and are unable to pull. However, there are still other times of the day when I have no idea that I am pulling. I like your idea of a reward but I know if it was me, I would be unable to earn it. I just pull too many times and it is usually done without my knowledge.

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    • jholland · April 19, 2015

      Welcome, Kimberly, and thanks for commenting. When I was a student and subject to the stresses that came with final exams, etc, I would notice that my eyelashes would get more sparse, but I know I rarely actually caught myself in the act. That was when I got the idea of wearing the mascara, so I might notice and catch myself if there was mascara on my fingers. It has been helpful ever since. I also pull the eyebrows subconsciously but as I’ve never noticed them looking sparse i haven’t really tried to address it. I also believe him when he says he would find himself rolling an eyelash between his fingers and not know when he’d pulled it. However, I also think that it’s possible that there are times he might become aware he’s pulling and just not have the willpower to stop, and for these times, I’m hoping that the Xbox temptation might help give him strength/motivation. I have no idea how well it will work. I wish you luck with your attempt to overcome the pulling. There seems to be no great solution, but hopefully keeping your hands occupied will help.

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  8. Pingback: Trichotillomania: The Eyelash Update | preoccupiedwitharmitage

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