The Art of Isolation

My Struggle to Join Society with Trichotillomania, Depression, and Anxiety

I’m 28. I’ll just start off by telling you that. Most of the people I went to high school with are now well into their careers and their “adult” lives. One guy I dated is now a doctor with a PhD and a family, and another is a very rich and successful professional photographer. And I should be in that category with them. I did all the right things: I studied hard and got straight A’s in high school, I went to college and graduated suma cum laude... and for all that, I cannot figure out where my life began to derail so horribly.

To be fair to myself, I’ve always been a little strange. I was an only child so right off the bat I was always more comfortable by myself than with other people. And I had very bizarre and compulsive habits, too. The first one I can remember is ripping my fingernails off. Not biting them - literally tearing them off until they started bleeding. My mom was horrified and made me wear dumb little white lace gloves until that phase passed. Then I started biting my lips and peeling the dead skin off. (All this was before I even went to preschool.) And then by the time I was in kindergarten, I had moved on to pulling out my eyelashes. I remember coming home one day from school and my dad’s bewilderment at my bald, pink eyelids where, that morning, a row of beautiful black lashes had been.

Fast forward to middle school. Pulling out my eyelashes was still an issue, but it had since taken a backseat to my worsening eating disorder and compulsion to exercise constantly. That’s another whale of a story in itself, but I’ve learned to recognize the same traits in this problem as in my other problems: body image distortion, self-hatred and low self-esteem, a desire to be in control, perfectionism, self-punishment, guilt, fear, anxiety.

It took regular therapy sessions throughout middle school and high school to finally be able to see food as a tool instead of an enemy, and to stop feeling the need to work out every morning and night for several hours.

College actually started out fantastic. It felt like a fresh start where I could be confident, popular, and honestly more than anything, normal. I still pulled a few hairs here and there when I was really stressed (like before an exam), but it wasn’t anything very serious. And I had friends! I was genuinely happy.

But it didn’t last. Each year in college was a little harder than the one before, and I’m not talking about my classes or tests. I was mentally and emotionally tired. I didn’t have the energy to meet new people and socialize like I had that first year. I shut myself off more and more from the friends I already had and just focused on studying and surviving. I started pulling much more hair and my mood swings worsened. By my senior year, I was skipping as many classes as I could without getting kicked out. I was so sad and lonely. I was sleeping all the time and still exhausted. I had isolated myself from virtually everyone, which I knew was a terrible thing to do but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water and didn’t know what I was going to do when my legs finally gave out. I was just so tired from life, you know?

I graduated somehow. But after that I stagnated to where I still am today. For six years I have done almost nothing except pull hair while becoming increasingly more terrified of going out in public, holding down a job, and basically anything else I would have to leave the house to do. I am a prisoner of my own making.

I have no eyelashes, no eyebrows, and no hair on my head. I can’t even walk down the driveway to pick up the newspaper. I panic when I have to go anywhere like grocery shopping or to church because the idea of people seeing me this way is terrifying. I can’t function. I can’t hold down a job. The longest I’ve ever worked anywhere is nine months. And it’s not because I don’t want to work. Believe me, I would give almost anything to be able to have a steady job. It’s that I can’t handle being in public without it completely wearing me down to the point of not being able to function.

Did I cover up my bald spots well enough? Can anyone tell behind my glasses and layers of eyeliner that I have zero eyelashes? What about my eyebrows - did I draw them to look natural enough? And even the sillier things like whether or not I look fat or have sweat stains, or the idea of having to make small talk with co-workers for eight hours - those things all add up and overwhelm me. I’ve never been able to go more than nine months at a job before I’m at my wit’s end, mentally and emotionally drained, feeling trapped and nearly desperate enough to kill myself to make everything stop.

I’m looking for a job right now because my husband and I are in serious financial trouble. My lack of steady income has taken its toll on us and our debt has piled up. I still have no hair and even the idea of working anywhere makes me sick to my stomach with fear and panic, and wondering if I could survive as a homeless person because I honestly have no idea how to be an adult and hold down a job and interact with people like a normal human being.

Where did I go so wrong? What happened to the young college girl so full of hope and dreams and determination? In the six years since graduating, I have turned into someone who is plagued by self-doubt and guilt, and crippled by fear. I’m so angry with myself and I’m terrified of what my future holds. When I look in the mirror I don’t recognize myself on the outside or on the inside.

I’m terrified of life and I don’t know how to even begin to cope. I feel so ugly and worthless, I can’t even accept the love offered to me by my husband or anyone else. I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep and never wake up. But instead, I keep waking up every morning and getting a day older and pulling more hair and going out less and watching my dreams start to slip by, one by one. If I don’t figure this out, I’ll never write my book. I’ll never travel through Europe. I’ll never save all the shelter dogs. I’ll never make a difference to anyone except the fact that my existence was a burden to them and everything they did to help me was in vain.

Wasn’t I made for more than this? Why can’t I stop pulling hair and being stressed out and scared of everything? This can’t be how my story ends. Surely I’m going to make a triumphant comeback and dazzle everyone with my newfound awesomeness. Right?

I have to believe that.

And lastly, a note to myself: Please, please tell me I am worth more than what my resume says. Please see my kindness and compassion instead of my bald head and poorly drawn eyebrows. Please remind me of how hard I’m trying. Please don’t judge me too harshly, and please don’t give up on me yet.

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The Art of Isolation
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