It's always the same sensation. One hand moves up, the fingertips trace over hairs and bits of skin, and then, when a specifically nervy spot is remembered, the fingers grip the hairs in a pincer-like motion. The hand lifts away from the scalp, the hairs are released from their fleshy bindings and oil spills out onto the surrounding skin. The nerves pop and sizzle, my brain sending Morse Code but in the wrong sequence; this is supposed to be painful, but I feel pleasure instead. My skin burns as I inspect the roots. At times the hairs hold nothing at all, and the sensation is all I have. Good pulls are rare nowadays; instead I find either suitable roots, thick and white and crunchy beneath matching-color teeth, or suitable sensation, the kind that stings long after the hairs are gone.
A couple days ago I capitulated and bought a tweezer. I spent thirty minutes in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet and ripping out pubic hair. I received all types of roots in return: those with just half the shaft of root, the ever-elusive bloody roots, bulbs like the bottoms of tulips, and ones that lacked roots completely. Then, going against my own rules, I got up, cleaned off the blood from my failed attempts (grabbing skin instead of hair), and used the tweezer on my eyebrows. One of the conditions of even buying the damned tool was to not touch my scalp or face, but I did so anyway. I removed the hairs beneath the shape of my eyebrows and ripped hairs right at the skin from my scalp. Annoyed by my insufficient findings, I returned to my pubic area. It was then, in frustration, that I just let the tweezer fall into the toilet.
Does the sensation change? Do the roots evolve? Does my aim get better, do I find spots with more nerves, do I find roots that satisfy the urge, do I create sensations that satiate me? Ever since I was nine years old I've pulled out my hair, and for all this time I've searched for that same high, that same eclipsing burning, those same roots that shined with healthiness. I've eroded the skin on my scalp to the point where I can pick off flakes by just barely dragging my fingernail along the surface. I've destroyed the nerves so that even the most plentiful of spots provide nothing but a sharp sensation that lasts barely a second. I am running in place. As I argue with my irrational side, she grasps at straws trying to support her argument. She's losing, and yet I keep losing hair.
I take a step back and look at my disorder logically. Trichotillomania fits into the OCD spectrum and thus it can develop into a habit. Pulling out my hair has become part of my daily routine. Picking open scabs and bleeding, biting the ends off of hairs and discarding them, attacking myself with metal objects just to unearth hairs right beneath the skin is all common place. A few days before I bought the tweezer, I used an old safety pin to dig out a couple ingrown hairs. I did not stop bleeding for about five minutes; I kept dabbing at the wounds with toilet paper until I had to grab another piece. As I reread old entries and poems and other works about my disorder, I see violent imagery and words. Rip. Pull. Shred. Erode. Decimate. Dig. Pick. Destroy. Destroy destroy destroy. This is a self-destructive disorder but I can't help myself, or at least I tell myself so.
It's always the same sensation. It's always the same damage. It's always the same roots and the same self-loathing. It's always the same perfectionism, the same search, the same rescue, the same inability to look a person in the eye lest she sees my missing eyelashes. It's always the same questions, the same stares, the same shame, all of it has not changed since I was a child. Only now, in the past year, have I actually attempted to tackle this disorder and rip it from my system. Even now, just now, describing it, I implement violence. It is a violent, violent thing; I look back and see how easily it escalated. First, just the sensation and sometimes the flakes of skin were all I wanted. Then, the roots fascinated me. This morphed into a need for roots and sensation, and a need for blood. I dug at scabs with my nails and stared at the remains of my skin without any emotion. I can still remember the sound of going at a scab on the side of my head. I cannot describe it in words, but somehow the sound reverberates in my mind and I feel ill. Have you ever dug at skin that was already raw and bleeding? Have you analyzed the evidence beneath your fingernails, coating your fingertips, sometimes getting on your wrists or even your clothing? Have you bled on a science test? Have you had to hide chunks of hair from your parents, from yourself, even though the damage is evident?
Yes, the needs and urges transformed over time, but so did I. I went from a pre-pubescent child to a near-adult. I made it through adolescence somehow. I went through depression and panic attacks and came out somewhat normal. Yet this disorder haunts me. I see bits of hair on the floor, in my laundry, in my washing machine, in the trash. My brown-black hair stands out against beige carpeting. I can't hide from it anymore, and I can't deny that what I feel, what I get from trichotillomania is, at its core, the same thing it has been for nearly eleven years.
I recognized, after ridding myself of the tweezer, that this sweet sensation is not worth my time. I still pull, though. I still find myself rubbing at my eyelids, taking out eyelashes, and running my fingers along those same trails on my scalp, looking for that feeling. I am like a junkie chasing desperately for the first few highs, but like that junkie, I have damaged myself to the point that nothing satisfies. Even drawing blood with sharp objects in the depths of night barely even registers. So a pact must be made, one written in all that wasted, now-dry blood and bound together with the ninety thousand hairs I've estimated I've removed. It's easy, it's two words, but they must resonate in my mind and they must electrify my senses. They must keep my hands at bay and they must regulate my chemicals. Two words, no more. Write them everywhere, find them in signs. Look for them like the mentally ill search for meaningless or meaningful numbers.
No more. We'll see how this goes.