I don’t remember the first time I pulled out my eyebrows, or how it felt; I’ve pulled so many over the years that there is no longer a beginning (and there has never been an end). I pull at night when nobody is looking and watch the hairs float into the keyboard, and the next day I find them peeking out of my Ls and my Vs. I pick when I write, mostly, or when I’m staring at my computer not writing and wishing I was. The eyebrows fall down one by one until sometimes there are so many piled in front of me I wonder if there can be any left on my face, and have to run to the mirror to check. When they cover my screen, the curved black hairs blocking words and empty space, I wipe them away but don’t watch where they go. I have eyebrow hairs in my keyboard like some people have crumbs.
Each time is the same. I isolate the hair, pull until it breaks free from the skin, hold it between my fingers, examine it before casting it aside. I let out a breath I don’t realize I’m holding and feel my body relax, like it has what it needs now. But before long that feeling comes back, so urgent it feels brand-new, like I need to reach up and pull that hair out, too, in order to be okay. And so I do it, and I am okay. For a moment. Until the next one.
I isolate the hair, pull until it breaks free from the skin, hold it between my fingers, examine it before casting it aside.
There’s a name for this, I know — trichotillomania — but it’s never felt right. I see photos of girls with bald spots on their heads and eyes without lashes and it makes me shudder. Those girls are not me. My problem is bad, I know, but not like that. I can get away with mine. I fill in the thin spots with pencil and will myself not to touch my brows until they’re better. Sometimes, it works. Other times I just use more pencil. But I’m not the girl with bald spots and wigs and support groups online. I pick, but I am not them, even as I look up after a meeting and realize I’m the only one who spent the last hour mutilating her body.
My therapist asks me why I do it and I tell her it’s habit, nothing more. And mostly, that’s true. There are times I don’t realize I’m picking until…