It Happened to Me: Motherhood Triggered My Trichotillomania

Of all the ways I expected motherhood to change my life, excessive leg plucking wasn’t one of them.

Feb 1, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

Six weeks before my daughter was born, my own mother had died. I was devastated, and I still do not have words to describe my grief.

And although by the time I had a daughter, I had done many things in my life, and generally thought of myself as a mildly accomplished person, I knew nothing about babies. Neither did my husband. We were the couple at the childbirth education class who couldn’t remember if kittens, or human infants, didn’t open their eyes until a few days after being born.

By the time we came home from the hospital, I had a lot on my plate.

I continued to see the same psychiatrist whom I had met with after my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and we dealt with the question of how I could be a good mother when my own mom had recently died. To the surprise of many people, including myself, I seemed to be doing fine. 

But then one day, after my baby had a bout of colic and I had two weeks of record-breaking short showers, I decided to wax my legs.

I was happy with the result, until I realized that the wax hadn’t removed all the hairs. If I looked carefully, I could still find random areas that the wax missed. And then I remembered my tweezers. If I could feel the hair, then I could find it, and if I could find it, then I could tweeze it. 

I started plucking. 

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For the first time in a long time, my legs were perfectly smooth, but it wasn’t too long before if I ran my hands over my legs and they told another story. 

I felt stubble. 

Since I was 14, I have had an aversion to stubble. In the morning, if I catch a chill and get goose bumps on my legs, and fledgling stubble appears; the aggravating hair that can’t be shaved, but can be felt, I scratch at my legs throughout the entire day. 

I started to use my daughter’s naptime to examine my legs in the sunlight, and I realized that I actually liked plucking. It gave me a weird sense of accomplishment, as I considered how long it would take for the plucked hair to grow in, and I liked to think that it extended my time between waxes. 

Pretty soon, my legs were hairless, but they were also a mess. 

My husband was confused at the fact that the plants had not been watered, and that I had stopped reading the novel I planned to finish that week. I told him that time seemed to get away from, and it is true that it did in those days, but only because I was doing something secret with it. 

I need to say right here that my new and unfortunate pastime had nothing to do with expectations of beauty. I was operating on a sliver of sleep, and not even my husband often had the occasion to see me without my clothing and anyway, he is French. I have very fair skin, and with the welts and tweezer marks, my legs looked far worse plucked. The issue was entirely about finding a hair and removing it.

The weather changed, and it was no longer comfortable to sit on the porch with bare legs, but I did it anyway. And I began to suspect that my habit might be skirting compulsivity, but I didn’t recognize it as a problem until the day we left for a day trip, and I packed my tweezers. I figured that I would just roll up my pant leg and look for new hairs in the car. And at first, the only thing that bothered me about this was that I didn’t think of it sooner.  

But this time, I wasn’t alone. My undemonstrative husband blinked, and then looked from me to the tweezers, and then blinked again, and then shook his head without saying anything. 

Trichotillomania, my best friend said. And then he confessed that one of his girlfriends suffered from the same affliction. She wore a ponytail to hide her bald spot, and collected the hair in a Mason-Jar. And then he told me that it was a disorder, but usually only when the hair removal occurred at the expense of something else. 

I thought of my houseplants, and my unread novels. I told him that I was only plucking my legs, and I didn’t tell him about my houseplants, or my unread novels.  

I never told my psychiatrist, even though she was clearly the person best equipped to deal with the situation. But I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I might have a problem. I had survived my mother’s death, and I didn’t experience post partum depression, and I was turning out, despite a total lack of preparation, to actually be a very good mother. If I were to have a breakdown, it seemed like the only appropriate reaction would have been to lose it entirely. Excessive leg plucking didn’t quite cut it. 

I knew that my tweezing habit was dependent on a leg wax to remove most of the hair; my daughter’s naptime only lasted so long, after all, and knew that I only had time to pluck the hair that remained after waxing. I eliminated the waxes, and eliminated the problem.

More than a year has passed since my trichotillomania experience, and I am happy to report that I still keep tweezers in the house, but I use them for my eyebrows, and for my daughters’ splinters, and once I used them for a project that involved glitter, but I have so far managed to keep them away from my legs. My daughter’s naptimes have gotten shorter. Even still, I get more done in the afternoons than I used to.

The houseplants are thriving.