Saturday, September 1, 2012

GAPS and Trich

Sorry folks, no pictures today.  Instead I am going to address why I am doing this crazy diet I mentioned yesterday.

To fully explain why, we have to take a quick trip back to 1982, right around my 1st birthday.

To hear my mom tell it, we were visiting my grandparents' house, and I spiked a fever in the night.  I was up crying in my crib, and when my mom came in she found me tearing out handfuls of my hair and stuffing it in my mouth.  LUCKILY, the eating thing went away (I found out later some people do that all the time), but the pulling my hair out part didn't.  I kept pulling all through my childhood, and my parents tried to get me to "break the habit" in all kinds of different ways (keeping my hair short, threatening to cut it ALL off, rewards for not pulling, challenges, reading books about breaking bad habits), but nothing actually worked.  My doctor told my mother that it was something I'd most likely grow out of.

I didn't though, and no matter how badly I wanted to stop, I couldn't.  The best way I have seen to describe how I feel is to compare it to having a bug bite.  Say you have a bite on your leg.  You're conscious of it, and you really want to scratch it, but you know you shouldn't because that will make it worse.  Even if you are able to ignore it for awhile, when your brain turns off you inevitably will find yourself absent-mindedly scratching at it before you even realize what you're doing.  I don't ITCH like I have a bug bite, but the anxiousness and desire to itch a bug bite is similar to how I feel before pulling out my hair, if that makes any sense.  However if you stop scratching for long enough your bug bite will go away, and no one who sees you scratching a bug bite will say "What on EARTH are you doing to your hair?"

One day, when I was in college, a friend went to send Will a link he had bookmarked, and accidentally sent the wrong one.  That accident changed my life, because the link he ended up sending, the WRONG link, was a link to the Trichotillomania Learning Center.  Our friend quickly told us it was a mistake, sent the link he had originally been trying to send, and told us to ignore the first one, but by then Will and I were reading it with wide eyes and our jaws on the ground.  This was what I did, and what I did had a NAME!  It was actually a disorder and other people did it too!  It wasn't just that I wasn't strong enough to break my "habit", you could no more expect me to just stop pulling my hair out than you could expect someone with OCD to just stop washing their hands or someone with schizophrenia to just stop being so paranoid.  And it turns out our friends' girlfriend had trichotillomania too, which was why he had bookmarked the link.

Unfortunately, although I now had a name for my disorder, there still didn't seem to be a cure or even a very successful treatment out there.  For the time being I contented myself with just knowing I wasn't alone.

My early 20's were filled with college, getting married, working, traveling, and losing weight.  My mid-to-late 20's were filled with having and raising kids (and gaining back some of that weight!).  And my hair pulling, although ever-present and bothering me every day, was still mostly just a vanity thing, right?  I never felt like it was a "good time" to make the commitment to finding a therapist to see if any of the treatment options out there would work for me. I've always been lucky that I don't pull obsessively until I have bald spots like some people do, so I just went around with short hair or a ponytail and everybody thinks my hair is just especially frizzy.  I have told VERY few people in my life about my hair-pulling, but I'm trying to be more open about it now (thus posting it on my blog).  I have been surprised that many people I have known for YEARS never realized that I pull out my hair until I told them, and even more surprised to find that pretty much everyone I've told already knows somebody else who pulls their hair out too.

So now my kids are in an easier phase and I can leave them with a babysitter without extensive preparation and planning.  I'm getting grey hairs, and I know I'm running out of time to realize my lifelong dream of actually growing my hair out to see what it would look like if I could just leave it alone.  Will has really made improvements with his back pain and his constant sickness since seeing a therapist, so I finally bit the bullet and started the long process of finding one for myself.  As an added bonus, I was also starting to realize that my eating habits were pretty characteristic of binge eating disorder (a whole other kettle of fish), so I figured hey, why not try to work on that too?

My first therapist focused mostly on the eating (which was fine, because that has a lot more of an effect on my health and longevity than having shredded hair), but in order to do so she spent almost all of our time comparing me to an alcoholic.  Her personality was just a little weird to me as well and her office was creepy, so when she suggested I see a psychiatrist for the hair-pulling, I decided to replace her with a therapist at my new psychiatrist's office.  One stop mental health!

I am not all that impressed with my psychiatrist.  I know they are highly trained and often deal with people who have severe mental issues, but his dealings with me have only really included asking me form questions like you would find on an online "Do I have Depression?" test (Do you have feelings of worthlessness?  Do you ever think about hurting yourself or others?) and then prescribing Prozac.  And when my hair-pulling didn't stop, upping my dosage.

I haven't complained though, because while the Prozac hasn't touched my hair-pulling, it has done absolute wonders for my overeating!  In the 1.5 months I've been taking it, I've lost 12 pounds just by eating intuitively even though I haven't been able to get to the gym as much as I'd like, and for the first time in my life food hasn't been an obsessive issue for me.  I can walk by my kids' leftovers (even their cupcake leftovers!), and when I consider eating them my brain calmly answers with "Nah, I'm not hungry" without having another voice immediately respond back with "THAT'S YUMMY FOOD AND YOU NEED TO EAT IT RIGHT NOW!"  It has been amazing!  I always thought to myself that if I could just eat the way I KNOW I should without losing control and scarfing too much food whenever I get stressed then I wouldn't have a weight problem, but in the back of my mind I wondered if that wasn't just another excuse I had made for myself about how it wasn't completely my fault that I was too heavy.  Now that the part of my brain responsible for the bingeing impulses has been "fixed" (however temporarily) with drugs, I have had an opportunity to see that is actually the case!  I honestly haven't had a single instance where I've felt out of control around food, and I used to feel that way multiple times a day.

Prozac has also helped me to have a better self-image, and I feel like it makes me more patient, happier (duh) and more able to enjoy and appreciate my awesome life.  I won't stay on it forever, and I might even end up trying out something different to see if THAT helps with my hair, but for now I am really liking it.

Since I'd rather try to address my underlying issues vs. just using Prozac to treat my symptoms forever, I am also seeing a therapist.  I've only seen my new one once, but we got along much better than I did with my old one.  She has a 2.5 year old like me, and we even read some of the same food blogs!  She suggested that I look into the GAPS diet (GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome), and I, with my usual attitude of "anything worth doing is worth doing with fanatical devotion", have decided to just jump in and do the intro phase.  If any diet change is going to work to help my pulling urges, it'd be this one.  I've seen people whose blogs I read do similar things before and thought "I could NEVER have the willpower to do that", but now while I'm on Prozac I just might, so it's as good a time to try as any.  And I'm all about clean eating and recognizing the power of the foods you eat, so this idea appeals to me.

I think of GAPS as an elimination diet where you pretty much eliminate everything :-)  You eat nothing but super-easy to digest foods for while, then you slowly add foods back in over the course of a month or two and observe how your body reacts to everything.  The idea that there are things I may have a sensitivity to that can make my issues worse but not something as bad as a full-blown allergy that would turn up on a traditional test is very intriguing to me.

I don't know if it will work, or if I'll learn anything about myself other than how much I hate making and eating broth.  But there IS new research showing that diet changes can help with trichotillomania, and there are TONS of people out there who swear this diet was a miraculous life-saver for them, so we'll see.  After 30 years of hair-pulling I'm not very hopeful that there's ANYTHING out there that will help me stop, but at least it's something new to try.


Patricia Gordon said...

I admire your honesty and wish you luck on your journey. I think you're beautiful whether you have short hair or long hair! Also, without your blog I wouldn't have known anything about GAPS, and since I have digestive issues that I haven't been able to properly treat, it's probably something I should try. I dislike all broths, so I'm not strong or brave enough to start yet. But maybe someday...good luck!

Sara said...

Awww, thank you so much Tricia! You could always try full GAPS first, you'd still have to develop a taste for broth, but at least it's not the ONLY thing you're eating then! It's really supposed to help with digestive issues!