Rub me the wrong way

I am tactile. My hands are forever moving. If I go out to eat where they provide a straw with the drink, I will save the straw paper and twirl it in between my fingers throughout the meal. I get disappointed if the waitstaff clear away the straw paper during the meal. Borderline compulsive? Maybe, but many of you can probably relate in one way or another, which leads me to believe something else is at play here.

In the age of smartphones where many of us have shorter attention spans and a compulsive twitch to have our thumbs nearly constantly swiping our devices, it is even harder for me to keep my hands still. I remember distinctly watching my mom twirl the cord on her jacket absentmindedly when I was in high school and I thought – that’s where I get it from. The sad part for me is that I’ll never know how ingrained this habit was prior to smartphones. I wonder if my phone exacerbates the problem or is creating a new problem built off of my childhood urge to have my fingers always in motion.  I’m not sure if I would have outgrown this habit or if smartphones just offered a new vehicle for an existing behavior that was going to manifest itself regardless.

It astounds me when I sit in meetings at work and observe how many people rub their fingers in some way, when they don’t have them on their keyboards. Do we live in an age where we can’t keep our fingers still due to the addictive nature of mobile technology? Or does my line of work just attract the kind of people who are always moving their hands in some way? Several people in my office purchased the latest rage of fidget toys intended for children with emotional or learning disabilities. These small hand held toys are meant to give them something tactile to fiddle with in an effort to calm them and help them to focus. Most notably, several of my colleagues independently started bringing the Thera Cube toy to meetings in the last year. Is this brought on by smartphones or has the research just advanced in a way where we can more accurately diagnose this constant need to fiddle in certain people? All this just to help adults keep their forever twitchy fingers occupied. It actually makes me think about the character “Thing” in the Addams family a bit. Forever moving.

At some point in high school (I think) I adopted the nasty habit of transferring my tactile need into rubbing my eyebrows. At this point, I don’t even remember when I started doing this. I think it was around the time I started plucking my eyebrows, so perhaps I didn’t pick up this nasty habit until college. Whenever I was reading a book, studying, or concentrating on something in front of me on my desk, I would start absentmindedly rubbing my eyebrow. Part of the reason for this was that my hands were searching for some type of tactile stimulation and my eyebrows (dedicated companions) are easily accessible and always present. Likewise with my plucking, as individual hairs grew back in, my brow line provided a stimulating landscape to sooth my forever twitchy fingers.

In the last few years, I have realized that if I am not mindful, I can actually absentmindedly rub my eyebrows so much that they start to ache. Essentially, the behavior is getting worse. Unclear if I am doing it more frequently or if the toll of years of rubbing is starting to add up and my eyebrows are making their grievances known. I now have a few individual brow hairs that are almost impossible to tame and always curl up to stand on end in what I can only assume is the result of my incessant rubbing. As I mention on other pages on the site, I was really concerned about this leading up to my surgery. I cannot stress enough how terrified I am that I will now damage my sling from surgery or hurt my eye in someway. And yet it is so hard to stop.

I am embarrassed by this behavior, which I mostly do at home, but now it is so ingrained when I look at a computer screen and concentrate, or at my phone, I also sometimes catch myself doing it at work. Having watched myself in a mirror, I can confirm it looks bizarre. In the off chance I catch myself doing it in front of a colleague, I feel extremely embarrassed, as if I were caught picking my nose. It is something intimate almost that I would not want someone else to catch me doing. This feels extremely unprofessional for me. I mostly do it at home and occasionally at my desk by myself at work. If I do catch myself doing it in meetings, I immediately stop and feel very embarrassed. It is almost like thumb sucking in a way.

When I became aware of how bad this was getting, I did try a few different interventions in the past. I used to use brow gel on my eyebrows as a tactile reminder to not rub. That was somewhat successful, but I would still touch the brow. Once I felt the crusty brows, firmly in place with gel, I would mostly put my hand down. I also tried putting olive oil on my brows, but unfortunately as the day went on and if I started to sweat, the oil would slowly seep down into my eye, which was quite uncomfortable and caused my eye to tear up and have my face to be dripping with oil. Although it made my eye water, as I write this it is kind of funny that I had olive oil seeping down my face all in the name of my inability to calm my forever racing fingers down.

In a wave of shame and curiosity, as many people now do, I took to the internet to see if I was alone. I found many resources around people with compulsive behaviors for picking out their eyebrow hairs until they are practically bald. While fascinating, I do not have that problem. I couldn’t really find any reputable source that just referenced this idea of rubbing your eyebrows. While it sort of made me feel better to see that many people struggle with something like this at some level,  it wasn’t particularly reassuring. I was hoping to understand why it was happening, so I could try to make my situation better. I also don’t feel like I do this so much that it is a mania, a compulsion, or an addiction. It really is just a bad habit that I fall into absentmindedly depending on what I am doing. I do think when I am stressed or tired I am more likely to do it. This is logical though based on how we handle habits and what our default behaviors are when self control is diminished. After spending more time on the internet on this topic than was probably needed, I concluded that therapy didn’t seem like the appropriate intervention in my case. Wary of all the sensationalized internet blog posts, I didn’t feel any better and I wasn’t any closer to finding a way to stop.

I am really hoping with meditation and being mindful, I can break this habit. It bugs me that I let it get so out of hand that it is now taking a LOT of my energy and self control to make it stop. It has become such a nasty automatic habit that I rarely catch myself starting to do it. Only after I have started rubbing my left eyebrow in a fit of concentration, do I realize what I am even doing.

With a huge move, you have an opportunity to set up new habits and leverage your new environment to shake off old habits. When my sister was here with me when I first got to Singapore in August, I made it a point of telling her that I wanted to shake this habit. I keep repeating that in Singapore, I don’t rub my eyebrows. The problem, I have quickly discovered, is that even though I am in a new environment, my trigger behaviors – being on my personal or work laptop or my phone – came right with me to Singapore. I have caught myself rubbing my eyebrow (usually my left eyebrow) in times of working on my laptop, deeply concentrating while reading emails for work, or just plunging into the wormhole that is social media on my phone. Even though I am doing it less, I have still caught myself doing it. I am still wondering how the heck I stopped doing this cold turkey back when I had my surgery.

I am determined to break this habit. One of my largest fears around this as I’ve alluded to in other blog posts is the impact on my surgery. I do not want to have surgery again and I am terrified that all my rubbing will mess up my sling in my left eye. I know that one strategy will be to find a replacement activity. How I got here in the first place was essentially by transferring this need to always be rubbing my fingers to my eyebrows. Previously, I may have picked at my cuticles, pulled at a loose thread on my clothing, rubbed my thumbs together, or ran my fingers repeatedly over my manicured nails. Regardless, I have carpal tunnel syndrome (a story for another day) so any repetitive movement I do with my fingers is not great for my wrists. Ideally the goal is to retrain my brain to keep my fingers still. The real question for me is – is this something I am just hardwired to do or did I teach myself this behavior over time? I am excited to unlearn this nasty habit and fingers crossed it has not done any damage to my eyes.

Under the knife

My sister and I were chatting last week about her participation on the BPES Facebook group. She brought up how a dominant topic in the conversation is around surgery.  We are so grateful that it was not medically necessary to have surgery as children. I mentioned on the pages of our site my entire surgery journey as an adult. One of my largest fears going into surgery was that I wouldn’t look the same and I would lose my identity as me. I was worried something would go wrong and my eyes would be permanently damaged. Thankfully everything went very well. I do look slightly different and I miss my smaller eyes (can you believe that?). I remember soon after my surgery a very dear friend of mine comment that they preferred how I looked before the surgery. That stung a bit.

Overall, I don’t regret my surgery because my eyes were slowly closing. Having surgery significantly improved my quality of life. Of course I would do it all over again. I am a bit jealous of my siblings though as none of them have needed surgery. I can live with having gone through one surgery even though I really really would have preferred to have never gone under the knife. I only hope that the surgery holds for the rest of my life and I don’t have to do it again. There are cases were as you age, the muscle gets weaker and needs to be lifted again.

Even though I feel hypocritical saying it, my sister and I are happy to advocate that there are situations where you don’t have to have surgery with BPES. We’re so grateful it (mostly) wasn’t medically necessary in our family.

J3

Eyebrow Taming

My eyebrows have a story to tell. It’s been a journey to figure out what to do with them. Now that I’ve gotten to a better place in how I maintain my brows, I love looking at past pictures of me to see what eyebrow phase I was in at certain stages in my life. First, there was the pre-plucking stage, where I had very thick natural eyebrows that looked a bit like Oscar the Grouch. Until high school, it never occurred to me to do anything with my eyebrows. When girls in high school would exclaim their eyebrows looked a mess and they needed tweezers, I never really understood what they were talking about. Maybe it was in part due to my poor vision, but when I looked at my friends, their eyebrows looked perfectly normal to me. High school was the first time in my life when it occurred to me that maybe I should be doing something to take care of my eyebrows.

My theater coach and director in high school had an interesting approach to managing high schoolers – he would often times insult people. Not optimal, but his insult comic style approach to classroom management worked for some. I liked theater and wanted to act so I kind of weathered the storm of his verbal cruelty in order to get do what I liked. I remember so distinctly when one day he jokingly told one of the boys in my grade that he had a unibrow and he would help him to pluck it. I immediately became very self conscious and was terrified that the director would call me out for having a unibrow as well. It wasn’t until that day that I thought my eyebrows were so thick they could be a unibrow. It pains me to write this, but we try to keep it real up in here so I’ll admit it. I was so scared he would insult me, I ran home and plucked the nearly invisible hairs in between my eyebrows that very day. He never did comment on my eyebrows, but that episode was the first time I took tweezers to my brows.

Other than managing the unibrow that was mostly visible only to a self-conscious teenager with no beauty knowledge whatsoever, I didn’t do anything else to my eyebrows in high school. Eyebrow maintenance was still a mystery to me. I still laugh when I look at my high school senior pictures and see how thick my eyebrows were. In retrospect, if someone had just taught me how to clean up my brows a bit, I think I would have beautiful thick eyebrows today.  Growing up with a mom who never wore make up, all my beauty knowledge for better or worse was self taught. I am somewhat low maintenance in my hygiene routine. My friends are probably rolling over thinking that is an understatement. I would read beauty magazines where they would have all these rules about shaping brows and I just didn’t get it. They said not to pluck from the top, line up a pencil with your nose to figure out where your arch should be, etc etc. I could not figure out how the heck this was supposed to work and why my eyebrows looked nothing like the models on the pages of the magazines. I’m a little wiser now.

When I got to college, I was surrounded by experts in beauty with lots of dorm mates who were far more well versed in all things – from ironing your hair on the floor in lieu of a straightening iron to using a lash curler to perfecting cat eye with eye liner. All of this was completely foreign to me. I was caught up in the thrill of redefining myself in a collegiate atmosphere and I had so much to learn. Friday nights were often spent primping in front of the mirror with all the ladies who lived on my floor. It was so much fun. Here’s the stage in my life where I picked up the tweezers and quickly transitioned into my “surprised” phase. I still had no idea what I was doing, but at the suggestion of my friends and my own curiosity in self exploration, I decided to expand my eyebrow plucking beyond my “fear of unibrow” minimalist approach.

I had NO idea what I was doing. In retrospect, none of my new found friends really gave me great advice, but at the time I thought they were so helpful. I just carried that knowledge from beauty magazines and my fellow 19 year old dorm mates. Always pluck from underneath. Thinner eyebrows were in fashion when I was in college. I also kept channeling one of my friends from high school who always had very thinned, arched brows. I ended up over-plucking my eyebrows into high half circle type arches. No matter how many pencils I held up to my nose, I never really grasped the concept of how to shape to your natural arch. I can tell right away from any picture I see of me taken during this time period because my eyebrows are thin, highly arched, and I look chronically surprised. I thought at the time that I was so hot, gorgeous, and chic with those brows. Ahh – to be young and ignorant!

After college I toned down my plucking a little bit, but I still felt like things just weren’t quite right. What I kept reading about and seeing on TV just didn’t seem to match what my eyebrows looked like. After starting a fairly stressful teaching job, I decided to focus on self care and treat myself. Looking back, I think I was also paranoid the kids would make fun of me. One of my students told me I had a mustache (kids can be so cruel when they are actually looking to be loved and noticed) and that rapidly prompted my journey into the world of waxing. I booked an appointment for a lip and brow wax at a spa in the city. I was terrified, but also felt like such a grown up. I had never been to a spa in my life and certainly never waxed anything in my life. I thought, finally paying a professional to do this, somehow I will get my whole eyebrow shaping thing right. I might solve the mystery of eyebrow shaping that I was always reading about in those beauty magazines that were so captivating to me as a teenager.

DID. I. EVER.

I had an amazing experience at the salon and left thinking I looked incredible. There is something to be said for the power of brow shaping. It can really change your entire look. I felt amazing! After I got my eyebrows waxed, this was a game changer. I finally realized how shaping your brows can truly change your entire face. I entered into the waxing stage of my life where I looked like a grown up. My eyebrows were thinner than they’d been in high school, but they were now shaped appropriately to match my face. I officially left my half moon surprised face college eyebrows in the dust and never looked back.

I mostly stuck with waxing and a little bit of plucking to maintain between waxes. I don’t think I went too often because waxing was an expensive indulgence for me at the time. I now knew what was possible with my brows. My eyebrows and time marched on. Eventually I moved into a phase in my life where I was trying to reduce my plastic footprint.  There was a brief period where I tried to make sugar wax and use strips of cloth to wax my brows at home. That was a very short-lived plastic free failed experiment. This then led me to eyebrow threading as I was trying to be more natural, plastic free, and realistic about what I am capable of doing. There was a tiny hole in the wall threading studio near my house that only took walk ins. It was amazing. I could stop by whenever I felt I needed a clean up. I loved how threading didn’t yank on my brows, it was less painful, cheaper, better for the environment, and I was supporting a local female owned business. The owner was a genius at shaping my brows in a beautiful way to compliment my face. Life was great.

Around this time, I decided to have my eye surgery that I talk about in detail on other pages on our site. I was really nervous about what was going to happen with my eyebrows. I went and got threaded close to my surgery in the hopes that my eyebrows would at least be tamed and take some time to grow out in case I could never shape again. My surgeon during my consult lectured me on the evils of threading and how it can lead to infections. While I respected her opinions and expertise, I decided I felt comfortable with continuing to thread post surgery.  Post-op after surgery, they run through a litany of things you can’t do – don’t wear make up and a bunch of other things I now forget. My favorite part about this was that you’ve just gotten out of surgery and they run down this long list of things you can’t do, but nowhere do they give this to you in writing. I remember thinking, when the anesthesia fully wears off, how the hell do you expect me to remember this? And I remember being super entertained that they gave me this laundry list of items that I couldn’t do for the next two weeks and then they dropped this bomb at the end – stay out of the sun for A YEAR. I burst out laughing. It was meant to ensure I didn’t have scarring around my eyes, but every time the sun came out the year after my surgery I would laugh and half jokingly think “Oh god, get OUT of the sun!”

I actually don’t remember anymore if they said I could wax or thread again post surgery. I was really nervous because I had slings put in place, so I was paranoid threading might irritate them. I waited a long time post op (like months and months) before I decided to start threading again. I am still a bit cautious with threading, but in general it is really gentle and it hasn’t caused any pain or seemed to affect my slings in anyway. I now use threading and a little bit of plucking in between trips to the salon to keep my eyebrows shaped. I worry a bit that threading isn’t good for my post-surgical brows. This seems like a good question I want to ask the next time I see my eye doctor.

I didn’t do this post op, but over the years I’ve returned to a really nasty habit of  compulsively rubbing my eyebrows. I really want to kick this. I vigorously rub my eyebrows (sometimes until they ache) more than I should and I am very nervous that I might damage my slings with my compulsive eyebrow rubbing. I am grateful that post surgery I can still get my eyebrows gently shaped via threading, even with all my worries and unexplainable compulsive rubbing (which I want to write more about another day). I kind of miss my bushy caterpillar eyebrows of my youth and maybe if my thick brows were still around, they’d better conceal my tiny surgery scars. I wonder if I’ve come full circle and I should just let Oscar the Grouch come back in all his glory.

J3

There’s Something in Your Eye

Since my adult eye surgery (that I go into detail about on our surgery page), I’ve only noticed one negative side effect. I sometimes get something stuck in my eye and it is nearly impossible to blink, cry, or flush it out. Immediately after surgery, I found that blinking to flush something out of my eye was completely ineffective. If I got something in my eye, like fuzz or dirt from the air, I would experience a sharp pain in my eye that was blinding. I wouldn’t be able to keep my eye open and I’d twitch a bit in pain. I couldn’t figure out what was going on exactly. I only know that somehow after my surgery if something gets in my eye, it is really hard to flush it out. Thankfully as time passed after surgery, this didn’t happen very often and I was much more careful about rubbing my eyes to avoid the situation.

I still don’t really understand why this happens. Unfortunately I’ve found the most effective way to deal with it is to lay my head down and close my eyes, basically going back to sleep and letting my body fix itself. I don’t always have the luxury to essentially sleep it off if something gets stuck in my eye. In December, as I was waking up for work, I rubbed my eyes a little more vigorously than I should have. All of a sudden I had sharp waves of pain whenever I tried to blink. Putting my head down didn’t work. Neither did crying, eye drops, or flushing my eye with water. As the minutes ticked by and it was getting to the time that I had to leave for work, I was freaking out. I was uncomfortable, annoyed, and a little scared. What was I supposed to do?

After a ten minute panic and lots of eye drops later, I ended up arranging to take a partial sick day and take some calls from home. I could not get this thing out of my eye and depending on where it floated around on my eye, I would have waves of pain and be unable to open my eye out of discomfort. I normally bike to work and with my eye acting that way, I did not feel comfortable or safe trying to bike without reliable vision. I took work calls from my couch, usually alternating between looking like a pirate with one eye closed in pain as I squinted at my computer screen and with shutting my eyes altogether. In between calls, my nose kept running. Since everything is connected, the irritation in my eye was causing overall congestion in my sinuses. I thought blowing my nose would bring relief, but it did not. I felt so stupid taking a sick day because I had something in my eye.

I feel silly writing this because I can’t even clearly explain what exactly is going on when I get something in my eye. Today it happened again while I was with my client and thankfully it wasn’t as bad as my sick day a month ago. Several times throughout the day, I had waves of sharp pains in my eye from what I can only assume was some environmental irritant. I should ask my eye doctor at my next appointment if they’ve ever heard of anything like this. In the meantime, I am really cautious about rubbing my eyes and how I carefully remove anything from my eye area. Small price to pay for being able to actually SEE, but I wonder if other people who’ve had the same surgery as me experience this. I also wonder why the heck this happens at all. Ugh – I wouldn’t go back to my adult eyes pre-surgery because they were practically closing, but I do miss the ability to be able to effectively blink and naturally flush irritants out of my eyes.

J3