Call for Donations on Behalf of the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Facebook post written by Hannah Schauben and edited by me can be found here.


EDITED VERSION (by Lauren Ames):

Hi, everyone!

I hope you’re staying safe during this unprecedented time of uncertainty and heightened emotions. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t easy for anyone; remaining responsibly connected to others is of the utmost importance to our mental health these days. Personally, this has greatly assuaged my feelings of isolation, helplessness, and fear, especially during the times I didn’t feel like reaching out.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve had trichotillomania (a compulsive hair-pulling disorder) since I was in middle school. Trichotillomania caused me to pull my hair out so frequently that I was nearly bald before I even entered high school. By then I was wearing hats and wigs to cover my scalp, but they couldn’t hide the shame. My pulling increased. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my affliction with anyone––including myself––at the time, so I let the negative feelings and urges fester for years.

Before I was a compulsive hair-puller, I picked at my skin and bit my nails, cheeks, and lips. These are all examples of body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs. BFRBs affect about one in twenty individuals and are typically under-discussed as they are often associated with shame. These behaviors aren’t ones that individuals engage in to harm themselves, but rather ones in which the body engages because of an unmet chemical need that can be satisfied by pulling, picking, biting, etcetera.

The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors was brought to my attention at the end of my freshman year of high school when I attended their annual BFRB conference with my mother in San Francisco, California. The TLC Foundation’s mission is to end the suffering caused by hair-pulling, skin-picking, nail-biting, and other body-focused repetitive behaviors. It’s difficult to express how liberating it was to be surrounded by other kids, teenagers, and adults who all did the same thing I did that I viewed as abnormal. By the end of the conference, though I still wasn’t totally ready to talk about my BFRBs, I realized that at least I wasn’t alone, feeling more connected to this new group of people than those in my existing inner-circle. Fast forward to 2012 when I attended another TLC conference with my brother in Chicago, Illinois. After the second conference, I started to become more comfortable talking about my BFRBs.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to approach my BFRBs with complete transparency. After years of searching for a support group of like-minded individuals without complete success, I knew I needed a change. I use the word “complete” because I was able to attend support groups and meetings in the area with people who I could connect with and relate to, but it still felt like something was missing. That’s when I decided to start a peer-led support group in Atlanta, Georgia. With courage, help from new friends in the TLC community, and the TLC itself, I launched the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group in August of 2017. This group––with over 160 members on Facebook and an average attendance rate of ten people per monthly meeting––is ever-changing, having undergone several makeovers based on the needs of its crucial participants.

Last year, I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday by attending my third TLC conference in Chantilly, Virginia, where I met support group leaders from across the country whom I had gotten to know over monthly phone and video calls. There I also formed connections with children, teens, adults, clinicians, and presenters with BFRBs, my awe of this powerful community reignited. I couldn’t have conceived a better way to celebrate my birthday.

Speaking freely about my BFRBs was never something I imagined I could do, let alone start and facilitate a group that serves that exact purpose. Getting to this place wasn’t comfortable or easy, but it was safely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition to growing stronger, more confident, and accepting of who I am, I have met some of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors through this community.

Today, I run the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group, co-host TLC’s Kids and Teens Online Support Group as well as their Adult Online Support Group, am a Support Group Leader Mentor, and have continued to be an active member of this unstoppable community.

My BFRBs do not define me; they are just something I do. For now. 

I am no longer ashamed.

I no longer feel alone.

To me, success doesn’t mean being pull- or pick-free. It means being kind and compassionate towards myself and others, which takes strength and practice. It means taking an active role in acknowledging and changing my negative inner-monologue and forgiving myself when my imperfections seep through to the surface. I am grateful for my BFRBs and wouldn’t be the person I am today without them, the same behaviors that used to overpower and define me––or so I thought. Every day is a new opportunity for growth, self-compassion, and advocacy.

Additionally, I have acquired daily practices of gratitude, empathy, self-confidence and -compassion, and outspokenness. I never expected the quality I used to hate most about myself to evolve into one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Believe it or not, this is the short version of my story! However, if you or someone you know would like to learn more about my journey, inquire about resources for those who may be suffering from BFRBs, or share your own story, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Learning about the experiences of others is just as important as vocalizing your own.

This year for my birthday I humbly ask that you share this abbreviated version of my life with BFRBs with someone who might benefit from reading it. Additionally, if you’re someone who is able to contribute, I am also asking for donations to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. The mission of this nonprofit means the world to me and I hope you’ll consider participating as a way to spread some hope during this exceptionally challenging time. Even the smallest amount will help me reach my goal, and your donations will help expand and support the wealth of resources available on BFRB.org, as well as TLC’s support groups, webinars, and workshops. Your donations may even enable them to send a child to their annual conference, quite possibly changing their life as mine was changed all those years ago.

This nonprofit organization has changed my life and the lives of countless individuals through research, resources, connections, and love. I would like to say thank you, TLC, from the bottom of my heart, and thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read this.


ORIGINAL VERSION (by Hannah Schauben):

Hi Everyone! I hope you are staying as safe as possible during this transitional time of uncertainty, instability, and heightened emotions. This pandemic is not easy for anyone; that’s why (safely) staying connected to others is so essential to our mental health. I know that my feelings of isolation, fear, and helplessness have eased through remaining connected, especially when I have not wanted to.

For those of you that do not know, I have had Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) since I was in middle school. Surprise! Before I was a compulsive hair-puller, I picked at my skin, bit my nails, cheeks, and lips. These are examples of body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). BFRBs affect about 1/20 individuals and are often under-discussed because of the shame associated with these behaviors. I want to emphasize that these behaviors are not behaviors that individuals engage in to harm themselves; my body experiences an unmet need, satisfied by pulling and picking. I pulled my hair out so rapidly that I was nearly bald before entering high school; I then wore hats and wigs to cover my head, but I couldn’t hide the shame, and my pulling increased. I did not feel comfortable talking about it with anyone (including myself) at the time, so I sat with the negative feelings and urges for years.  

I discovered the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors at the end of my freshman year of high school and attended their annual BFRB conference with my mom. The TLC Foundation’s mission is to end the suffering caused by hair-pulling disorder, skin-picking disorder, and related body-focused repetitive behaviors. It is difficult to express how liberating it was to be surrounded by other kids, teenagers, and adults who all do this “thing” that I viewed as abnormal. I felt more connected to this group of strangers than people in my inner-circle at home. After this, I still was not ready to talk about it much, but I knew I was not alone. Fast forward to 2012 when I attended another TLC conference with my brother in Chicago. After this conference, I started to become more comfortable talking about it, as it was still a daily challenge I was faced with.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to approach my bfrbs with complete transparency. After searching without complete success for years for a support group of like-minded individuals, I knew I needed a change. I use the word “complete” because I was able to attend other support groups and meetings in the area with people who I could connect with and relate to, but it still felt like something was missing. I decided to start a peer-led support group in Atlanta. With some courage, help from a new friend in the TLC community, and TLC, I launched the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group in August of 2017. This group has undergone several makeovers based on the needs of the group, but today the Facebook group has over 160 members, with an average attendance rate of 10 people per monthly meeting.

Last year, I celebrated my birthday by attending my third TLC conference in Virginia. I met support group leaders across the country that I had gotten to know over our monthly calls. I formed connections with children, teens, adults, clinicians, and presenters who have bfrbs. I was re-enlightened and in awe of this powerful community. I cannot think of a better gift.

Let’s rewind a little bit. I never ever ever thought I would be capable of talking about my bfrbs openly, let alone starting and facilitating a group whose purpose is just that. It was not comfortable or easy, but it was safely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Some of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors today are individuals from this community. Today, I run the Atlanta BFRB Peer Support Group, co-host TLC’s Kids and Teens Online Support Group, co-host TLC’s Adult Online Support Group, am a Support Group Leader Mentor, and have become an active member of this unstoppable community. My bfrbs do not define me; this is just something I do, for now. I am not ashamed. I do not feel alone. I have come to a point of realization and acceptance that I am comfortable with. Success, to me, does not mean being pull or pick-free. It means being kind and compassionate towards myself and others. It means taking an active role in changing my inner-monologue and forgiving myself when the imperfections seep through. I am grateful for my bfrbs, and would not be the same person I am today without the same behaviors that I once believed negatively defined and overpowered me. Every day is a new opportunity for growth, self-compassion, and advocacy. Additionally, I have acquired daily practices of gratitude, empathy, self-confidence, self-compassion, drive, connection, courage, joy, and outspokenness. Who knew the thing that I used to hate the most about myself could evolve into the greatest gift I’ve ever received?

This is just a brief version of my story, believe it or not. If anyone would like to learn more, inquire about resources, or share your own story, I am excited to have a conversation with you. I love learning about other people’s experiences and being able to share meaningful connections.

For my birthday this year, during this exceptionally challenging time of uncertainty, I ask that you read this abbreviated version of my story and share it with someone you think could benefit from reading it. I am also asking for donations to TLC Foundation for BFRBs if you are able to contribute. I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me. Every little bit will help me reach my goal. Your donations will help expand and support the wealth of resources available on bfrb.org, support groups, webinars, and workshops. They could even send a child feeling as helpless and alone as I did, to the annual conference. This nonprofit organization has changed the lives of countless individuals through research, resources, connections, and love. Thank you, TLC, and thank all of you that have taken the time to read this lengthy post!! ❤ 


Featured image: “Girls Support” by Olga Semklo