You may (or may not) be aware that I re-started this site last year in order to not only bring some focus to my life, but also to openly discuss a mental health disorder from which I have suffered for 18 years- trichotillomania. For all this time, the hair-pulling impulse disorder had taken over my life, leaving me bald, ashamed and struggling with an incredibly low self-esteem. Whilst writing about the illness has by no means cured me (I still go through good and bad patches like all other sufferers), it has opened up a new positive relationship with my disorder which I had never before experienced. Here's how.
First things first, a little low-down about trich. While it does impact physically through baldness, this is actually usually the least of a sufferer's worries. For me, anyway, the most difficult things to deal with over the past 18 years have been the emotional impacts of the disorder. Shame, guilt, self-loathing, hiding from others, feeling the need to constantly disguise yourself and lie about having the disorder, as well a toying with 'sister' disorders such as eating disorders, OCD, dermotillomania (skin-picking) and depression are just a few of the things 'trichsters' have to deal with on a DAILY basis. All that emotional baggage on one pair of shoulders. It's tough, without a doubt. The main step in controlling the disorder (as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will teach you) is to be aware of your habits, patterns and feelings. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I actually started tracking how and when I pulled my lashes/brows out, and it helped to a certain extent. The way in which it did help me massively, however, is making me AWARE of the disorder in general, but more specifically, my relationship to it. I always saw it as a distant evil, an illness that controlled me, but was not part of me.
SO, how has being open about it actually helped me? I have always been more of a writer than a talker. I can't verbalise my thoughts, but I can write my feelings onto paper with ease. Blogging, then, became a natural step in trying to communicate awareness of the disorder to others; it kickstarted a process of becoming aware of trich, gave me an outlet to not only express but UNDERSTAND my feelings attached to it, and enabled me to grow in confidence with trich as an unfortunate yet accepted part of my life. Being open about trich on the internet has enabled me to virtually meet so many other people who also suffer from it, allowing me to know that I am most certainly not alone. It has become a form of therapy for me; a form of therapy which has worked by getting me to accept that trichotillomania is an important part of who I actually am. I wouldn't be me without it, and for that, I am kind of grateful (in a very strange way). However you may get there, once you accept the disorder, rather than seeing it as an unwanted demon, you understand yourself better and tend not to beat yourself up over it, thus minimising the emotional impact of the disorder. Let's face it, all those negative feelings about trich...they're imposed by you, onto you. Letting that go makes dealing with the illness 100% easier.
Just speaking openly to friends and family has helped too. Instead of hiding it away ashamedly, my nearest and dearest know a lot more about what I go through on a regular basis, try to help me not to pull, are aware of my behaviours and emotions, are an instant shoulder to lean on, understand me better, and, best of all, I feel like I can totally be myself around them. Eyebrows or no eyebrows, I know they will be there for me. Yes, by putting myself out there, I may be opening myself up to criticism. If so, I don't really want that critic to be part of my life. Most importantly however, more than any nasty comments that I may face, I am putting myself out there to be loved and accepted by my nearest and dearest, 'warts and all'.
It's terrifying to open up about an issue that's so swept under the carpet within society, to present yourself to any judgements that may or may not come your way. But, without throwing yourself in the deep end, you won't reap any of the benefits. And those benefits are the ones that have helped me the most whilst dealing with the disorder. Having trichotillomania barely bothers me anymore, and I put it all down to speaking openly with others about it. Writing is most certainly my therapy!
Have you spoken openly about trich (or any other mental health disorder)? Has it helped you too? If not, what has stopped you from speaking out? I'd love to hear your stories.