For as long as I can remember, I’ve been this really overly anxious person. I just put it down to being a “stress-head” or “overthinking things” and I have just learnt to live with it, like it was just one of my character traits.
But I have this weird (OK – wrong) habit. This too has been with me since I was a kid, and probably cropped up around the time I was getting anxious about … everything.
I could lose hours playing with my hair
I pick at my hair. I play with it. I split the ends. I watch TV and I twirl it around my fingers. In school, I would sit at my desk doing my homework, and sometimes the answers would flow from me like magic, but in the times where I was stumped, I would sit there and pick at my hair. I could lose hours sitting there, picking and playing with it. Studying for maths exams was hell, not just because maths was my worst subject, but because I was so bloody anxious about not being good at it that to avoid facing the heartache of learning trigonometry I just … picked at my hair instead.
When I was bored, I picked at my hair.
When I was sad, I picked at my hair.
When I was angry, I picked at my hair. Angrily.
By the time I left school at aged 17, I could no longer tie my hair up in a ponytail. The sides were sparse, little sprouty baby hairs or something were the only things left.
I was mortified. I don’t know why my friends never noticed it, and I especially don’t know why my boyfriend at the time didn’t notice it. But I was glad he wasn’t the “run my fingers through your hair” kind of person, so I was cool with that. Similarly, I was cool that my friends at the time were not, “let’s give each other makeovers and braid each other’s hair” kind of folks, either.
Coping and failing, but succeeding, sometimes …
For the longest time, I’m talking like all through uni and after graduation, I tried to stop my “bad habit”. I went to a hypnotherapy woman, and while that worked for a little period of time, it was so expensive I stopped. She did, however, give me some tools which I still try to implement today, like keeping your hands busy and visualising what I would look like with a full, healthy head of hair.
Sometimes, I would be OK. I could go months without an urge to touch my hair at all, except to comb it. I even resorted to cutting it really short, so that I had no choice but to NOT play with my hair, and that worked too. When the hair grew out, I was able to tie it up and back, and there aren’t many people out there today who know the sheer joy of being able to do that, after years of feeling like a pariah because you just couldn’t do simple things like tie your hair up when you go to the gym.
During the really bad times I would lose myself for hours and I would arise from my clumped over position and I’d have picked at the sides of my scalp in a weird non-frenzy, because it wasn’t done in this frenetic way, it was done calmly like I was doing delicate cross-stitching.
To this day, I have never tied my hair up with the use of serious bobby pins. But at least I can tie it up.
It is what it is
A couple of months ago I saw this youtube clip about Becky, who has Trichotillomania. And I holy crapped myself because I read up about her and her condition and I was … floored.
Because there was someone like me out there who has had to deal with crap pretty much all her life, and she was so open with sharing her story to the world.
Something about Becky and her story clicked in me, and I decided that I wasn’t going to ignore this in myself anymore, and I was going to acknowledge that this was something I NEEDED HELP with, so I am seeking it now. Re-phrase that, I have sought it. I have good days and bad days, lately I have been OK, not great.
Good and bad days
Some days I am great – I use the tools I’ve been given to combat my urges and keep me out of “danger zones” (i.e. I’ supposed to be mindful of where my hands are on the steering wheel while I’m at a traffic light, as I tend to zone out and pick and pick and pick …).
Some days I am horrible. When I am stressed about a deadline, or if I am finding something hard to write (I’m also a freelance writer, which makes me much more introspective and prone to overthink everything), I have really bad days. When I get down on myself, then it’s over.
But I accept now that this is something I need to work on daily, because it’s not a thing I can beat entirely, but it’s a trait I have to understand – or it will beat me entirely.
I think taking the stigma out of mental health is so so so important, because many times – ok, all the bloody time, I feel like I am fighting this alone. And it’s yes, yes, it’s my battle to fight, but it would be nice to have support, you know? In Australia, in NSW anyway, there are no Trichotillomania support groups. There are online tools and they are U.S-based, but the support of everyday folk to even take the sting out of it would be so lovely.
Hat Day is an event run by Australian Rotary Health, and it happening this Friday 10 October 2014 to coincide with World Mental Health Day and Mental Health Week.
You can participate by wearing a hat (everyone loves hats!) and donating to research.
It’s important to support mental health awareness and research because everyone, at some point, is touched by it in some way. Hard facts:
- 1 in 5 people will suffer a mental illness this year.
- The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 mental illness will be the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death in first world countries.
- Every Australian will know a family member, work colleague or friend who will experience some form of mental health condition.
- Mental disorders are the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity.
- The annual cost of mental illness in Australia has been estimated at $20 billion, includes the cost of lost productivity and labour force participation
- Nearly 50% of all Australians experience at least one episode of mental ill health in our lives
If that doesn’t say a lot the state of mental health in Australia, well … read those again and get back to me. ONE IN FIVE.
How you can help
Visit www.hatday.com.au to register a Hat Day FUNdraiser event, and invite your friends, family and colleagues to join in and to donate generously on your fundraising page.
Follow Hat Day
Facebook – www.facebook.com.au/hatdayevent
Twitter – @hatday
Hashtag for instagram, twitter and facebook – #hatday14.
If you or someone you know is in need of counselling, contact Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or Lifeline: 13 11 14