Mental Health Awareness Week: Anxiety

Firstly, apologies for not posting on Monday– it’s not good that my schedule has already gone down the pan so soon after making it! — but I do have an excuse.

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week. Someone of you might have seen the posts all of social media, some of you might not have even realised. But in my case I feel very personally about it so it’s something I like to pay attention to, especially since this year’s theme is on anxiety.

So why didn’t I write a post?

Well, like I said, anxiety is a very personal topic for me. I knew that would be my theme for my blog post this week and that hasn’t changed. I even started writing several different posts. But I really struggled.

If you check out my post My Four Post Confession: Trichotillomania that’ll explain why I feel so personally about this topic. But it’s not something I’ve exactly kept a secret, especially on this blog, it’s just not something I shout from the rooftops.

And that was my problem.

I have had trichotillomania since I was 11, and even at 22 I don’t feel like I’m an expert on the topic. Yes, I’ve researched it; I’ve tried and tested several methods to stop myself pulling; I’ve even checked out some of the communities on Facebook and Twitter to understand how other people cope with it.

But I know I’m not an expert so I feel like a fraud to offer people advice on the topic.

My problem though is people who do feel that they are experts.

I’ve seen people in these groups offering medical advice, despite the fact they’ve not even made it to university never mind completed a medical degree. I’ve even had someone turn around to me today and tell me that I didn’t even have the condition because I’ve not been diagnosed by a doctor.

That’s a blow after 11 years!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need for this sense of community. Though I don’t post in them myself, it’s like the fitness groups I talk in; everyone needs a support network and after growing up being laughed at I know this all too well.

But there is a difference between offering some suggestions and telling people how to feel.

The worst thing is, a lot of these people are barely teenagers themselves!

Personally I feel that it can be extremely patronising and while the majority of the people on these sites simply try and offer comfort and an ear, which is always greatly appreciated, it’s easy to get shot down with such a fragile condition.

So my advice?

If you feel you have trich, or any mental condition, then yes do try and seek expert advice. Yes, there are methods out there to help you– whether it be medication, therapy or anything else. If your doctor, like many of mine, tell you it’s ‘just a phase’ and you don’t feel comfortable with this then get a second opinion. If your parents don’t understand then research it and explain it to them, same with if your friends. My own mother called me a freak for five years before a friend of hers explained what the condition was– and that was before even I knew what it was!

The worst thing you can do is listen to one person who tells you something negative and take it as fact. In the end it could just make you feel worse and I know from experience that feeling bad isn’t going to help you at all.

x

My Four Post Confession: Trichotillomania

Considering barely anyone I’m friends with know about this (or at least openly comments on it) I decided it’s finally time to push ahead and speak about it. Or at least write a blog that barely anyone reads. It’s a safe start.

According to Boot’s medical website, WebMD, Trichotillomania is:

“A mental health disorder that involves an irresistible urge to pull out hair.”

In my own terms? I’m some crazy chick who pulls out her eye lashes and eye brows when I start imagining bad things in my head.

In my mum’s words: “A freak.”

I started doing it when I was in year 6, so around the age of 11. I was sat in the class room, at the top end of the “U” shaped tables and a girl had gone up to the teacher saying something was stuck in her eye lashes. “Go and wash them out, just don’t pull at them.”

With my little sister, circa. 10 years old.

Before it was triggered

“Just don’t pull at them…” My ironic ability to do as other people are told not to is beyond belief. I don’t remember my first pull specifically, but I did go through high school with no eye brows and no eye lashes. And since I didn’t wear make up I couldn’t disguise it, in fact (silly me) I assumed no-one noticed.

Until year 11 when I had a huge fight with my best friends and suddenly they were all making “at least I have eye brows” comments on Facebook. Not that the fight itself wasn’t enough to trigger an anxiety attack and therefore the “trich”.

After

After

It was actually my mum who introduced me to the fancy medical term. Until then, she’d labelled me a “freak of nature” and I “seriously needed help”… Just want every teenage girl wants to hear. Apparently she’d been in the office at her work, my school ironically, and she’d noticed her friend doing it. My mother, the caring soul she is, turned around and said “Oh, do you get bored to?” This was a 40 year old man she’d grown up with, who’d dated her older sister when they were teenagers, and yet I can imagine that comment wasn’t too appreciate. But apparently he explained the medical stuff behind it and during one (typical) fight my mum shouted this at me.

3

 

So I was a freak, there was just a medical term for it. Wonderful.

Then I was reading a magazine one day, one of those girlie, teenager ones with real life stories thrown in. There was an anonymous entry about a girl who had no eye lashes or eye brows- she was exactly like me. She’d described all her ways of trying to stop which mainly consisted of sleeping with googles on and wearing falsh eye lashes. But that didn’t help me and I had only given in to drawing on my eye brows- there’s even a message from a “friend” in my year book to “Miss Drawn on Eyebrows”… They’d be scousebrows now, but they weren’t fashion back then.

When I was 16 I got with my boyfriend. I’d already explained my “condition” to him over MSN one day, which was nerve racking. I’d just asked him if he knew what it was and he googled it (this being the same guy who took an hour to click onto what “that time of the month” meant). He didn’t really react which was weird for me and when we got together I guess I stopped, or at least eased up.4

I can’t say I really noticed but I think that was the point. I was so used to drawing on my eye brows by this point that I hadn’t noticed my actual eye brow hairs growing back through. I guess I was happy, settled, I knew it was triggered by anxiety so it made sense. Then we broke up two years later and voliá, it all started again.

This time I took my mum’s advice and went to the doctors. From my research though I started figuring I had depression (admittedly the “anxiety” theory hadn’t settled in yet) but going to a doctor, or at least my doctor, on your own claiming to have depression wasn’t a great idea. He literally laughed in my face, said that it was a typical teenage thing and I looked beautiful with my make up on (I wasn’t wearing any.)

It took me two more years to get the guts to go again, this time I was at university and I’d hit a low point. Though I was still not as bad as I had been in high school (at any point, I had a trace of eye brows) I feared getting back there. This time my doctor was a lot more sympathetic, but said that before she wanted to give me drugs she wanted to send me for counselling. I agreed…

And then the appointment letter arrived and I threw it in the bin.

It wasn’t until this summer I properly spoke about my condition with my peers as such. I went to Ibiza with a friend and her two friends and they wanted to give me a make over. Like I said, I don’t wear make up so this was pretty exciting- until they mentioned false eye lashes. I freaked inside, but managed to calmly say “But I don’t have any eyelashes, will they stick on?” I impressed myself to say the least but the most impressive part was that when I explained why I didn’t have any, one of the girls actually named the condition. She had it to, with her arms.

Wow…

Besides my mum’s friend, I’d never even know of anyone with it never mind met them. Suddenly I knew what it was like for people who asked me, I was shocked and probably didn’t act in the best way but it was more of the “there’s others!” reaction to the “ew, you pull your arm hairs?”

When I came back to university my best friend began asking me, I can’t remember why it came up. I think it was discussing self harming (since some do class trich as a self harming method… weirdly enough) and I told her. She got so excited, apparently her dad has the condition to and she’d always wanted to ask someone about it. I then explained it to a colleague at work who simply started discussing her own anxiety. Suddenly, I realised I’d stopped doing it again, or at least to a lesser extent (I can’t honestly say a month’s gone by without me doing it slightly).

Personally, I found speaking about it to people who wanted to know really helped because as long as they tried to act normal about it I was happy to explain. That was my problem with counselling, I don’t think I could deal with someone digging into all my old problems when me thinking about them is the trigger. But there is comfort online, especially in blog’s like Beckie0 who I actually discovered through Youtube on this fantastic video fully explaining the condition in her own words:

So I’m not afraid of the condition anymore. It is me. I don’t particularly like it, and I can’t say I’m proud of it. But if there’s one common thing I keep hearing about it is that the only way you’ll defeat it is by accepting it. That stops the anxiety and therefore stops the urge to pull.

Now just to get rid of all the other triggers!