Breaking the Stigma

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

Well, now you do.

I was 19 the first time I saw a counselor.  I was going through some stuff and having a really hard time, and my two friends dragged me to our colleges mental health department and made me talk to someone.  That was the beginning of a long and amazing journey to wellness for me (not that I consider myself well; I consider myself well-managed.) At first, I was ashamed.  I think we all feel that way a little when we admit there’s something wrong in our minds. We think we are less than, that we have something unfixable in us that others will judge and misunderstand.  I despise this idea.

Eventually, I started to think of my mental health in the same way I think about my physical health.  I have diabetes, which I manage, and when people hear that they don’t think of me as a lesser person. Ergo, I do not expect people to respond that way about my mental health.  If they do, they are telling me two things about themselves: they are uninformed, and they are scared. So many of our bad reactions are done out of fear, and that is probably the biggest problem that people with mental health issues face.  I might cry at weird times, and I might have days where it’s hard to get myself out of bed, but I’m not going to go crazy and murder you with an ax. That’s not how this works.

The only way I can think of to combat this fear is with information, and since May is mental Health Awareness Month, I am going to use it as an opportunity to talk about mental health, mine specifically.  I want to be that person you know who has that thing you heard of, and who explained it to you.

Today I’d like to talk about Trichotillomania.

My friend Sahar always called it “trickatillawhatnow,” but most people refer to it as Trich, or TTM.  Trich is a compulsive hair pulling disorder. I mention this first for two reasons. One, it’s an often misunderstood disorder, and two, it’s still considered to be a mostly unknown disorder.  When I was 20 I saw a doctor that flat out did not believe it was a thing. When I was 12 and was first afflicted by it, my doctor thought I was suffering from alopecia. Of course, I didn’t come out and tell her I was doing it.  I still didn’t know at the time.

See, it starts young.  I was in maybe second grade when I started pulling out eyebrows during Math class.   At the end of class I would have a neat little pile of hairs on my desk and wonder how they got there.  In fourth grade, it was eyelashes. In sixth grade, it was hair from my head. Each time I would observe the growing pile of hair, unsure how it came to be.

My mom took me to the aforementioned doctor, and I was instructed not to pull my hair back as my penchant for ponytails must be the root cause of the problem.  Of course it was not. I remember one day in sixth grade when I pulled my hair back and my teacher yelled at me, telling the whole class that I wasn’t supposed to wear ponytails because my hair was falling out.  

Adolescence was garbage.  But I digress…

My Fortress of Solitude as a child was the local library, so I spent some time researching what was up with me.  Then in high school, when internet access became a thing, I found the Trichotillomania Learning Center, which helped me understand what was happening.  Which also led me into the office of the doctor who knew nothing, and then off to greener pastures with a clinic that knew EXACTLY what I was talking about.  

New doc put me on one pill (I had been on 14 at that time) and symptoms stopped almost immediately.  I am still very self-conscious about my hair, and I still pluck my eyebrows almost daily, but otherwise I leave it be, and am thrilled to never find tiny piles of hair lying around.  

In my life I have encountered many people who have had Trich.  I have had friends confide in me, I have had others who didn’t know what it was be so grateful to put a name to the weird thing they were doing. In fact, this is the rarest of my disorders, but it is the one I have identified the most with other people.  

I refuse to give into the fear of misinformation.  If you read this and you have questions about Trich, feel free to ask them.  I am an open book on my mental health, and I do that to help inform others, All I really want is to take away that fear.  Fear is what motivates us to hate, and judge what we do not understand. So if I can do my part to remove that fear, I’m doing what is needed, in my mind.  I hope that this, and future blogs on mental health, open someones eyes to the fact that we are no worse, just a little different. At least, that’s what I believe.

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2 thoughts on “Breaking the Stigma

  1. Pingback: Breaking the Stigma, Part 2 – Ham 'N Eggs

  2. Pingback: Breaking the Stigma, Part 4 – Ham 'N Eggs

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