As many people know, May is Mental Health Awareness month. In one of my first posts, “What is Dermatillomania?” I opened up about another struggle I have besides depression and anxiety. Dermatillomania, also known as Excoriation, is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), which is compulsive skin picking to the point where it can cause damage to the body.
For this blog post, I want to share a story about another BFRB that some people may be a little more aware of than dermatillomania, but still not talked about often, trichotillomania. Mental Health Awareness month is all about sharing our stories and providing resources, education, and love. It is an extra reminder we aren’t alone and there are so many others who share similar experiences. We want to end the stigma and stop feeling ashamed.
The guest blogger for this post is Kenzie Olson. She and I have very similar experiences and I am happy to share her story to bring more awareness to another BFRB. There is still so much research done for these conditions. Something that sufferers like us try to wrap our head around daily is how important our appearances are to us, yet we are intentionally damaging them, but we have no control. It is a constant cycle of beating ourselves up over it and thinking “What have I done?”
Please read Kenzie’s story and spread the love.
Anxiety: The Trich(y) Stuff
I was in second grade when my mom pulled me aside in her bathroom, pulled back my hair and asked me, “where did that bald spot come from?” Between tears and feelings of shame, I could only muster a squeaky, “I don’t know mom.” My body froze and emotion after emotion hit me. Fear, shame, embarrassment, anger, sadness.
Truth is, I really didn’t comprehend how my once thick long locks all of a sudden had a bare patch. All I knew was that the bigger it got, the more I had tried to hide it from my mom in fear that she would be upset with me. All of that hiding to now sitting on the bathroom floor with my mom holding me while I cried. My second grade mind tried so hard to understand why someone who loved her hair would be subconsciously causing it to go away. Especially when it’s not the most confident inducing practice to have in second grade. It was beyond frustrating to not understand how my mind and body were arguing with each other. Between fits of crying, like any good mom does, she suggested we go see a therapist to understand better what was happening. Oh great, a semi baldy and a looney. You can imagine my second grade mind going ape-shit over this idea. Keep in mind, I hadn’t learned the powers of therapy yet!
Fast forward, and I attended my first ever therapy session. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember 90% of it. I was terrified of this man and his play therapy room. The session passed by in a blur and the most I remember was something about “envisioning that you are making a box in your mind and breath to 10” which I didn’t apply to my life until 15 years later. What we did get from my session was a diagnosis. At 8 years old, I was diagnosed with a disorder called trichotillomania (trich, for short). Now if the name doesn’t scare you alone, the definition is: a body-focused repetitive behavior classified as an impulse control disorder which involves pulling out one’s hair. This is classified among anxiety disorders and is estimated between .5-3% have experienced it. Not super common or reported, and rare to see in school age children. The therapist said that I was subconsciously pulling my hair whenever I most likely was nervous, worried, scared, or upset. And because I grew up with generalized anxiety, such as making sure I got to school exactly on time to perfecting my math timed sheets and starting over if it wasn’t perfect, I caught myself pulling a lot. I was given coping techniques such as breathing and redirecting when I caught myself with a strands of hair in my hand.
Trich was something new to me, my family, and many others I knew. We weren’t exactly sure how to deal with it. With it came a lot of hard days. I remember one day I wore a baseball cap to school to hide my bald patch, and one of my teachers, unaware of my situation, yelled at me to take it off in class. I eventually did, but with defiant tears. Later that day the teacher was informed and apologized, but it’s something that has stuck with me since then.With my coping techniques along with my mom and sister supporting me, I started to recognize behaviors and was eventually able to stop. It is said that trichotillomania is a chronic disorder. It comes and goes and it’s an impulsive disorder. It answers to triggers such as anxiety ridden situations. It is something I don’t talk about often, if ever. It’s not hard to get to know me, but only a handful know this about me. In the past, it has made me feel shameful and embarrassed. The stigma that is around mental health is stifling and it needs to change. It took me a very long to even tell my husband about it. It is something that I wish I had been more vocal about from the very beginning, but there is no time like the present.
I wanted to tell my story, especially during mental health month, because I’ve learned that having an anxiety disorder and getting help is not bad, nor ugly, nor remotely wrong. Knowing I have anxiety and this disorder and finding coping techniques/getting therapy to help is one of the bravest things I’ve done for myself and that others can do for themselves. If anyone is out there struggling, you are not alone.
Thanks for reading Kenzie’s story, and thanks for spreading love and awareness.
For more information or help needed for BFRBs, this is a great site to visit. There are many others as well. https://www.bfrb.org