A Confession: Why I Sometimes Find Writing ‘Trichy’

This is my first personal post, and it has not been easy to write. But it’s something I feel the need to share, because it’s about something so tied up with my writing life that it feels wrong to keep it a secret. The rest of me is displayed on this blog, so it’s only right that this should be, too. Also, in posting this I might be able to comfort someone going through a similar thing and help them to understand that they’re not alone. I don’t ever want anyone to suffer what I do in silence.

I’m going to ask you to do a bit of thinking. Just, go along with it.

Imagine that you have an idea for something – a project, a story, anything you’re excited to start doing. Imagine getting started, the rush of creativity, that joy of beginning something new. Then you stop and take a breath. Stretch. Go over your notes and prepare to carry on with the next bit…

But then imagine that there’s something in your eye. Or, you think there is. Your hand automatically tries to remove it, prodding around in the sticky tear duct and flicking at your eyelashes. You blink and find that it’s gone, but suddenly you can’t move your hand away. Your fingers are playing with your eyelashes, nipping at them like a puppy with a toy. Your brain screams ‘no! no! no!’ but you can’t summon the will to stop. Imagine standing up, pacing the room with your hands clenched into fists at your side. You stare at your work and tell yourself to calm down, that everything is fine, that you’re strong and you can beat this.

And sometimes you do. But the other times…

You give in. The desire to grab your hair becomes uncontrollable. Painful, and merciless. You have no choice. Your hand drifts absently back towards your eye. Just one, you tell yourself. One won’t hurt. You can limit it to that. The sharp tug and twinge of pain is satisfying. The eyelash falls to the ground. You don’t make a wish on it; you spent your allowance many years ago. You watch it fall and feel better, but there’s another one. Just next to the one you pulled out. It feels odd now, exposed. Two won’t notice. Oh, oops. You missed it, got a different one instead. Better try again…

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Imagine dragging yourself over to the mirror and forcing yourself to look at the damage. Beholding the ugly gap on your eyelid. Knowing you’ve let yourself down. Knowing your family and friends will notice and that you’ve disappointed them. Imagine looking back at your work and not having the courage to carry on, in case another attack comes. What was once a joyful task you now hate. You’re a failure. You feel sick.

Then imagine the next day. Getting up, having breakfast, showering. Steeling yourself. Approaching your work and having to face the same fight.

This is my reality. I don’t imagine it, I live it.

I suffer from a compulsive behaviour disorder known as Trichotillomania. It’s related to OCD and other anxiety based conditions, and is often brought on by stress or depression. I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember; hair pulling is just something I’ve always done. I don’t know when, or why, it started happening. It just did, and kept on happening. I didn’t even discover that it had a name until a few years ago, and since then things have gotten a little bit easier. For one thing, realising it was an actual medical condition and that I wasn’t the only person who has it was incredibly liberating. Since then, I’ve been to workshops and learned ways to keep it under control. Often I can go for days without pulling, but the desire always returns eventually. I’ve accepted that I will never be free of it. It’s something so integral to who I am, sometimes I almost get defensive about it. I hate Trich, but at the same time, it’s  a defining part of who I am.

Trichotillomania
Not everyone is the same. What right does society have to dictate who is beautiful and who isn’t?

Of course, I was bullied at school. Other kids would ask me why I didn’t have eyelashes, and I’d shrug and pretend I didn’t know. If they caught me pulling they would laugh and whisper behind my back. One time in class I heard a boy behind me murmuring to a new pupil about the girl over there who pulls out her own hair. The new guy sneered in disbelief, but then later on he saw the evidence. Another face watching me like I was some sort of circus act. Those bullies used to upset me, but now I pity them. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so narrow-minded and cruel. To not even think to ask someone if they’re okay, to just automatically decide to taunt them because they’re different? They must have such sad lives. If anything, I’m thankful to them for shaping me into who I am today. Years of ignoring snide comments has given me a thick skin, and taught me to appreciate the kind people who now surround me.

By its very nature, Trichotillomania erodes your self confidence. Its makes you believe you’re ugly and that no-one will want you. I find myself avoiding people’s eyes during conversation for fear that they will notice. But none of my university friends, classmates, tutors or housemates have ever judged me. Those who I’ve told about Trich have not laughed or thought I’m weird. They’ve supported me, and the love they give more than makes up for the hate I’ve experienced in past. People like them have restored my faith in humanity.

As a writer, Trichotillomania gets to me a lot. Sometimes it makes me feel worthless, like I’m never going to get anywhere because I just physically can’t do anything. But I know I will keep facing that fight, because writing is my life. And I will keep fighting for it, no matter how many times I lose. Because I’ve learned not to care anymore. Eyelashes are now my currency. They’re the price I pay for all the good grades I get, all the feedback I get on this blog, all the stories I read to my family. And all of those things are worth the cost. Plus, due to the aforementioned lovely university friends, I can walk into class after a Trich-y day feeling no less confident than usual because none of them stare. None of them laugh, or tease. They just want to see what I’ve brought to workshop. What I have to say, what I write, is more important than how much hair I have. Every. Single. Time.
Trichotillomania
The inside covers of all my notebooks look like this

I’m writing this post for many reasons. But mainly, because I want to help people. Trichotillimania is hell. I spent years dealing with it alone, and I don’t ever want anyone to go through that. So if you’re reading this, imagine the future. Imagine telling someone your dark and deadly secret, and having them put their arms around you and tell you it’s alright. Imagine walking out into the street, without a wig, hat or make-up, and holding your head high and facing the world. I’m telling you this now, and please remember it: You are beautiful, and you always will be. If anyone tells you different, like the people at school did to me, then they’re the ones who are ugly. Not you. Never you. So just hang in there – one day you will find the people who matter, and you will shine.

Recently I found out about this book, The Dragon Who Pulled Her Scales by William Michael Davidson:
The Dragon Who Pulled Her Scales William Michael DavidsonIt’s a aimed at children with Trichotillomania, and about exactly what the title says: A dragon who compulsively pulls out her scales. But in the end, she saves the day, and no-one cares about her lack of scales. It teaches children that their worth is not set by their appearance, but by their deeds. I actually cried when I found this; it’s such a wonderful idea. I certainly could have used it when I was a child! A lot of people don’t tend to take Trichotillomania seriously in children, dismissing it as a phase or ignoring it because they don’t understand what it is. More awareness needs to be raised, and what better way than through stories? Stories have immense power, and this is a fine example of that power being used for good.

If you have made it to the end of this long post, then thank you for staying with me. And if you’re one of the lovely university people or someone I’ve told about Trich, then thank you some more. I can never express how grateful I am.

If you’re a stranger who has just discovered the world of Trichotillomania, then I’m going to ask you a favour. If you see anyone hurting, not just hair pulling – anyone crying, screaming, self-harming or walking around with a little rain cloud over their heads – go up to them. Tell them they’re beautiful. Tell them they’re strong and that everything will be okay. There is enough pain in this world without us creating more by judging each other.

If you’re a stranger who suffers from Trichotillomania, then you are not a stranger. You’re a comrade, a fellow soldier in this war. Look in the mirror. Smile. Write ‘don’t pull’ on your hand every morning to remind yourself. Be brave. Leave a comment on this post and say hello, I would love to chat to you.

 

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is a content editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Lorna! Oh wow, that is really weird, but at least we know now! And you're right, it does feel good to know that we're not alone. Thank you, and same. I'm sure we can support each other during the stress that is going to be third year! 🙂

  2. Hey Amy, I'm kinda late to the party here – I didn't know your blog address until now! I have trich as well, the eyebrow variety – isn't it weird how we've had so many classes together and not known? It really sucks to deal with, but it's so great to know that someone else in such close proximity to me knows how it feels! I'm (literally) always online if you want to chat 🙂

  3. This is such a wonderful post. You are undeniably and incredibly brave to be telling your story for the world to see. It takes so much courage to be so honest and sincere. I wish you all the best of luck with your future 🙂

  4. Thank you! I hope this reminds quite a few people, no-one deserves to suffer in silence. And I will definitely help him with the many more issues to come 😉

  5. Well done for writing such a personal post, I know how hard it is. I didn't actually know anything about Trichotillomania before so this post was really helpful. You're SO strong and it's great that you've found some coping techniques that work for you. <3

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