Trichotillomania Reprise: How I Paid for My Degree and What It Has Really Taught Me

This is a sort of reprise of this post from last year, about why I sometimes find writing hard because of a condition called Trichotillomania.

There is always something. Work experience, holidays, job interviews, family days out, parties… Whatever the event is, I know it’s coming. I know how many weeks until it happens. I know how many weeks I need to leave my eyelashes alone in order for them to grow in time.

And I never make it.

Most recently, it was graduation. Graduation means photos, attention, bald eyelids, ugly.

But let’s just stop and think about this. Graduating means getting a degree – and a First Class one at that. Over the last three years, I have pushed myself to my limits for this. I didn’t do my degree to get a job or impress anyone. I did it for myself, to try and prove to awkward, useless, 19-year-old Amy that she could do something. And well, I did it. I proved it when I moved 5 hours away from home, and when I walked into classes full of strangers and made friends, even though all I really wanted to do was stuff a paper bag over my head. I proved it by learning to do laundry, to do my own cooking, to rent a house, and get a job.

And I did all of this without eyelashes.

I remember the weeks before I moved to university. Counting them down, one pluck at a time. Desperate for a new start, but not wanting more whispers behind backs and being labelled a ‘freak’ again. Because in most of my experience up until that point, that’s all you got for being different. No support, or sympathy. Just ‘freak.’

Regardless of this, I lost most of them. I collected my keys and moved into halls eyelash-less and terrified. But I made myself get on with things. Let them grow back a little, as I settled in. Started writing my first assignments and yanked them out all over again. Trichotillomania is just like that. I get so far, and then it’s as though I have to pay for whatever success I’m having. My degree has been paid for not just with student loans, but with hundreds of eyelashes, strewn across desks, the floors of my accommodation, and the pages of my notebooks.

Whilst Trichotillomania has the power to make me feel ugly, hate myself, and make getting things done more of a struggle, it doesn’t have the power to stop me. Having eyelashes isn’t a requirement for UCAS, or for being a writer. It’s not a requirement to make friends, either. And if it is, then I’ve realised I was trying to make friends with the wrong kind of person.

All those events I’ve attended, I haven’t enjoyed any the less for having no eyelashes. I’ve made my peace, and moved on. Until next time, when I have to remind myself all over again that it’s okay and I’m okay.

Maybe I owe it all to Trichotillomania, for forcing me to keep fighting, for providing the Universe with enough personal sacrifice in order for good things to happen.

When I walked down the aisle in the cathedral to collect my degree, I didn’t look down. Instead, I smiled. And I smiled in every photograph that was taken, and let my friend put my hair up for our night out even though that meant I wouldn’t be able to hide behind it. I arrived at university without eyelashes, and I’ve left it without them, too. And next time something comes up and makes me anxious to grow them, I won’t panic. I know that I’ll be fine no matter how long they are. The length of our hair doesn’t define us, but our actions do.

University of Winchester graduation 2015
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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 Senior Editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Currently she is living in Scotland and studying for a masters degree. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.

2 thoughts on “Trichotillomania Reprise: How I Paid for My Degree and What It Has Really Taught Me

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I missed your post last year because I was only following “Asleep in the Woods” at the time. It takes a lot of courage to share personal struggles and your story is incredibly inspirational!

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