The sickness in your head

When I did 30 hour famines to raise money for world vision, it was easy for me. I was already going every other day without eating — or subsisting on two yogurts and two cans of peaches a day. I figured I could at least put my ‘diet’ to good use. No one in my life knew what to do about this. I was naive enough to think they didn’t notice; they did, but no one knew what to say, what to do. My not eating was shameful, and it was easier to everyone to pretend it wasn’t happening.

Which didn’t make it go away.

The first time I googled trichotillomania, I cried. Ugly cried — tears all over the key-board, chest heaving sobs. Who wants to go bald? Why did I keep pulling? I had fantasies of shaving my head and just getting rid of all my hair that night. It didn’t want this disease to be my life, but it was. It still is. I can’t get rid of it. Saying, “Why don’t you try not being obsessed with your hair and skin pulling?” is like saying, “Why don’t you just trying not to be depressed?”

It doesn’t work that way.

Trich and anorexia are both fueled by shame, but it’s taken me over a decade to learn that. And keeping quiet, pretending these things don’t exist, isn’t a way to deal with them. Like a weed, shame is the root, and that’s what I target when anorexia or trich springs up in a new and exciting form in my life.

If you’re struggling with a mental disease, I wish I could say there was one guaranteed way to kill it off. There’s not, but I know that, and you probably do, too. I wage my own personal war against shame and worthlessness everyday, and sometimes I win, but other times, I’m unable to climb out of that spiraling pit that opens in my head when I start pulling my hair.

I want whoever googles trichotillomania to have a different experience than I did. There is behavioral therapy out there. There are people who won’t treat your disease like it’s gross. You’re not alone. Does it get better — sometimes. Does it go away — no. But it’s real, and you have permission to take care of yourself, to decide that you want something else besides your disease to define your life.

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