I've never been officially diagnosed with trichotillomania, unless it happened when I was little. (I'd have to ask my parents really.) But ever since I was a child, I've had a...weird relationship with my hair. I have vague memories of when I was younger, (seven? eight?) of my mum and one of her friends examining the bald patch I'd made in my hair. Ever since I can remember, I've picked up my hair, wound it round my finger (when I was really little, I used to wind it round my tongue...this was not something my parents or teachers appreciated. And yes, I used to eat it) and pulled it out. It used to be pulling it out at the roots, but now I just make a knot and pull out the knot. It just...feels good I guess? I don't know why.
And when I was a teenager, I loved pulling my eyebrows out at the roots with my fingers. I remember staying up one night hearing my parents argue, and in the morning a whole chunk of eyebrow was gone. I don't do that anymore, but...I liked it, and I probably still would. It was almost like a stress reliver.
I think it was something my parents worried about when I was growing up, because I have (again, pretty vague) memories of my parents making me get my hair cut short when I was about ten or so. Nothing really worked, though, I still pulled it out. And of course, it lasted well into adult life...remember this? (Remember keeping pulled-out hair in my pencilcase, not wanting to part from it? Remember when people found it? God, they must have thought I was such a disturbing twat.) Sigh.
I used to do it without even realising...I'd be watching a movie or something and afterwards, when I turned the lights back on, there'd just be hair everywhere. My laptop table at my parent's house used to have knots of hair scattered all over the carpet below it, which made me feel disgusting, even though I realise now I had no need to feel that way, it was just a...thing. My dad once commented loudly about the hair-mess at a school parents evening...I was mortified, but this other girl I barely knew (and still can't remember the name of) looked over and gave me a sympathetic sort of half-smile. I still remember that...
Anyway, a couple of years ago my boyfriend came up with the idea of getting a scarf with tassles, that I could pull out, that would feel like hair...and it actually worked pretty well. I still pull my hair out more than I'd like, but I've destroyed two scarves and kept my hair pretty much as good as I'll ever get it. (Anyone else tried this? Did it work?) It's awkward having to take a scarf around to friend's houses and on holidays and stuff, but...eh.
So, that's my Hair Story. Fun, eh?
(Don't judge my parents too harshly- there's a lot they didn't get, but they had to deal with so much awful stuff I'm constantly amazed they managed to do the good job they did.)
You know...I think it's finally time to put this on the Internet. I want to talk about it, just to a) get it off my chest and b) hopefully help others....I don't go into too much detail, but there might be some triggers...
Okay, so: I'd always had slight mental health problems, as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is hearing about 'devil worshippers' on the radio news, and then later on it popping into my head that I was one, and that God would punish me. I was only nine or ten, and my family was quite religious then, and I was really scared. And I've always had trichotillomania, although it was never diagnosed (as far as I know). When I was little I had a bald patch from where I pulled out my hair, and even to this day I have this thing where I wind it around my finger and then pull it out. (I have sort-of conquered this now, by using a scarf and pulling out the tassles on the scarf instead.)
Anyway, I have a fear of a Thing (I won't go into it, everyone has a different Thing anyway) and I do weird stuff to prevent this Thing happening. When I was in high school, the cafeteria sold these awesome hot cookies, but one day I was queuing up and a voice in my head said "If you buy and eat those delicious cookies, the Thing will happen." So that was the end of the cookie-eating. I still can't eat certain foods at certain times, although I am getting slightly better in that regard. Slightly.
Things really went downhill in the closing months of 2007, though. I think it was partly triggered by the suicide of one of my schoolfriends. My parents and her parents were friends too and it shook my dad up pretty bad. From about October 2007 to December 2007, I was a wreck, and I am amazed I didn't get sectioned. I used to do things like go an entire uni day without water, because if I drank any the Thing would happen. I have vague memories of some guy trying to chat me up, offering to buy me a drink, and I thought he was the devil or something trying to tempt me. When I did eat or drink, it had to be in a specific order. The rest of the time I honestly just...sat there. I was too afraid to do anything in case it caused the Thing. When I say nothing, I mean...nothing. I didn't watch TV or listen to music or anything. I just sat there.
And then there was the hoarding- I hoarded my hair. (I kept it on top of a chest of drawers) I didn't clean up because I was afraid of throwing anything away. I didn't clean the bathroom, even. You guys heard of Howard Hughes, and what happened when he had his breakdown? I went...kinda like that. I hoarded everything. And no, I didn't cut my nails, either, or shave, even though I wanted to. I couldn't.
This whole thing made university very difficult indeed. One of my worst memories ever is of some guys in my class stealing my pencilcase and finding hair inside it. (Any hair that fell out while I was out, I put in my pencilcase until I could take it back and put it with the rest). I'd give my right arm to go back in time and change that. I also remember scrambling about in a toilet looking for a hair that fell on the floor- on the toilet floor, I mean, come on. I remember thinking at that point, "What's going on? What am I doing? This isn't how anyone should live," but by then I was too far gone to care.
There were so many uni problems. I'd be interested to go back and look at the creative writing work I handed in then. Because I did hand in all my work on time, but...oh god, uni for those few months was a nightmare. I actually met Louis de Bernières when he came to give a lecture and to this day I have no idea what I said to him.
I survived that time mostly because of the kindness of my boyfriend, who took me to a therapist and also to the cinema several times (the cinema memories are my only good memories of those few months). I did eventually start to come out of it. I met several very good therapists, and I started to get better. Obviously there was a lot to overcome. The hoarding started to go, but scrupulosity was another big one. For ages I was afraid of reading or even touching books that criticised religion, like The God Delusion and so on. And things like tarot cards and books about ghosts. Even Supernatural, I couldn't touch! (I'm over that now, as fans of that show will probably be pleased to know). Maybe that's related to my family's earlier attitude to religion (when I was really little, I wasn't allowed to say 'oh my god' because it was blasphemy), I dunno. That is mostly gone now, though.
So...yes. Other interesting stuff:
-I once spent an entire Wednesday morning thinking my cat was a demon. (This is the anecdote I usually use to break the ice whenever the topic of mental health comes up). It winked at me, and I didn't like that, so I spent several hours avoiding it.
-I sometimes call myself 'a mental', but I'd never call it anyone else.
-I still have panic attacks over really stupid things, but that's almost a good thing, because it means I can sort of analyse my emotions without there being any actual danger present
-I still do things to stop The Thing happening, but it's (usually) much less painful and noticeable now
-I sometimes worry, when walking down the street or on the bus, that I've just shouted out something incredibly offensive out loud at someone. This used to be much worse (I used to worry about doing it during school assembly) but now I just make myself think 'Well, no-one is yelling at me or punching me, so I must not have done it.'
-A lot of my OCD is focused around numbers, assigning different things to different numbers and so on. That's why I have numbers in my screenname, they're all numbers that mean something to me.
-I get nervous on Friday the 13th (like yesterday...which is why I wasn't on Tumblr much yesterday) and I get really nervous typing the three-sixes number, you know the one. Fun fact: when that number cropped up in the Doctor Who episode 'Midnight' I thought I'd imagined it and got all nervous until watching Confidential proved it was actually said in the episode.
-I still get the voice that says 'if you do this the Thing will happen'. It does stop me from doing things something. I don't know if it will ever completely go away.
...Okay, that's kind of it. My mental health history, or the important bits anyway. (Or all the important bits I can remember and am comfortable talking about). I hope it helps people in some way. If you have any questions, just ask. :)
A powerful article that I feel compelled to link to. And no, I don't believe in the death penalty...