by Jarrah Hodge
I’ve been struggling with whether or not to write on this topic ever since we started the “My Reality” series here at Gender Focus. On the one hand I think it’s important to share these stories because the stigma involved with mental illness is a huge problem. On the other hand, that very same stigma made me worried that talking about my experiences would cause my friends and coworkers to look at me differently.
But I finally decided to face up to the potential consequences because of GF contributor Roxanna Bennett, who is writing about her own experiences on her blog Choose Your Own Adventure. She drew my attention to the fact that last week (May 6-12) was Mental Health Week in Canada, and the main goals are raising awareness and fighting stigma.
So here goes.
I’m a gainfully-employed communications professional, a cat-loving uber-nerd, an occasional TV commentator and a feminist activist and award-winning blogger. I also happen to have a disorder that was until recently known as trichotillomania. In recognition of the fact that the disorder has nothing to do with “mania”, the DSM-5 has now added an explainer to the name: Trichotillomania (Hair-Pulling Disorder).
Trichotillomania (I’m just going to use the short-form “trich” or the previously-recognized abbreviation TTM for the rest of this article) is classified as an Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorder and it is characterized by the irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other parts of your body. I’ll start by giving a few more facts before I go in to how I experience it.
According to Psychiatric Times, up to 3.4% of adults have TTM (Olivia Munn is probably the most well-known example) and nobody knows for sure what causes it, though there are theories. It is not a nervous habit that you can just stop. It is also not causally-linked to experiencing child abuse or other trauma. It does not come out of a desire to self-harm; it doesn’t even hurt. According to the Trichotillomania Learning Center, trich actually acts as a “a self-soothing mechanism” to alleviate anxiety.
Tackling stigma is important in dealing with all mental illness but in trich has a particular direct connection to beauty ideals in our society. Most people with TTM are girls and women like me, who deal with constant messages telling them they have to look a certain way. When their disorder leaves them with bald patches on their head or gaps in their eyelashes, many withdraw. If a trichster doesn’t feel their elaborate beauty routine is enough to let them fit in, they may isolate themselves from work, school and/or medical care. Read more