A Good TTM Hair Holiday
Score one for the holidays! I’m back safe and sound, albeit with a terrible cold, and I’m not missing a single lash. In my book that’s something to be ultra thankful for and yet, this is not a victory dance.
It’s not uncommon, or rather, it’s HIGHLY LIKELY that during this season of forced family gatherings and unrealistic expectations of happiness and glamour (seriously, you NEVER see the schlub on TV or in magazines in their 1,000 year old sweats that we all wish we could actually wear to the Thanksgiving table) that those of us struggling with hair pulling/Trichotillomania (TTM) will submit to our ‘go-to’ method of self-soothing. If it’s not the stress of scrambling to get everything somewhere on time and at temperature, it’s the stress of looking like we did it gracefully – and without doing the damage to ourselves that our families know to look for as our barometer.
They don’t mean to, but we know they can’t help but take inventory when they look at us – it’s because they care and they are human and well, because we have this great visual indicator of how we’re REALLY coping. The problem is, being that vulnerable has always added to my feelings of anxiety and shame and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling that way.
But this year has been good so far regarding re-growth, proper self-care and good timing. I happen to have a fringe of short but present lashes on each of my upper lids, enough to make me feel OK about looking people in the eyes. When I’m missing lashes I feel as though the lids are somehow glowing and pulling all of the attention to their denuded rims so it’s hard for me to make eye contact for long. It’s like wearing a sign across my face saying “I’ve been struggling and I don’t even get to do it in private!”. But, this gathering I felt confident that looking at me didn’t mean looking at vulnerability and anxiety run rampant, it just meant looking at Aunt/Daughter in Law/Sister in Law/Wife Lizabeth, eager to engage in conversation and talk ‘turkey’.
As usual, I’m far too introspective to stop the stream of feelings and analysis there – I mean, why leave it at that when I can poke the bear some more?
My take away from this great experience isn’t, “Hey! You can do it! You TOO can be normal!”, but rather, this is what proper self-care feels like.
This last year has given me new tools and a fresh belief in trying new things. I have worked hard on getting my work-life balance straight, on getting enough rest, on proper nutrition (THANK YOU NUTRITIONIST COMMUNITY FOR BEING SO KICK-ASS!!), on listening to my stress ques and my “black and white thinking”. Rather than battling myself like I have in the past; forcing myself away from the mirror when ‘just that one’ was calling my name and then chastising myself for it, or thinking that pulling one meant pulling everything, I’ve stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes so that I didn’t see the whiskers in my line of site or I’ve laid down for a 15 minute nap to do something gentle and kind for myself.
I’ve worked hard at telling myself that my eyelashes are not for others, they are for me. They do not define me and if I have them or I don’t, I’m still good, strong, funny and beautiful. I am the same whether I have them or I don’t – I am the same whether somebody knows I’ve been struggling with anxiety or they don’t. I am exactly the same person. Eyelashes do not distract from or cover who I am – only shame does that, and shame doesn’t have a place here, compassion does.
So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. I am starting to turn the corner on what having eyelashes means to me – it’s not about how much anxiety I have, it’s about how well I am taking care of myself and how much compassion I’m capable of. I can’t control the first, but the second I’m getting better at all the time.