Friday, August 25, 2017

It's Trich-y Is The Title

The reason I don't do
no-makeup selfies right now
Ever since I can remember I've pulled out my hair. It used to be my head hair. No matter what I did, I couldn't stop myself. Somewhere between ages 8 and 12 (I honestly don't remember the exact time) I had a large bald spot on the top of my head. My family was stumped. I was often reprimanded for this impulse I could not control, once being asked "What's next, your eyelashes? And then what? Eyebrows? If you run out of hair on your face will you start pulling out someone elses?" After a few years I quit pulling out the hair on my head, my bald spot was gone, and it wasn't really brought up again.

Then I hit adulthood. I moved out on my own, my anxiety became worse and worse, and I started pulling out my hair again. This time, however, I wasn't hiding clumps of hair under my mattress, I was pulling out my eyebrows, bit by bit, examining each hair, feeling weird relief in this tiny behavior. After a while I started going after my eyelashes as well. And again, I couldn't (and still can't) stop myself from doing it. I try. I try really hard. Sometimes I realize what I'm doing and I stop. Other times I don't realize until its too late and I only have half an eyebrow, or I have a large gap in my brows, or I have no eyelashes left (see photo).

What I have is a classic case of trichotillomania. For those of you who don't know what this is, I'll do some defining. Trichotillomania is a disorder characterized by the irresistible urge to pull out ones hair. It often has great social impacts as most people with trich end up with bald patches or noticeable hair loss and have anxiety about going into public as a result of it. Before the days of filling in your eyebrows and the sudden popularity of falsies, I had a super hard time being around people after an episode. I was very aware of just how much eyebrow I didn't have, because I would try to hide it (to no avail) and because my family would often point it out to me. Because they never really understood that I literally couldn't stop myself from pulling out my hair, my very embarrassing disorder was almost treated like a joke. I don't hold any bitterness in my heart over this. It wasn't until recently that I even knew that this was a disorder, how were they supposed to know?

My brand of trich is automatic. I do it without thinking, when I'm doing brainless activities like playing on my phone or watching television. But like most people with trichotillomania, it also comes with a ritual. Pull out the hair, examine the hair, put it in a pile on a light colored object so I can see my collection grow. Bonus points if the root comes out as well. If someone walks in on this I hide my little pile of eyebrows or eyelashes, immediately embarrassed that I've been caught doing something that I repeatedly got into trouble for as a child.

The fun part is that there are a lot of different reasons as to why a person may have trich. It is classified as a mental health disorder but no one is really sure what causes it. It is closely linked to anxiety, depression, and OCD, but is not caused by any of those things. The fact that I have anxiety and depression, however, definitely relate to my trich. I'm most prone to pull hair when I'm feeling especially stressed, and often will pull out my eyelashes specifically during depressive episodes (btw, not having eyelashes is no fun. I get A LOT of shit in my eyes).

Anxiety and depression are also linked to excoriation (skin-picking disorder, formerly known as dermatillomania) which is another fun thing that I do that I'll talk about later but I bring up because lately now that I've got no eyebrows or eyelashes to pull, I've moved to tweezing out my leg hairs and picking at my skin to better get at my leg hair. Because of this I have permanent damage to the tissue on my legs, and some awesome scarring that I hide whenever possible. Last weekend was the first time I wore a dress or skirt without tights since February, when my trich and excoriation got really bad.

I go to a lot of therapy now, because I'm still classified as a suicide risk (don't worry, I'm sticking around). However, part of that therapy lately has been focused on trying to find the underlying issue to my hair pulling (if there is one) and helping me recognize my urges without acting on them. However, as anyone with an impulse control disorder can tell you, that's fucking hard as shit.

Life with trichotillomania is hard. But life is hard in general for most people. But I've promised myself I'll be honest with myself and my friends from now on and admitting to this is part of that honesty.

I have trichotillomania. Thank god for eyebrow pencils and falsies.

Alexis Olmstead is a 20something barista living and working in Seattle, Washington. For more updates on her mental health journey (or sometimes random rants) check back often. 

Also her bff Chris just put out an EP and it's super good. You can get it for $5 here: (Alexis did not get paid to advertise for this and will recieve no profits)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Painful Truths

I spent Thursday night in a hospital being treated for attempted suicide. For the second time this year I laid in a hospital bed, waiting for a social worker, wondering how it came to this. When did I, a girl who by most people's accounts was destined to thrive, become the girl who took 20,000 mg of ibuprofen and just waited for life to end?

For those of you who might not know, I struggle with depression. And lately it has been eating me alive. I have resorted to self-harming, suicidal attempts, and am quickly withdrawing from most people. I am now in constant crisis counseling, and am setting up intensive outpatient therapy with medication management. If I go back to the hospital for the same reason this year, I will be involuntarily placed in a mental hospital for treatment. I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing, I mean, if I'm desperate enough to try this again, maybe I do need 24/7 supervision.

I went to the hospital alone, driven by the kind soul who is letting me sleep on her couch, and had no company but the teddy bear I've had since high school. I sat in that room, hooked to IV's and an EKG machine, throwing up into a bag, not allowed to have anything in the room but my bear and the water cup, not even my own clothes, and I sobbed. I cried for the girl I used to be. I cried for all the people who are buckling under the weight of trying to help me shoulder my burdens. I cried for my loss of joy. I mourned everything I had lost and felt I will continue to lose because of my disease.

I felt (and still feel) like all the joy has gone from my life. I looked at my arms and wrists, all cut up, and cried because my scars make my once clean arms ugly. I looked at my legs, scarred from constant picking due to anxiety, bruised because I can't get enough iron to stop myself from bruising like a banana, and cried because never again would I be the girl with long, beautiful legs. I looked at my stomach, starting to pooch out beneath the hospital gown I was wearing and thought about the amount of weight I had put on since going back on citalopram. I cried some more.When the hospital tech came in to hook me to the machine that monitors your heart, it was a man, who had to put stuff on my hips, and it gave me an amount of anxiety I couldn't describe because I was already hysterical. I later explained that unknown men touching my body was currently an issue due to some sexual assault I had suffered recently. They explained he wouldn't have to touch me again, but he would be back to monitor some stuff and I cried again. I basically just cried from 10 pm to 130 am in the morning.

Sitting there I felt every single thing I was losing and could almost visualize it slipping away before it my eyes. I was in intense pain, I was sick to my stomach, and there was no one there to hold my hand while I got poked and prodded to get my blood drawn for all the tests I needed to have done. I took an amount that could have shut down my organs, and made my blood acidic. Luckily, I'm young and fairly healthy, because it just made me throw up and fucked up my stomach lining for a few days. I did a horribly dumb thing. I wish I had cried out for help in a different manner, but here we are.

Living with depression means that I think of lots of ways to die. It takes a lot for me to actually act on these ideations. I'm not going to talk about what pushed me over the edge, because to a point, I don't know. I kind of know. But I don't really. For a person who prides herself on being logical and insightful, I don't know what the fuck is going on in this brain of mine. A large part of it is some abandonment issues related to moving all the way across the state from most of my family. Some of it is intense stress due to the fact I've been here for months and have yet to find housing. In fact, I don't even know where I'm going to stay after Friday night. Some of it is the fact that a year ago I was alerted to the fact that a body was found that police suspected to be my father, who disappeared some years ago. His birthday is looming, along with the anniversary of my best friends death. I am drowning.

I was recently diagnosed with a personality disorder and PTSD. I have been sitting in therapy sessions recounting past trauma, and current trauma. It is all very triggering. While it should be a weight off my shoulders to recount all this to someone else, it isn't. It dredges up memories I'd have rather let stay asleep. I have been manic, anxious, and unpredictable. I am so far outside of who I normally am that I'm afraid I'm going to lose the girl I once was.

This is not a cry for help. I have help. I'm getting help. A lot of it, now. This is mainly just me being honest with all of you. I have told a few people off lately, stating that I couldn't handle them currently. And it is true. I can't. I cannot handle any problems but my own. And I'm barely handling those.

For a long while I've been embarrassed about the fact that I'm suicidal as fuck. But I can't be embarrassed about it anymore, because it has stopped me from getting help. I'm not ashamed that I'm sick. I'm ashamed that I have taken less than desirable routes to get myself help for these issues, and have almost lost some very important people in the process. But no more.

Currently, I will be worrying about me. I will be putting my mental health and my happiness first. If I think that you're not going to help that journey, you're out. Because anything that might push me over the edge is a major threat to me right now. I am currently a girl who can not be left around ibuprofen unsupervised, because the slightest thing might compel me to take the whole bottle. Because of this, I cannot be around anything that might give me that reason in the first place.

For everyone who I love and who loves me, thank you for your continued support and love. I will be okay eventually, and I'll be bigger and better than before. But I will not be the same. I am changing, and I hope that I'm turning into the girl I've always wanted to be.

Here's what I need you to do, though. I need you to change the way you talk and think about people who commit suicide. For a long while I haven't wanted to tell anyone because I am afraid of being called, stupid, or selfish. I am neither of those things. I am hurting, I am sick, and on Thursday night, I saw no other way to cope with that. So often I see people commenting on how suicide is so foolish, how the people who die by suicide should have said something, should have reached out. If they just would have said something, they could have gotten help. I'm in the mental health system. I've been trying to get help. Sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes your brain just wants to kill the part of itself that spews evil thoughts and hatred into your mind relentlessly. I have said things, I have reached out. This time, I was ready. I was ready to be done hurting. Because I hurt a lot. A LOT. I guarantee I'm not the only person you know who is like this. Maybe you're like this. I get it. Let's agree that suicide is not the answer.

With intensive counseling, I will be getting the tools that will help me learn to cope with my issues, that will teach me to work through them in a healthy manner and not do things like cut up my arms or take a bottle of pills. I need help, and I'm getting help, and this blog will now be the chronicle of that.

Alexis is a 20something hot mess working and living in Seattle, Washington. She is on the search for inner peace and small amounts of joy. For updates on her journey to wellness, check back sporadically. 

If you or someone you know is in danger of committing suicide, there is help, and you are loved. Please call the number below or go to their website for assistance. And as always, I am here for you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-(800)-273-8255 (online chat available)