This week I talk with Siobhan, a University of Guelph student who experiences trichotillomania – an uncommon name for a surprisingly common condition that leads people to compulsively pull their own hair as a form of comforting or self-soothing. Notice I said she “experiences” trich, not that she “suffers from” trich. One of the most enlightening things Siobhan shares in this interview is how she does in fact experience the illness on a daily basis, yet this does not hold her back in her life, or cause her great distress!
One of the common misconceptions about mental illness is that they are incapacitating and that they cause, or are caused by, deep, deep unhappiness. While this is sometimes true, it’s also true that some people live with mental illness as they do diabetes. They know it’s there, they make adjustments and have to be thoughtful about choices they make, but they are otherwise capable of success in relationships, school, work and other areas of their life.
Siobhan makes clear that that what caused her the most distress was not the illness itself but the stigma she experienced from others because of her struggle, the lack of understanding, and the very painful sense of alienation from others. And that happens a lot in our culture, sadly. A person can feel worse about the reaction they get from others, than they do about the illness itself. I believe we could reduce or eliminate this pain by better understanding mental illness.
Resources like the Trichotillomania Learning Center and the Canadian BFRB Support Group have been helpful to Siobhan and others in providing accurate information and the awareness that they’re not alone in their experience. I hope that listening to Siobhan will give you the courage to get the support you might like and deserve if you struggle! I also hope that what she has to say will help open minds about the reality of life with mental illness instead of perpetuating the myths!