That Conference Life.

 

I love conferences.

I hate conferences.

…We have a complicated relationship. 

I’m all about opportunity. Not one to turn down a chance to meet someone new, to broaden my horizons or to learn.

I am, however, an introvert. I do have Trichotillomania. 

I love the travelling, the flying, the exploring of new places. It energizes me, makes me feel worthwhile and gives me a fresh focus. What I do however struggle with is the constant need to be “on”. Ready to chat, ready to focus on the task at hand- collaboration, teamwork, networking, talking. Whatever you want to call it.

It’s exhausting. 

Adding in the need to share a room with someone new, and to spend social hours, not by yourself, but with others I find myself only relaxing when I sleep. Trichotillomania is hard to hide, but even more so when you are surrounded by people 24/7. Bathrooms, gym sessions and early morning hot tubs become your refuge.

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend the Girl Guides of Canada National Link Conference. The first of it’s kind. Bridging the opportunities, programming and smarts of young women guiders into one, ensuring we are supported and welcoming into the guiding world. Yet seeing as it was my first conference since I started blogging I felt it was an excellent opportunity to reflect.

Here’s a few tips for surviving your next conference:

  1. Find “you” time. Go for a walk, wake-up early and go to the gym. Actively leave a session a bit early. Take your lunch to go. Take time for yourself, not only will it help you, but you will be more effective at the conference if you do.
  2. Strategic Hair Styles will be your friend. Braids, hats, buns, whatever you need to do.
  3. Fiddle things. Eat candy, play with pens, hold cups of coffee, play with elastics. Do what you have to do to keep yourself occupied during those long conversations and presentations.
  4. Offer to be the group writer. It’s hard to pull when writing, or leading a group discussion. Offer to take notes to keep your hands busy. Or to ensure you have a role.
  5. Nom nom nom. I’m that person at conferences who is ALWAYS snacking. Sure I’m a university student and access to copious amounts of fruit and veggies is awesome, but also eating all the time is helpful for my urge to pull. Hard to pull when you’re chewing on an apple and wondering if it’s stuck in your teeth.
  6. Embrace who you are. You have a BFRB. It’s a mental illness. Just because you are with a group of individuals who may not know what that is, it’s okay. Share if you feel like it, don’t if you can’t. It’s okay. Be who you are.

Let’s Connect! My goal in this blog is to create a community, help others and in turn grow myself. This is not just about sharing my story, but those of others- Want to collaborate? Suggest a post? Ask a question? Meet to chat? I’m all ears! Send me an email or connect via @AnaSmallwood on twitter or instagram. 

 

 

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The Cycle.

Those who don’t have Trichotillomania must wonder what it’s like. Do I constantly pull? Is there always an urge? What starts it? There must be a lot of questions.

Maybe here’s some answers.

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It generally starts with some boredom. A day in the car, a long movie, an evening by myself. Activities I generally enjoy, cherish even- but ultimately my Trich loves to take advantage of. It begins with a tickle, a slight urge, one pull. 

Other times it’s an effect of another symptom. A dry scalp begins a path of destruction. Picking a scab, starting another, one where once there was none before- skin picking. Repeatedly picking, healing, picking, healing- rarely healthy. 

On the daily I pull a few hairs here or there. Odd lengths, weird textures, nothing substantial. Sometimes however it gets a lot worse. Days when the world just doesn’t seem right, when I’m “not okay” for an undefined reason-lost in thought. Then is when I pull until it hurts my head, and my fingers ache. When I shake in realization of what I’ve done. When I feel so much hate towards myself, my own actions.

Most days things are good, I rarely pull, and picking isn’t a thing. 

Other times I stare in amazement at the bald spots I’ve been able to create. Baffled at how I’m going to hide another patch of short hair. Wondering if anyone will see the blood from the scab I just picked through my blonde hair. Vowing for the millionth time I will stop this time. 

Feeling once again- unattractive, unworthy, annoyed at myself.

There’s days I wish I could  just get rid of the itch, the urge, to pull. To take it from my brain and throw it to the floor instead of the hair that currently lives there.

Other days I welcome it as a distraction. For it provides control, it’s part of who I am.

I haven’t been in a welcoming mood as of late, and I’m okay with that.

I wonder what’d it’d be like to be pull free. To really feel like me, and not me + this friend I call a BFRB.

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Let’s Connect! My goal in this blog is to create a community, help others and in turn grow myself. This is not just about sharing my story, but those of others- Want to collaborate? Suggest a post? Ask a question? Meet to chat? I’m all ears! Send me an email or connect via @AnaSmallwood on twitter or instagram. 

Things are a changing!

Change is good, and this blog is certainly been on it’s own journey since it began but two months ago. What began as a seven-day series has morphed into a connection with a community I feel is still very unrepresented in the mental health community. I’ve heard far more “I thought I was the only one” stories than I’d care to admit.

Individuals who feel ashamed, feel unrepresented by many, feel scared, feel alone.

It’s frustrating- I’ve been there. 

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This blog is just starting, but as it stands it’s but one voice in a cloud of many.

Trichsters, those with BFRBs are living and sharing our stories individually, reaching to few, desiring for more. It’s time we connect, grow a force, grow a LOUD voice.

Over the next little while there’ll be some changes. Good ones I hope.

I’ll be looking to do collaborations. Welcoming emails, guest-posts and will be sharing the content of others. I’ll also be reaching out to the general mental health movement to help boost awareness- join me. 

NEW ways to connect:

Instagram: @TimeToTalkTrich

Email: timetotalktrich@gmail.com

Twitter (As Always): @AnaSmallwood

Let’s make some noise! 

-A

 

Mental Health Week #GETLOUD

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada, and I’m pretty proud! Proud to live in a country that wants to loudly share it’s support for those with mental illness, proud to help share what mental health is. Presented by the Canadian Mental Health Association the week has been in 1951 and is celebrating it’s 65th year.

This week I’ve celebrated in a few ways. Mostly by learning an important lesson in self care, a diagnosis of a brachial and chest infection Monday, after being sick for two weeks hit-home the importance of taking care of myself, and forced me to rest. Something I’m not so good at. Thankfully I’m on the mend!

Let’s Keep Talking w Mental Heath Foundation of Nova Scotia

For many Canadians “Bell Let’s Talk Day” is one we are familiar with, but what about the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s “Let’s Keep Talking”? This year I had the honour of attending the third annual event held at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax. I’ve been a Board of Trustees member with The Foundation for almost a year, and of all the events the organization presents this certainly not one to miss!

Awards honouring caregivers, clinicians and those who live with mental illness were given. It was an honour to hear the stories of these individuals and see them recognized.  Also we were treated to performances by a live art painter, musicians, actors and dancers.

All of these individuals living with or tackling the conversation of mental illness. The finale, and most anticipated was keynote speaker Margaret Trudeau! Mother to the Prime Minister of Canada and living with bi-polar, and having suffered from depression. Still processing the evening, I’m in awe of the resiliency, and the humility with which Margaret spoke. Sharing wisdom, sharing struggle and weaving hope throughout it all. In a week that’s been difficult in many ways the evening was a fresh breath of air. See the social media synopsis and images shared by The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia here.

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Girls Guides #GETLOUD

On Wednesday night the Halifax South District 3rd Wednesday Brownies #GOTLOUD! I’m a unit guider for a beautiful group of twenty-three Brownies. We have tons of fun, and although our unit is nearly complete for the year this week we decided to tackle The Girl Guides of Canada Mental Health Challenge. Talking about mental health is something new for me, and talking to my peers and people I look up to about it is difficult. The prospect of discussing it with seven year olds was twice as daunting. For what shouldn’t be a difficult subject is one, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, and we still tread carefully as we talk.
We discussed the difference between anxiety and stress, which the girls grasped quite easily. They shared moments of stress such as family members illness’, not doing well at sports or failing tests. We also focused on ways to relax such as yoga tag and mediation. Completing the evening we built origami bricks and discussed our worries, contrasting the discussion with ways and things that make us happy. For an evening I was apprehensive about it was a fantastic evening and one I walked away from proud to have witnessed.

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To highlight the difference between mental health and physical health the girls drew on a tracing ways they’d fix a hurt arm, leg, eyes, and to treat cuts, bruises and headaches. We then had a discussion on how to help our mental health, the girls created the list below on their own. Reflecting now it gives me hope for future generations and that the stigma we now feel about mental health will be but a distant memory.

Ways to Help Your Mental Health by 3rd Halifax Brownies:

  • Take a nap
  • Play video games
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk to friends and family
  • Read a book
  • Play sports
  • Eat cookies
  • Colour

Although it’s not just about one day, one week or even a month, but 365 days of committing to talk about mental health, mental illness and taking care of one another. I’m glad as Canadian’s we can say we’re partaking in Mental Health Week and that much needed conversations are starting to happen. As Winston Churchill said, “To Improve Is To Change”, we’re improving Canada and here’s to much more!

 

 

Common, but Unknown- Day 6 of 7 Day Trichster

I’m amazed at the amount of outreach, of sharing, and the courage of those who have come out of hiding since I began this journey six days ago. Those who’ve reach out, those who I was unaware suffered as I do. I’m not alone, as others aren’t either, we’re just…

HIDING.

I question why?

There’s support for the mental health movement, as a society we are moving towards being more open. It’s not perfect, we have a long way to go. Yet awareness for most afflictions is growing, and daily I see posts on my Facebook about self-care, and even many speaking out about their own mental health struggles. It makes my heart happy, but it also makes my belly burn with fire. So many live with Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours, “2-5% of the Canadian population, or approximately 2 million adults and children” according to the CBSN. That is not a small number. Yet still most Canadians, mental health advocates, and even physicians have no clue what BFRBs are.

I’ve seen three psychologists since being diagnosed with Trichotillomania. Two of them have called what I have “a habit”, suggesting I simply “stop it” and fiddle with my hands instead.  One recognized my struggle, researched the disorder, and openly admitted she had no idea how to help. This. Is. Not. Okay.

One factor is awareness. The second is the way BFRBs are portrayed in media and popular culture.

Trichotillomania has been featured on ABCs 20/20 My Strange Affliction more than once. Featured along with those who love carpets, and a life-time witch who is afraid of water. Also seen on TLC’s My Strange Addiction Trichophagia, Dermatillomania and Trichotillomania have been featured as recent as last year. A show famous for displaying the oddities and lifestyles of those who suffer from addictions of all kinds, yet BFRBs are not an addiction? BFRBs are a mental illness. Finally, it seems BFRBs have been featured by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

Its no wonder those with BFRBs feel the need to hide!?

The culture that surrounds us is labelling us as odd, weird and unbelievable. If someone with another more well-known mental illness were to featured in such a way I find it hard to believe there wouldn’t be some sort of uproar.

BFRBs affect a significant proportion of Canadians from youth to adults. BFRBs hurt families, inhibit the ability of some to succeed, but mostly damage confidence and self-worth of all affected. It’s time those who are affected start to feel represented. The only way to do this is through speaking up, and sharing information about BFRBs.

Let’s Connect! My goal in this blog is to create a community, help others and in turn grow myself. This is not just about sharing my story, but those of others- Want to collaborate? Suggest a post? Ask a question? Meet to chat? I’m all ears! Send me an email, instagram or via @AnaSmallwood

Why Now? Day 1 of 7 Day Trichster

“It’s been eleven years, why now?”

“Why not in a years time?”

“Why not never?”

These are questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few months. I still wonder if now, rather than other is a good time to speak out. I liken it to a kettle on a stove. What starts with a slow boil as temperature rises, until the temperature is too much and water breaks surface bubbling with anger splattering every which way.

I’ve become that kettle of water. Bubbling along happy to help those with mental illness, promoting we all have mental health. Yet underneath the temperature has been growing. That temperature of feeling- of feeling un-represented, feeling alone in my struggles, and  feeling shame.

My kettle boiled-over a few weeks back at TEDxDalhousieU. TEDx Speaker, and Mental Health Advocate Lee Thomas, mentioned Trichotillomania (Trich) and I nearly fell off my chair. It was a quick mention, just a word, as they explained their struggles to the audience. Things changed after that, for it was the final spike to make me feel a need for change. I’ve heard mental health talks, read articles, and videos over the past few years- not once have I heard the mention of Trichotillomania, or any Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour (BFRBs). I left the theatre not with a sense of hope as I usually do, but one of slight anger and overwhelming determination act…

My brain has been racing of ways to react ever since. Finally I feel the need to put my own shame about my illness aside. It’s scary, but for the first time it feels necessary. I’m tired of being unrepresented, but mostly I’m tired of allowing myself to feel that way.

A film called “Trichster“, a documentary on Trichotillomania, and the first of it’s kind is launching April 18th on iTunes. It is my plan to blog daily until it’s release. If anything it will have been an experiment in my own resolve to share my story. Yet my hope is that some may listen and learn. Sharing one’s illness is not easy and thats okay. May those who are affected by BFRBs feel the need to speak out when they feel ready- as I do.

7 days, 168 hours, and an aim to tackle shame- just me and my computer.

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