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!

 

 

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Self Care- Not just for Sundays.

Life has a way of getting away from me. Like a train at full-steam ahead my life moves fast, and the ride is always ongoing. I volunteer with many organizations, manage a few committees, I work two jobs, I’m a student, and I try to maintain some semblance of a social life. I’m busy. 

Add all of this, a little bit of stress, caffeine, and an unhealthy attachment to my agenda and iCalendar and you’ve got all the ingredients to life lived by Anastasia Smallwood.

Being busy, never being idle, is a coping mechanism, but it also makes me happy. Idleness has never been something I enjoy. Sure a day or two is fine, but more than that and you’ll find me re-organizing my room, finding tasks where there weren’t any before, and finally, if idle long enough I lose ambition to do anything (a scary place).

Sometimes, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of forgetfulness, I forget to put me on the top of my daily task list. Forgetting to eat properly, to exercise, to sleep. Giving much, taking little. Months of avoiding this can mean I run my weekly marathon on steam, and then on fumes, and then again on nothing at all.

Often times avoiding taking care of myself results in a need for a weekend of solitude, a few days to re-coup with some classical music, tea, wine and my thoughts. Other times, thankfully less frequent I end up sick, and I mean real sick-ick. Being sick is never fun, but with being stuck in bed comes a list of uncompleted tasks and that STRESSES me out. Nerves that make my stomach turn, sleep seem unnecessary and my hair pulling and skin-picking frequency jump at alarming rates.

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As I pick-up the pieces of my life post bronchial and chest infection, post-exhaustion, and after learning my lesson (this time anyways) remember to take care of yourself this weekend. For the biggest priority in your life should be you, regardless the day of the week ❤ 

 

Trichster-Shame. Hope. Awareness.

I’ve known about the documentary “Trichster” for years, a follower of YouTube blogger and Trichotillomania sufferer, Beckie Brown,  I’ve known it has been in the works. I’ve seen the trailers, I’ve followed online the crowd-funding and finally I watched it.

Yet Trichster was no different for me than the documentary “First Position“. A film highlighting the life and trials of young ballerinas competing in the Youth Grand Prix, the world’s most prestigious ballet competition.

“First Position” and “Trichster” were similar in that they were elements I understood- the ballet, and trichotillomania. The difference I’ve discovered watching Trichster, cup of tea in hand, was how much I could relate emotionally. Sure I was a ballerina for years, and understood some of the elements of struggle, but not the elite level, that element I could not comprehend. I did not live it. However, I am a Trichster through and through there’s no levels to that- you are or you aren’t. 

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Shame-a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong.

 

 

I focused on shame when I first shared my story in Time To Talk. Immediately friends and family members responded saying “don’t feel ashamed, there’s no shame in being who you are“. Although that may be true, and the encouragement was appreciated I’ve wrestled with accepting it.

What does one do when they’re ashamed of themselves?  Feeling shame in your own inability to stop what is hurting you, causing you regret, and damaging.

Watching Trichster I found solace in the theme of shame. Feeling for once that my thoughts of shame were not lonely. I’ve discovered over the past weeks I’m not alone in my journey with Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours; and so to am not alone in my feelings of shame. The young trichsters in the film struggle with self-acceptance, feel uneasy with lack of confidence and feel shame. They feel shame in what they do, feel shame in how they do it, and feel shame in how it affects those around them.

There may be no cure, and there is very few resources, but as Trichster has taught me- it all starts with accepting yourself.

Please go to iTunes and consider watching Trichster! An eye-opening looking into the lives of those who live with Trichotillomania and the amazing accomplishments they’ve made in life. Join the discussion at Trich.org or visit Trichster.com

Not Alone- Day 7 of 7 Day Trichster

Mental illness of any kind affects more than the individual who’s mind it inhabits. It affects families, it affects friends, it affects romantic relationships, and it affects daily life.

This is the reality. 

Long and lustrous hair is the desired, perfectly shaped nails are the expected, and clear dewy skin is the ideal. It’s understandable that those with BFRBs feel shame and lack confidence when not fitting the mould. Compliments on my hair appease more to my ability to hide, and less on my confidence. A lack of confidence that has changed my perception of self, but also affected those around me. Shame- transferred to those relating to BFRB sufferers; family, friends and partners. 

There’s much fear in telling a partner, and any friend you have a mental illness, regardless of what it is. There’s fear of rejection, fear in a lack of understanding, in a lack of support. I’ve told partners and friend my story in the past, but never to it’s true reality. Trichotillomania is hard to describe, but also hard to understand. Often times it’s been easier to let leave the details aside, and say “I pull at my hair sometimes.” I’ve never divulged that I suffer from other BFRBs. Partners of the past have been ashamed, angered at my lack of wanting to speak up, and been frustrated “Oh just stop it already!”. I’ve tried, believe me.

Growing up BFRBs also affected my relationship with my parents. No one wants to see their child suffer, struggle and their confidence crash. It couldn’t have been easy to see your child in such stress and feeling helpless, especially as parents. Parents are supposed to be able to fix the problems of their kids, but what happens when there is no bandaid? My parents, particularly my mom had to deal with this. Begging me to stop, to find another habit, struggling to understand. I was hurting, but so were they. As I look back it was a lack of understanding on my part, on their part, and as a family a lack of discussion. We’ve talked about it now, and in the future I’ve no doubt the conversation will continue and bring us closer. 

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours have tested and continue to test my relationship with me, with my confidence. There’s something about hating what you do, seeing it affect your appearance, unable to stop that kicks you down time and time again. Living with BFRBs cause questions in every part of life, and primarily makes you question your abilities.

“How can you, with bald spots in your head, wearing fake eyelashes, and yearning to pull, persevere?”

“How can you succeed when somedays they feel so un-confident it’s a struggle to leave the house?”

“How can you focus when you wonder if the person next to you in class is noticing your fake eyelashes, if the person to your left can see your tufts of hair and bald spot?” 

“How can you be confident, and stand in front of audiences, cameras and peers when all you want to do is hide?”

“How can you present when your cheeks hurt so bad talking seems impossible?”

“How can you grow feeling that those you love think what you do is shameful?”

“How can you attend an event or go to a party when you feel so unconfident you’d rather not move from the comfort and safe-haven of your room?”

“How do you stand explaining a short tuft to a hairdresser for the fifth time before finally just saying it was a hair straightener accident?”

Somehow you do, you have to. You take a deep breathe, find the courage and move forward.

I have Trichotillomania, I have Dermatillomania, and  I have other BFRBs.

I am a Trichster, but I am human too, and I will succeed. I will persevere, despite this illness I live with.

For all the others out there: you are not alone, you will succeed, you will persevere, you are loved.

 

 

So it’s like self-harm right? Wrong- Day 5 of 7 Day Trichster

No it’s not self-harm. It’s harmful to self, but harm is not the goal.

A question I’ve often had to answer in the past is “How BFRBs and Trichotillomania are different, or if they are, from self-harm”. Self-harm as described by The Canadian Mental Health Association  “refers to deliberate acts that cause harm to one’s body, mind and spirit.” I too used to ask myself if what I do is self-harm. Yet over the past few weeks I’ve learned this is far from the case. The Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network (CBSN) confirms that BFRBs are a not self-harm defining the key difference being those who live with BFRBs don’t aim to harm, but rather to fix, correct or improve some aspect of self. Pulling, picking, biting are not seen as harmful, but relieving, helpful, and aiming towards a goal. The resulting harm is not desired.

When I pull hairs, I pull “weird ones” the thick, the curly, the darker, and the oddly textured. When I pick I pick at uneven skin, and imperfections be they hang-nails, dry spots or pimple scabs. Trichsters often look for hairs of specific quality, or in a specific location. There is no release by pulling, no sense of gratification. If anything the act of pulling creates more pain afterwards than during. Those who self-harm find release in their actions, Trichsters find release in giving into the urge, the harm to self is a by-product.

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This week hasn’t been easy- there’s been highs, and there’s been extreme lows. The stories I’ve been told, the thanks I’ve received, and the awareness of self I’ve gained has been overwhelming to say the least. Hard, BUT it’s far from over. Three more days and a lot more to talk about.

Stay tuned and THANK YOU everyone of you who has supported, shared, liked, retweeted, followed, commented and been here ❤

-A

Sometimes It’s Not Just Trich- Day 4 of 7 Day Trichster

I wouldn’t be sharing the full story if I didn’t focus at least one day with my own struggle with other Body-Focused Repetitive-Behaviours (BFRBs). As some Trichsters do, I’ve developed other types of BFRBs over the years. I believe my journey with BFRBs began as a young child as a very bad nail bitter, or in BFRB terms Onychophagia.

Since I began pulling my biggest focus has been hiding it. Thats not easy to do. I rarely pull in the presence of others, if I do I aim to be discrete. So as a coping mechanism, and because BFRBs of all kinds can go in hand-in-hand, I also live with dermatillomania, and cheek keratosis. Big words for other parts of my daily reality. 

It’s not uncommon to see me picking a scab on my head, I put it there. Sure it may have started as a dry spot , but it certainly won’t stay that way. Picking a scab until it bleeds, starting a wound where the wasn’t previously one, the annoyance with any imperfection. The repetition of these types of behaviours are common place in my life. Gross perhaps, but thats not the way I and millions of other Canadians see it, we can’t help it. It hurts sometimes, unlike my hair pulling. Some BFRB sufferers pick their legs and arms, the skin from around their fingers or their faces. I also pick the skin around my cuticles or my face- That is dermatillomania.

I started biting my cheeks (cheek keratosis) as a way to fight the urge to pull, on live television broadcast throughout Prince Edward Island. Sitting on stage at the UPEI Convocation Ceremony, having just botched a speech in front of thousands, I was stressed, but watched. Texts from those watching started to explode my phone:

“Why are you making that funny face?”

“Stop being odd.”

“You look funny.”

“You look weird stop making faces.”

Welcome the funny face into my world. I’m often seen with a funny face, lop-sided smile; I’m chewing the inside of my cheek. Of all the BFRBs I live with cheek keratosis is one that is most prominent as of late. I chew the inside of my cheeks, creating wounds, and sometimes it hurts , but mostly my jaw just reaches fatigue due to the weird movement.  Although I still dislike cheek biting, I feel it’s more socially acceptable, and so its become my go-to. Still painful, still frustrating, but still part of me. 

This is not a complete list of BFRBs, or the fullest of their reality. Visit The TLC Foundation for BFRBs to learn more, or check back later today for my compiled synopsis.

As always feel free to join the conversation, ask questions, like & share.

Braids, Buns and Hats- The Art of Hiding- Day 3 of 7 Day Trichster

Over the past two days I’ve been struck by one thing in particular- an ability to hide. It seems that as I share my story, others so too feel empowered which I love so much. Yet it makes me sad in our ability to live so close, to know each other so well, and still hide such major parts of our lives.

Here’s how I hide. 

I’m a bit of an artist when it comes to hiding my Trichotillomania, I’ve had to be. Media portrays beautiful women with long flowing, full heads of hair. Beautiful is hardly patchy hair, short in spots and dry in others. I’ve had to hide that, or at least thats the way I’ve felt over the past eleven years.

I’ve developed mechanisms of hiding my reality, of hiding my Trich. However, these masks of the reality also act as coping mechanisms to keep pulling at bay.

Braids- They take effort, and time to put in making taking them out or ruining them by pulling far less appealing. Braids provide a pulling sensation when done tight enough that I find relieving, but is also not damaging. Braids can go all the way around my head, or only hold a certain part in place; they are versatile. When I wear a braid I worry less that a tuft of hair will escape, hence why they’re my favourite for events and long days.

Buns- Once a ballerina, always a ballerina. I grew up with my hair in a tightly made bun,  it’s hard to pull from the crown of your head when there’s a bun there. Buns also take work, and when you’re dancing there’s little time to un-do and re-do one between rehearsals. Although buns do have their downfall in that they perfectly expose one of my most prominent pulling places; behind my ear.

Hats- Ah hats, one of my favourites. Chances are if I’m studying, or watching a movie at home I’ve got a hat or headband on. They serve as physical reminders not to pull. When I reach to pull a hair, fabric hits my fingers first and reminds me not to. Recently at the Jack.org Summit at MSVU I received a snap back from Hats On For Awareness, which has been an absolute hair-saver (see what I did there?). Not only is it great for reminding me not to pull physically, but emotionally as well.  It’s meaning with regards to mental illness and awareness has helped me to focus on not pulling more than any regular old beanie. Check out Hats On For Awareness to learn more about this great organization.

Photo credits to: Haley Myatt, Beth Hoffe & UPEI Photography