Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Another option: I can get some fake flowers and be Frida Kahlo. O. could be Diego Rivera. But the same problems exist as with Neruda, and O. probably looks more like Neruda as long as he stuffs a pillow in his shirt.
Veruca Salt. Could be old school or new school. Oscar could be Wonka, or, god I don't care. He got really excited about a spiderman outfit. I thought that was so boring but whatever, we'll take him to WAL-MART and he can squeeze into a little boy spiderman outfit and I'll be something weird like Veruca Salt.
This is so far my most exciting idea. The Morton Salt Girl. I'm going out looking for a yellow dress tomorrow, but the problem is that I don't have one of those big umbrellas. But it's a really cute, easy costume.
Anyone have any better ideas? PLEASE don't say McCain and Palin or I will cry.
This is an interactive gallery of voices of people who have recovered from eating disorders. I think a lot of us think of eating disorders as something that affect young teenage girls. That it's something we can leave behind in middle school, or something that happens behind the closed doors of sorority houses. But that's really not the case...
A few people who I've come out to about my hair pulling problems have talked about their own struggles with eating disorders. In way, they understand, and that made me feel much less alone. That has mostly prompted me to post this link and recommend it to everyone.
I've known a lot of people who have gone through this during my life: two roommates, countless friends. I even knew a guy who was obsessed with diet and exercise, and I'm not sure if he has since recovered. Someone I really care about is dealing with it now, and it's been on my mind.
And, from those to whom I've spoken that have recovered and from the people on this website--an eating disorder, like a hair pulling disorder or an obsessive compulsive disorder--is difficult but you can overcome it! So many people I've known have been able to pull through and go on to do amazing things: start their own businesses, land great jobs, build communities in Africa, or just be plain old amazing people. People can get through it. And I know from experience that sometimes you're in the grips of a disorder you feel like you can't ever stop, and every day that I've been recovering it feels surreal that I am slowly leaving that all behind. But it's totally possible! Just breathe... and I think we can all get through this together.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Tonight we got amazingly good pizza (thin crust Roma style) with a guy I used to live with at Cornell (we lived in the same cooperative house) and his girlfriend who also went to Cornell, who I had never met before. I have always really gotten along with this guy and I really liked his girlfriend a lot. Sometimes it's just so nice to talk about Cornell things with people who went there cause you can say a certain thing and they automatically know what you're talking about. Sometimes it's just nice.
Then we carved pumpkins with F., O.'s daughter, over the webcam. She designed the carvings and we did our best to execute them. It was so nice to be able to share that with her even if it was just through skype.
Then we chatted a bit on our balcony with our neighbors who are really nice. I think little by little we're feeling more comfortable here.
I also got some of my first grades back and have been doing well. I haven't gotten grades this high since high school. It feels really good because I've been putting forth a lot of effort. And the funny thing is that I probably put forth more effort at Cornell and my grades were never this high. Everyone says there's grade inflation in graduate school, maybe it's true. I'm not complaining. The funniest thing is that I got the highest grades from a certain professor who I was convinced was going to be such a hard grader. He's really "open" with his criticism in class which I'm really not used to. I guess at Cornell professors were really encouraging of discussion in the classroom and really came down hard on essays and exams. So it's kind of counter-intuitive for me right now. Since I haven't been doing that well in classroom discussions, I was really determined to do well on my graded things like essay exams and my presentation, so I guess it's probably like mental readiness, too.
Well, I'm exhausted... I'm going to write my post on Classism and Racism in Chile tomorrow.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I think this is an incredibly adorable song from one of my all time favorite music artists, Ani DiFranco. I've pretty much been obsessed with Ani DiFranco from the first time I heard her when I was 13 years old until now. I have almost everyone of her CDs and have been to three of her concerts. That's devotion. She's an amazing performer live, even if you don't like this kind of music usually, if you go to one of her shows you'll at least have respect for her as a musician.
I am going to post this video and the lyrics to this song that I think most of you will relate to. If you're interested in her new CD, you can listen to it in full on the internet at her very own independent record label, Righteous Babe Records.
"Smiling Underneath" (Live video) - See the lyrics here.
Also, Here's a really cute interview she did recently. I'm so glad she's happy. I wonder if this has something to do with moving from Buffalo, NY to New Orleans, LA (just a thought!):
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
My apartment smells like DANK. I pulled the ultimate hippy move tonight and bought overpriced japanese incense. "Wake up" incense with notes of "lime," "pink pepper," (whatever the hell that is) and bergamont smell better than DANK.
I came face to face with a mouseRAT in my pantry today. I screamed bloody murder like the cartoons and he and I went running in two different directions. I guess that explains the strange bumps that have been waking Oscar and I up in the middle of the night. We swear it was a burglar in our apartment, but yeah, it was the mouseRAT.
Good news is that I have seriously AMAZING neighbors. My neighbors rock so much that it's worth the complaints. It also took me 4 glasses of wine to get over the mouseRAT experience (that awesome neighbors helped me get over). And I will admit I'm slightly (a lot) afraid to sleep in bed tonight convinced I'm going to wake up with the gnarly mouseRAT on my head.
You know how awesome one of my neighbors is? She's on OBAMA'S GLBT STEERING COMMITTEE. Yeah, that's right, she has conference calls with Obama. Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, I think so.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Also, this song:
Is sooooo good. I haven't heard something like this come out of Chilean music in a while. That is, except random talented acoustic singers on La micro....
Friday, October 17, 2008
Did you know that eating oatmeal every day for a month has been shown to lower your cholesterol by 8 points? I've always loved oatmeal. Especially the flavored packets by Quaker Oats. Remember Apple Cinnamon, Maple Syrup Brown Sugar and Peaches and Cream? I've been experimenting with making my own flavored oatmeal, combining fresh fruit and healthy sweeteners. For me, these breakfasts are the absolutely best way to wake up and the possibilities are endless. (Image at right borrowed without permission from About.com. My digital camera isn't working right now... sorry guys!)
I swear by Old Fashioned Quaker Oats. I buy the huge box that has enough for about a month of breakfasts.
- 1/2 cup oatmeal
- 1 cup of water
- a dash of salt
Variations (this is where the fun kicks in):
For Peaches and Cream: Shred 1 fresh peach, skin-on with a grater, mix into oatmeal. If you want a creamy texture, add 1/3 cup milk or yogurt (with high fat content so that it doesn't curdle and make sure the oatmeal isn't too hot before you add it).
Ginger Pear: Grate 1 fresh pear and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ginger of finely chopped (I use a lime zester). I have always wanted to try adding crystallized ginger but it's too expensive for me to buy right now. That stuff has a kick, let me tell you!
Almond Apple Cinnamon: Grate 1 fresh apple (I like Gala apples for this) and add a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Crush a handful of whole almonds and sprinkle them on top for some added protein and calcium.
Peanut Butter and Banana: Pour the oatmeal over fresh banana slices. Stir in a teaspoon (or more) of peanut butter.
Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana: Same as above, but stir in some cocoa to desired darkness and taste. Cocoa is a great source of antioxidants!
Cranberry Citris: Before cooking the oatmeal, add about 1/2 table spoon of orange rind zest, 1 teapsoon lemon zest and 1 teapsoon lime zest. Cook as instructed above. Squeeze on some juice as desired. Sprinkle on dried cranberries or craisins and enjoy.
Those are my own concoctions. See below the recipe that inspired my oatmeal exploration:
From Mireille Guiliano, author of the book French Women Don't Get Fat
Grandma Louise’s Oatmeal with Grated Apple
"When we visited my grandmother in snowy Alsace, she used to serve us this delicious and filling breakfast rich in fiber and fruity nutrients. It is still one of my favorite winter breakfasts: true baby food for adults. My grandmother usually served her oatmeal variation with freshly baked brioche or kugelhopf (a wonderful cake with raisins and almonds that is one of the great specialties of Alsace). Today, I sometimes find it a filling meal unto itself and I skip the bread. If I want a little more protein, I have a bite of cheese or some yogurt."
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
2⅓ cups water
Pinch of salt
1 medium apple, coarsely grated
½ teaspoon lemon juice
⅓ cup milk
½ teaspoon butter
1. Combine the oatmeal, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the grated apple and lemon juice and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the milk and butter. Stir well and cook for 1 minute. Serve immediately, perhaps with a sprinkle of brown sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.
I'm a pretty wired person by nature. I didn't even sleep well as a baby, or as a child. I remember my parents would put me to bed around 9pm in elementary school and I would lay there awake until 11pm or midnight. I think I spent a lot of time reading to entertain myself while I was waiting for sleep.
This didn't really matter as much during my life in Chile. I had a pretty flexible schedule so I could always sleep in or have time for a nap. I think my body is happiest going to bed at 2am and waking up at 10. I'd probably love a job that involved working from 11am to 7pm.
I had a hard time sleeping at Cornell, but that didn't really matter because I didn't have much time to sleep, anyway. While there, I think I averaged around 5-6 hours per night. I usually had to work on Fridays at 6:45 am and those nights I'd probably average 3-4 hours of sleep.
Now that I'm getting older, though, I am barely functional with fewer than 6 hours of sleep. Fewer than 7 hours is really pushing it. I was talking about this with a fellow grad student the other day and he was saying that he has to go to bed earlier now and that he thinks he's used up all his "reserves" since undergrad. Amen to that.
However, since getting into the full swing of the semester, I've been having a really tough time to get into a healthy sleep schedule. On my own, I can barely get to sleep by 3am or 4am. Days that I have class at 9:30am I'm barely able to think or keep from yawning in class. I thought maybe I needed more exercise so I started spend more time at the gym - to no avail! So I went to the store and purchased an old favorite called "Simply Sleep."
This medicine knocks me out for a good 8 to 9 hours. The problem is that sometimes I don't have that much time to sleep. I was waking up really groggy and confused and really wasn't having a very easy time participating in class.
So, I called my OB-GYN here at UT to ask if perhaps my new pills might be having some effect on my sleep cycle. I take them at night and thought that maybe they might be interfering with my ability to fall asleep. She didn't really think this was a valid theory, but told me to do the following things every night to try and get to sleep faster:
1. Don't eat anything after 8pm. A late dinner is bad for sleep, especially when a late dinner involves heavy or spicy food. Oscar and I eat pretty late, some nights at 10pm. We started moving dinner to 6pm now to see if that helps.
2. Take a brisk walk a few hours after dinner after it's gotten dark. This helps digest your food and also shows your body that it's dark outside. Darkness gets the melatonin to start kicking in. We take advantage of our outing to go get the mail and take a few laps around the apartment complex. Our neighborhood is way too weird at night to do this any farther out of our gated community (I know this after a somewhat scary late night visit to a nearby Walgreens), but so far its nice to look at the city lights over the lake.
3. Take an generic Bendryl (it's the cheapest thing out there) about 20 minutes before sleep for 1 week while you get your sleep cycle back in order. This also knocks me out, but it makes me less groggy than Simply Sleep.
4. Right before going to sleep, like the moment before getting into bed, take a supplemental Melatonin. I had never taken these pills before, but I guess they are the most natural sleep aid. Someone told me that if you take them your body stops producing its own melatonin, but since talking to the doctor and researching it online it looks like it's pretty safe to take. Melatonin turns out to be a really interesting thing for your body. It looks like it only produces it at night and that it has antioxidant properties. They have found that people who sleep less or who are exposed to more light at night (for example, people who work the graveyard shift) have higher rates of cancer. According to research, the darker your room the better for Melatonin production. A human can take up to 20 mg of it without seeing an adverse effects. They sell the supplements in 1mg, 3mg, and 5mg dosages. I take two 1mg pills and it seems to work pretty well.
Obviously, my goal is not to have to take the Benadryl and to wean myself off the Melatonin, but for that I need to keep waking up at the same time and my sleep pattern will slowly fall into place. But this sleep prescription so far is working really well. The Benadryl is also helping the stuffy nose that I was experiencing, so perhaps I had allergies to something new here in TX. I just had never heard of Melatonin as a supplement, so I thought I'd share this information with everyone else might be needing some serious shut eye, too!
And of course, if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or have some other kind of illness, check with your doctor before taking any new medicines or supplements.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I was always slightly suspicious that living in Chile, in some ways, could be harder than living in a completely different culture, like, say, a non-western culture. I always had this feeling that I'd be a little bit more accepting of an Eastern culture. When my husband told me a year ago that his company had approached him about sending us to China, Romania, Saudi Arabia or Korea, I was actually really excited about the idea (other than Saudi Arabia, for various logistical and safety reasons) and would have done it in a heartbeat. I feel that my problem with Chile was that it was a little bit too much like home. It was almost the same, but "not quite." (I got the "not quite" thing from a class I'm taking, read the text here.)
It's not Chile's fault, it's my fault.
It was just so disheartening when you'd order a caesar salad, homesick for American food, and be disappointed by the Chilean version. Or that you'd go to Starbucks, but couldn't find the same flavors. I just wanted a green tea frapucchino and Chilean Starbucks didn't carry it! I, too, missed the GAP. And it was so frustrating because something was almost there, but then it wasn't.
I think that the similarities made it too easy for me to judge Chile. They were modern, but they had different superstitions than we do here in the States. The cultural differences were so slight, it was hard to really get a handle on them. It was harder to just to let myself go and accept the culture.
I experienced Chilean culture shock. Especially in my past year there. This is what author Rick Steves claims makes it easier:
"If a prescription could be written to cure culture shock, it would include instructions to:
Learn as much as you can about your host culture.
Assume "strange" habits in this "strange" land are logical. Think of these habits as clever solutions to life's problems.
Be militantly positive. Avoid the temptation to commiserate with negative Americans. Don't joke disapprovingly about a culture you're trying to understand.
Make a local friend, someone you can confide in and learn from.
Most importantly, remember that different people find different truths to be "God-given" and "self-evident." Things work best if we give everybody a little wiggle room. And that goes for more than just travelers."
To be honest, the list was a bit of a slap in the face for me. I was guilty of doing the opposite of most of these things. For example, I championed learning the most that I could about the Chilean culture. I was really devout on that one. I'm still obsessed and still talk about Chile daily. I think it probably drives everyone around me nuts. I talk about Chile more than my chilean husband talks about Chile. So I know I love it. And I did make a local friend, or uh, Spouse. so those two are down. But then, if I got a grade on the rest of the list, I think I would probably have gotten an "F."
I never let go of my American self-righteousness. In Chile I had such disdain for the inefficiency. In line at the bank, I kept repeating to myself over and over again that I would have never had to wait for 1.5 hours to cash a check if we had moved to the States. Even when I studied abroad, I would cringe every time my host mother would wrap a scarf around my head before I went out in the cold, convinced that I would catch my death by breathing cold air. I thought, "Ugh, how stupid! How provincial!" I never "assumed" that Chilean customs were logical. I never got over them.
And I never kept up my positivity. I was never militantly positive. I fell into the negativity. I'm so lucky for finding so many ex-pats in Chile who were positive. Militantly positive. I commend you. Sometimes, I secretly felt happy when people got frustrated, too. Misery loves company, right? It made me feel like it wasn't my fault that I didn't like living in Chile. That it was something bigger than me. In some cases I still believe it was. But that was selfish of me. Being negative wasn't supporting anyone. (Something I'm seeing in my hairpulling support group.)
Sure, Mr. Steves' article is mostly talking to tourists. And I even think that tourists who can't do that list are pretty darn ridiculous. I mean, c'mon, is accepting another culture for a few weeks really that hard? It's always really easier when your visit isn't permanent. But there's a lot to be said for his list, and I think I really could have used that slap in the face a year ago while I was embarking on my first few months as an actual "resident" there.
Will I stop doing group posts comparing Chile to the US? Never. It's too much fun. Will I ever accept Chilean culture as it is? Yes! Is it easier now that I'm not living there? Big yes. In many ways I miss living there. It's the longest I've gone without being in Chile since July 2005, and I miss it now, sometimes. I miss my friends there. I'm sad to think that I might finally get back and you all will have moved on, since most of you want to move somewhere else. But that's also selfish of me, it's impossible for things to stay the same. And I'm now going to be positive. You can do it, and you, too will get out and find your dreams. But only if you want to. And I think for those of you who stay, that list might be more self-evident that you'd think!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Yes, I went to an Ivy League school. No, I don't go to one anymore. I actually have found this public-state-funded institution to be harder. Maybe it's cause I'm in graduate school now, but I also think there's a myth surrounding the Ivy League.
I'm a proud Cornell alumna. I effusively LOVE Cornell. My little brother is there now and I'm so proud. I am going to pressure my kids and my husband's daughter to go there. I had a fantastic, formative experience and I can't say enough good things about it. But the truth is, very few of my favorite things happened in the classroom (save some great classes and professors). I also refuse to subscribe to "ivy arrogance." I'm one of those people who mispronounces big words, still (despite being in graduate school), never got very good scores on the SAT or more recently the GRE, and still have the remnants of a rural Pennsylvanian accent. Some of my family members are the most successful people I know and none of them had to go to an ivy league to get that. More and more, I believe that drive and great social skills get you farther, and I lament the fact that I'm the nerd with my nose in the books.
If you talk to any Cornell graduate, they will tell you about how Cornell is the easiest Ivy League to get into, but the hardest to stay in. They talk about how we don't have grade inflation, how you actually have to work your butt off to make it. I totally agree, cause I'm a Cornell alumna, but really it's impossible to know cause I didn't also subsequently go to Yale, Penn or Dartmouth. But Cornell is the biggest of the Ivy's, so I know that no one was ever holding my hand, that I always struggled to get time to see my advisers and that I worked really hard for my decent GPA.
But now, especially at UT-Austin, I'm beginning to see some of the major differences between Cornell and a public school. Some of them are good, and some of them are going to take some adjustments on my part.
First of all, I really miss Cornell's libraries. I'm a bit of a library fanatic. I love the musty smell of old books, I love studying in the stacks, and I feel absolutely ecstatic investigating articles for papers. It's like a treasure hunt, going from one publication to another to find the perfect articles. I actually considered applying for a masters degree in Library Science before Spanish, but opted for the one that involved writing papers. It's not that I can't do that here at UT-Austin, but the libraries aren't as "pretty." That's really superficial and ridiculous. But just look at this picture of a Cornell library:
The Cornell libraries happen to be smaller than the UT libraries. There are more of them in a smaller radius. So they don't get all crowded with students who like to talk on their cell phones in the middle of the stacks.
I guess that's the major difference that I don't like about UT. There are more students. A LOT more. They have 120 computers in the main library computer lab and there is almost always a 15 person wait list. At Cornell, in one of two smaller computer labs, I had only had trouble getting a computer once or twice, and they didn't even have wait lists. I'm also getting so annoyed that whenever I need a specific book, it is 80% of the time checked out. I don't know if more students bought books at Cornell, but no one ever had the books I needed out of the library. And if they did, they actually allowed me to use the Inter-library loan system to get one of Yale or Princeton's copies. For some reason, at UT you can only do that if they don't own the book. It's also important to point out that UT has the biggest Latin American Collection in the world (maybe the country, can't remember). But it's honestly in one of the ugliest facilities I've ever seen, and you can't even take your backpack inside!
Anyway, I think that perhaps I should compare something else besides libraries. I was originally really excited to come to Austin to actually be a student in a city, rather than a small college town. But now, it's sort of hard because you can't just go to the normal "hangout" and see people you know. For example, I knew I would most likely find people I knew at The Chapter House. At UT, I'm lucky if I see people I know in my own building.
At Cornell, there was this pervading sentiment among my peers that they were so excited to be there (other than those annoying people sobbing about not getting into ____ other ivy). But more than that, they felt like "I am with the best of the best," and everyone was really amazed of each other. They also had a sense of "mission" to change the world, and I think a lot of my Cornell friends actually will change the world. The thing is, my peers at UT are equally as brilliant. In fact, in many ways the students in my program impress me more. I am still with the best of the best. But they don't own it. I don't know if they realize it. I really feel like our professors aren't telling us that. It's making me feel like I'm not realizing it, anymore, either. I'm feeling even more insecure here at UT. I feel like there's absolutely no self-congratulation. Which might be better, but I need my dangling carrot. I need my positive affirmations and pats on the back.
This probably isn't a fair comparison. Cornell is old-school Ivy League but UT-Austin is one of the richest educational institutions in the public system. Cornell has the northeastern feel and UT has the southern, well, Texas feel. But other than Chile, I've lived in the northeast my whole life and I'm a little bit sad that I'm not seeing fall foliage. It's October, but I'm still in sandals. And while that's amazing, I would also really love to show off my cute new Camper boots. And I've always loved sweaters. I've realized I'm more of a fall and spring fashion girl, cause you get to layer more and it doesn't involve showing so much skin.
I have to remember that my first year of Cornell I felt really lonely and out of place. I was considering transferring to a place like Wesleyan because Cornell felt too big, then, too. I know it takes time. Someone told me that coming to UT and experiencing a different school would make me more competitive because it shows adaptability, but we'll see if that really holds true.
Tentatively, while I love the people in my program so far (people really are friendlier it seems), I'm considering keeping another school in mind for the PhD. I might have to do that anyway if O's MBA plans take him elsewhere. But if we do end up leaving, I actually think I'm going back to the Ivy League if destiny allows it. My reasons are that a.) they give you more money and b.) they give you more money. And I like the Ivy league library system more! But I actually think that now, after two years of living in non-northeastern places, perhaps in two years I'll be ready to go back. I would love to apply to Cornell again, but I have a feeling that it probably won't be the best place.
But in the mean time, I'm giving UT a chance. I'm enjoying it here, for the most part. I'll probably write the sobbing frustrated academics entry later. (I'm evading it for the moment.) But I just got through my first test today and have a whole spate of things in motion for the next few weeks. There have been ups and downs, but I'm slowly accepting that for now I'm a longhorn, and not the Big Red Bear, which actually isn't Cornell's mascot, they don't have a mascot, but instead "associate themselves with the big red bear).
Friday, October 10, 2008
Is that even a word? Well, tonight it is.
(I first need to start with a disclaimer. I've been really busy today: I had a party for my Spanish department which involved a lot of talking loudly in my shrill learned-and-not-perfected Chilean intonation, then a couple of drinks with the study abroad director of the program I did in Santiago. It's been a night of 2 Guinness and I don't know how many glasses of wine. If you know me, you know I'm a lightweight. I should probably wait til tomorrow to compose this entry but I'm taking the weekend off from my computer to focus on the two essay exams I have next week. I'm pretty exhausted, so I hope this entry doesn't come out disjointed and slurry.)
But yes. Isolationism. Chile is surrounded by The Andes Mountains, The Atacama Desert, The Pacific Ocean and Antarctica. These geographic barriers allows for stunning paisajes and coffee table photo books. It also places Chile smack down on the "ring of fire" (and not the Johnny Cash one). It brings an influx of god knows how many tourists per year. But it also contributes to Chile, being well, Chile. Long, skinny and closed off on all of its ends. Other than its colonial past, the melting pot of Chile has been pretty much left to simmer with the top on (except for a few waves of Germans in the 19th and 20th centuries). What you get is a pretty original, homogenuous Chilean soup. And one strange, sort of perverted version of Spanish (sorry guys, I love it the same as you do, but no one else says Si'Po!). So in many ways this is the thing about Chile I love the most (The Chileans themselves, especially one named O.). And it's also the thing that I can't get used to.
The fact that there are only a few types of pan in the whole country, that it's the same pan at every single panadería, and that every single panadería is the same. I feel like there are only like 30 Chilean recipes that exist and everyone keeps recycling the same thing over and over again, and it's been like that since Chile became independent. I hate the predictability. I hate the lack of surprise.
Maybe I'm in a very privileged world here in The States. I have always lived in pretty diverse places (being from university towns) where you have a huge influx of people from all ends of the earth. But I wholeheartedly missed that in Chile. I felt like I was in one uniformed culture with no variety.
I say that "isolationism" is a custom, in a sort of muddled and confuso way. (Sorry I'm totally rocking the Spanglish tonight.) I think that it's something that has translated into customs. Chileans are generally cautious and downright afraid of outsiders. They are very slow to trust someone new, and most people maintain the same friends that they've have since Kinder. You're very locked into your class, into the world you were born into.
As Heather mentioned, Chileans are hesitant to say what the really think -- they are hesitant to freely express themselves outside of gente de confianza. The isolate themselves into closed off social circles and don't seem to want to get out. Sure, a Chilean might talk to someone from "outside" but when it comes to hiring someone, inviting someone to partake in their socialization, or really trusting someone, they are more likely to do it with the people they know. Isn't that why the pituto is such a valuable asset in Chile?
This custom and culture of isolation also translates into inability to think outside the box. It's often enough to implode someone's mind when you ask for something they aren't accustomed to hearing. That's why you're often met with a curt and impatient "no" or an ungenuine "yes." That's why you've got to push and push and push to convince someone that what you're asking for isn't from the planet Mars. It's possible, just maybe not what they are used to.
I've spent about 3 years trying to convince my suegros that I'm not from the planet Mars. (No suegros, I'm from Venus.) For them, it's really chocante and hard to handle that their son didn't marry a Chilean. That I don't have a Chilean household, that I don't always have pan on my table (hell, I don't even have a table!) and that I really despise "once." I have different opinions about raising children, about my career, about nearly everything. And it's taken about 3 years of frustration to finally get my suegra to realize that I have a pretty intelligent opinion at times, and a pretty logical way of seeing things. But it's not the Chilean way. (My suegro still doesn't listen to me.) And it's been like walking on coals to get them to actually consider my "outsider" non-Chilean voice.
Anyway. I'm tired. I hope this made sense. If it didn't and you feel mad at me just pretend that I wrote:
The hardest Chilean custom to adjust to is that you're not allowed to walk around barefoot.
(Cause that's what I would have said, next.)
Thursday, October 9, 2008
BizBash ran an article about the event here.
I think that's pretty awesome. Guess large groups of dancing people recreating 80s scenes is all the rage this fall.
This made me really like our new city. Check it out: http://www.thrilltheworldaustin.com
I'm going to try to blackmail O. into going with me. Cause blackmail is the only way I'm gonna get him to go.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
One of the most common characteristics that people affected by Trichotillomania experience is isolation. The disorder usually begins as a solitary activity. Then, as it worsens and you begin to see significant hair loss, there's a certain kind of negative transformation that takes place. Not only do you feel "separate" or "different" from others because of this disorder, but you also begin to lose your sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Hugh Grubb, M.A., M.F.T., in one of the best articles on Trichotillomania I've ever read called "Recovering from the Trauma of Trichotillomania," exposes an interesting dichotomy that exists in sufferers: "The hair-puller not only feels like the victim of an irrational, destructive act, but like the perpetrator of it as well." This disorder causes you to become your own self-defeating "worst enemy" of sorts.
Mr. Grubb also mentions that not only do hair-pullers experience an isolating trauma in the disorder, but they also reach of point of trauma in the actual recovery:
A serious attempt to control pulling behavior brings about a confrontation with the hair-puller's fragile self-confidence and threatens his or her sense of wholeness and integrity. Which part of me is going to win out this time?' It is a traumatic experience in itself. The deep inner change required to no longer identify with the perpetrator-victim poles of experience means that separation from a familiar and relatively stable, although distressing, world must occur. The pulling has in some way created a balance, like a self-regulating system in which the behavior has played a dependable role. Despite the pain, it is familiar and concrete; known rather than unknown. (See Source: Grubb Article)Social withdraw is not a occurrence unique to Trichotillomania. However, it makes its mark in different ways. A puller may feel exceptionally self-conscious about his or her thinning hair, bald spots or methods to cover the hair loss. They may hide it behind hats or bandannas. But in many occasions, the puller avoids unnecessary social interactions. They may feel self-conscious going swimming or on roller coasters or with the windows down, occasions when they might feel themselves "revealed."
When I met my husband and we began dating, I felt like he was constantly staring at my hair. I imagined him looking at the short hairs that were growing in, thought that he was probably trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I couldn't take it any longer and revealed to him that I pulled out my own hair, and that was why my hair looked so strange. He actually hadn't been staring at my hair. Instead, it was my own paranoia about my hair that made me feel that way. But he listened to my situation with empathy, and it didn't scare him away. (I'm really happy I had the guts to bring it up to him, I guess it shows how comfortable I was with him from the very beginning.)
Yet, the self-consciousness isn't just about your hair. You feel defective, frustrated... like a freak. And I think that this is something really paralyzing, especially when the only person with Trichotillomania that you know is yourself.
My biggest fear about a support group is that I would walk into a room and look at people who I perceived to either be "just as much as a freak as me" or people who resembled my fears for where I might be heading. I was in denial about myself, and I didn't want to look into my own mirror, so to say. I was so determined to push my disorder to the side and pretend like I had everything together.
When my classmate approached me about coming to the support group (you can read the story in My Trichotillomania Story Part II) I tried not to let my voice quiver. I tried to play it cool. "Yeah, I have that." "Support group?" "Well my problem with support group is that I don't want to go to some place and feel all weepy and sorry for myself." "I just don't like to do that. I'm a really 'together' person."
I've been playing "too cool" for most of my life. It's a defense mechanism. A lot of times I turn to "too cool" instead of letting my real feelings show, which are actually the fear of rejection. But my classmate responded, "We're not like that. In fact, I would say that many of the members have become my close, personal friends."
Yet, something that happened that day, and then when I actually did go to my first support group meeting I felt it happening again. I began to lose my own self-imposed isolation. Trichotillomania was no longer my own personal "defect." Actually reaching out to others and interacting in safe-spaces, such as Support Groups, are essential to the recovery and healing process.
Mr. Grubb states, "Telling one's story to someone else, and experiencing it being taken in and felt and thought about, allows it to be taken back in a different, less defensive way. The story now has less destructiveness, less power to cause feelings of alienation, and is less likely to overwhelm the puller's ability to have the perceptions and thoughts that intuitively guide her towards helping oneself."
In fact, Mr. Grubb highlights changing ones relationship with one's self and with others as an essential step to Trichotillomania recovery. A safe, well-run support group is the perfect place to begin this process. Letting people "in" again, being able to vocalize your own story, listening to how others' stories and problems resemble yours not only lets you know you're not alone, it makes you realize that this really isn't all your fault. You don't blame others for this disorder, so how can you keep blaming yourself? You can finally begin to "forgive the perpetrator." Your once-split-persona can become whole again.
The Trichotillomania community, while making amazing developments in the past few decades, still has a long way to go. There are still too many people who pull their hair and have no idea that this disorder has a name. There are still too many people who know don't know about Trichotillomania but do know about mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. In order to truly form a community, we have to learn to begin to lose our own shame in order to push forward. This is what Awareness Week is about. I've taken part in many other events for many different causes (Breast Cancer, Domestic Violence) and the largest part of these weeks is "Breaking the silence." I think that phrase fits into the Trichotillomania cause, too.
One of my biggest (current) regrets was that I didn't become more proactive about this while I was in Chile. Now I wish that I could have found other pullers and worked together to set up a support group. I feel like most of the Trichotillomania movements are taking place in English Speaking countries. I did find a Trichotillomania support group for Spanish Speakers, but everyone was so spread out across different countries. If you are in Chile and might consider setting something like this up, let me know and I'll get you in contact with the person who set up our support group.
I'm going to close this post with some links for more community spaces:
Trichtillomania Community Links
Ms Penny Lane's Trichotillomania Blog
Pulling Out Hair
The Trichotillomania Blog
It's Trichy (I am so absolutely proud of this puller for posting photos. That takes a ton of strength.)
I'm posting this article because I thought it was interesting, sort of a reflection in the wake of David Foster Wallace's recent suicide.
Although the article only cites depression and bipolar disorder, they mention the act of "ruminating" (literally meaning 'chewing cud') and obsessive thought patterns. We were JUST talking about obsessive thought patterns at our last support group meeting, and at least in the room, there seemed to be a certain trend of their occurrences. This is when you worry about something until it reaches the point of an obsession and you just can't let it go. I'm totally guilty of this. It was even worse when I was a child. I've had a lot of sleepless night because of "ruminating." And I know that there is always a ton of hair coming at at those times.
Yet, I wanted to voice my opinion on something: they speculate that having a mood disorder may give you a "creative advantage." I however, really disagree. While it's nice to have some sort of "positive" outcome of a disorder, I think it's simply a consequence. People who experience disorders may go to the arts or to writing as a form of relief. I think everyone is creative... I'm one of those people who say, "Everyone's a poet! Everyone can do art!" And I don't think you need to be depressed to be a good artist. I do however, think art can be really therapeutic and would suggest to anyone that they somehow channel their negative emotions into something else.
The article closed with encouraging people to seek help. I agree!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Are you then expected to stay on this diet forever?
According to Dr. Kender, yes, unless some sort of medical cure can stop the effects of Trichotillomania. However, the diet works like this: You abstain from all possible irritants and then start experimenting with adding them to your diet again, monitoring which foods cause urges. Lots of people can stop pulling without a diet, so if it’s impossible for you not to have chocolate or sugar, there are other ways, but it would probably require a lot more self-control. Some people don’t notice any effect by changing their diets, so obviously they wouldn’t have to stay on it.
Would breaking it be each time risk of provoking these feelings again?
Technically, but I have a feeling that once you’ve mastered some impulse control techniques you can get through them more easily. And once these foods work through your system they stop affecting you. Also, Dr. Kender lists some “good” foods which counteract “bad” foods, so one might be able to see if they can eat a piece of cake as long as they can wash it down with a glass of red wine (a good food). I eat unsweetened yogurt after everything cause it’s a "good food" and it has other health benefits, as well.
How has the giving up caffeine part been?
I don’t really miss caffeine. I’ve always been really sensitive to it, I’m one of those people who has always had to limit my intake because if I drink it after 5pm that means I’ll be up until 4am. It also makes me really shaky and sometimes even makes me feel nauseous. I really like tea though, especially white and green tea which are supposed to be rich in antioxidants, so I’m sad that I’ve had to cut those out. I might still, in a while, have caffeine if I know I will be around people, engaged, and in an environment less likely to pull. I think moderation is key for long-term success, but it’s best for me to give these things up completely until I can find that.
Does it mostly start when people are older, or do people get it as children?
Trichotillomania can begin as early as early childhood and as late as adulthood. It seems to begin either on its own or prompted by a period of extreme stress. According to this Trichotillomania Factsheet, the most common age is 12 or 13, which I’d associate with the beginning of puberty.
What are some of the co-morbid illnesses?
People who have Trichotillomania can have it on its own, or are also prone to having Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and also might do other, similar actions such as thumb-sucking, nail biting, or skin picking. Researchers have also linked Trichotillomania to the same gene that causes Tourette Syndrome. I think this is a big part of why it's so important to seek medical help. You might not just have Trichotillomania; it might be entwined with other things.
Keep the questions coming if you think of anymore. I want to thank everyone for their interest, concern and support. I think this has been a really effective strategy to get the word out about the disorder. I was really excited to talk about the experience yesterday at my support group meeting. Tomorrow is going to be my last post, I'm gonna think about it and try to make it a good one!
Kyle is also an exceptional photographer, even the US Embassy in Chile has purchased her work to hang in their offices. She is using all of the proceeds from her photography print sales toward the goal of giving a hard-working and deserving man the chance to go to college.
Please read her blog entry here and buy some of her work here.
Kyle and Seba's generosity truly brought tears to my eyes because they aren't high society benefit-dinner-social-club-people... they are young, hardworking people themselves. This post and this idea really rang true for me because of all of the help that my husband and I have been receiving from family members and friends since we've moved back to The States. We are so lucky to have that support, and I can't imagine how hard it would be in the opposite situation.
So please, check out her effort to raise money and her amazing photography!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
First off, if you have any questions that you'd like me to answer in the FAQ tomorrow, please leave a comment and let me know! I have only received 1 formal question, so I might have to take some of the other informal questions people have asked in comments and use those as well! But it's okay if you don't have any questions, I'm just grateful to everyone who checked this "blogathon" out.
Here is my (short, incomplete) list of ways to stop pulling:
1. Make yourself short-term goals to abstain from pulling. In my support group we set weekly or biweekly "challenges" to try and stop pulling, even if it's just for a short period of time.
2. Don't give up even if you pull a few hairs. Keep going. No matter how small, any improvement is an improvement.
3. Wear tape on your fingers. It can be scotch tape or the medical tape you find in band-aide aisle of the pharmacy.
4. Wear white cotton gloves when doing a "trigger" activity such as watching TV, reading or when you're going to sleep at night.
5. Take up knitting, crocheting or embroidery to keep your hands busy while doing "trigger" activities.
6. Find a stylist you trust and get regular haircuts in order to keep your hair feeling healthy.
7. Try the John Kender Diet, or some form of it. Give up eating caffeine, chocolate, sugar and other possible irritants for one month. You can also experiment with foods to see which foods cause cravings and which don't to make the diet accessible to you.
8. If you're a woman, buy a basal thermometer and track your basal body temperature to better understand where you are in your cycle in relationship to your pulling. This will help you anticipate when you might be at your most "susceptible" pulling time to try and eliminate excess stress and give yourself a little TLC.
9. Wash your hair often. As soon as you feel the urge to pull, take a shower. It will get rid of the oils that make most people want to pull.
10. Avoid using hair products that make your hair sticky, oily or irritate your scalp. Hairspray, mousse and styling cream are the worst for me. I also use a light conditioner that doesn't make my hair too oily.
11. Get some stress relief balls or worry stones to touch and squeeze when you feel the urge to pull.
12. Tell close friends and family members about Trichotillomania. Enlist their help whether it be by telling you when you're in a pulling "trance" or for support when you're trying to get through one of your urges. My husband lets me squeeze his hand when I want to pull.
13. Join (or start) a support group. Set collective goals. Call other members of the support group when you feel the urge to pull. Having face-to-face contact with others who suffer from the same disorder can be an incredibly healing experience.
14. Educate yourself on Trichotillomania, its causes and possible treatments. I find the more I think about recovering from Trich (and not being in denial) the more sucessful I have become.
15. Keep a diary or data record to track your pulling episodes, their frequency and your feelings when you pulled.
16. Make yourself accountable. Keep track of the amount of hair that you pull and having others help you to set goals can help you take control of the situation.
17. Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat healthy foods. This will help you feel better all around.
18. Seek professional help. Research and consult with different specialists, therapists, doctors and psychologist to try and find the right fit. Don't feel bad about leaving therapy that you feel isn't working for you. It's okay to try and find people who fit into your budget.
19. Use meditation, yoga or prayer to bring mindfulness to your everyday activities. By attempting to become more self-aware you may notice pulling earlier than before.
20. Breathe. Anytime I feel the urge to pull, I stop what I'm doing, press my arms to my sides and I take a huge breath.
There are only the beginning of many great ideas other people have come up with. Feel free to add them to the comments and I'll add them to my list!
Those of you who have visited before will see that I have a new layout! I decided to try and do something a little more original with my banner and coordinate the colors. Let me know if something is too difficult to read or if it doesn't look right on your computer. The picture at left shows how it's supposed to look, at least in my browser. Thanks and I hope you like it!
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Dr. John R. Kender, a professor at Columbia University and Michael J. Grant, the father of a Trichotillomania sufferer have posted a "letter" some years ago called Trich, Food and Skin Care relating diet as a possible cause of Trichotillomania. Before I focus on what I see as the virtues of the information the letter reveals, it's necessary to point out that this article is not the equivalent to a peer-reviewed article published in a scientific journal. The letter is not based on any clinical statistical trials, and in all honesty, since I have little idea about sterols, gluconates and skin yeast they really could be saying just about anything and I'd just have to believe it, blindly. Dr. John R.Kender knows this (and actually has published proper, scientific articles) and that is why this is called a "letter" and not an "article." It's there for the taking, but I think we should know when it's necessary to be objective and take things with a grain of salt.
Yet, I have no problem heeding the advice of Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant for personal, experimental purposes. In fact, in my own path to recovery, applying their findings to my own diet produced dramatic and phenomenal effects. (I have yet to see if they work in the long term, however.) Additionally, I don't see how the proposed diet presents any potential to do harm. It doesn't involve taking any kind of pills, buying any special foods and they haven't created any infomercials. Dr. Kender hasn't even sought a book deal from this information (at least to my knowledge a book hasn't come out). Instead, he posts it on the internet and I believe that both Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant's intentions are to help Trichotillomania sufferers.
Before I go into the substance of the "letter," I'm going to draw upon an example that I recollected this morning as I was waking up and thinking about this blog post. One of my friends, Kyle, recommended a book to me awhile ago that was called, "We Need To Talk About Kevin." In all honesty, I did not complete the book, but Kyle mentioned that the it tells the story of a troubled, pre-sociopathic boy, Kevin. One of the scenes mentions a classmate of Kevin's, a girl who suffers from psoriasis all over her body. The skin condition, which caused intense itching, compelled the girl to scratch herself obsessively to the point of bleeding and infection, however, with a lot of work and training, the little girl was able to abstain from scratching. Yet, one of the scenes of the book (keep in mind this is fictional) shows Kevin, a vicious manipulator who enjoys seeing others suffer, leaving the girls' bathroom where the little girl had been, and shows her exit, itching uncontrollably, opening wounds and causing bleeding. The book insinuates that somehow, Kevin perturbed the girl to such an extent that her scratching resumed and her own, fragile self control crumbled.
This letter claims that hair-pulling resembles little girl's scratching and that Trichotillomania sufferers experience a condition similar to psoriasis. However, instead of seeking a physical explanation for the pulling, science and researchers have left this as a big question mark. While someone can say, "Psoriasis = scratching" you can't make the same assertion about Trichotillomania. You can only say, "__________ = Trichotillomania" and Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant are trying to fill in the blank.
The crux of the argument that Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant are making is that hair-pullers and skin pickers are allergic to the naturally occurring skin yeast called Malassezia. They claim that people with Trichotillomania pick at their skin and pull out their hair as an effort to purge their body of the yeast and relieve irritation. By noticing patterns (from their own 12 years of experimentation) they have developed a list "good" and "bad" foods which contribute to, and alleviate pulling or picking urges. They also identify several skin care product ingredients that also cause yeast growth and more irritation. Dr. Kender claims that by following this diet and avoiding these products he has been able to sustain a 7-year-remission of his own eyelash pulling.
This theory accounts for several aspects of Trichotillomania: it explains the "active" or "tingling" sensation that pullers experience prior to pulling, as well as the hot spots from where they pull. It also answers the "relief" or "pleasure" that comes from pulling out hairs and why some people pull sporadically and may be able to stop for days at a time but then return to pulling when they are exposed to irritants again. It also cites explanations for why pulling in more intense at certain hormonal periods, such as pre-menstruation.
Because I tried this diet and actually have been avoiding sugar, caffeine and legumes and have had success, I think that Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant's letter may really be onto something. But I think that the letter fails to address the psychology behind hair-pulling, something I see as a major component to the disorder.
I was trying to relate, somehow, the compulsion of hair-pulling to the occurrence of this yeast. However, unlike the girl mentioned in the article (Mr. Grant's daughter), once I eliminated the urge to pull out my hair (by following this diet) I still experienced the physical compulsion lying in my muscle memory--my hands automatically go to my head--especially in moments of concentration or stress. I realized that the letter cites that hair-pulling is a compulsion but does not address its existence as a coping mechanism or the psychological threading that constitutes the compulsion.
Perhaps the link between both the condition of the skin itself and the development of Trichotillomania as a compulsive coping mechanism explain why so few treatment approaches provide long-term success. For example, if a sufferer attempts to control their pulling through cognitive behavior modification (see: TLC's CBT Page) the treatment attempts to control the physical actions and gestures that a person may be accustomed to doing, but does nothing to eliminate the urge to pull. I would expect that some pullers who have particularly strong will-power or self control may be able to end pulling solely by CBT. Yet, the rest of us who can't seem to put mind over matter end up giving into our urges. In reverse, if one removes the urge (through diets, pills or other chemical treatments) they are still confronted with the physical remnants the cognitive framework of pulling. For example, right now, I am having success with not needing to pull out hairs and do not experience the tingling sensation as much anymore, but I still cannot control my physical habit of taking inventory of the textures of different "bad hairs" (something that resembles obsessive-compulsive disorder). And when I do come across a "bad hair" it takes a significant amount of self control not to pull it out.
I can use the little girl with psoriasis to illustrate my point: For so many years scratching did provide this little girl with momentary relief from irritation, so she associates scratching with relief of tension. It's completely possible that even if doctors could find a cure for her skin condition, that the actual act of scratching has become so ingrained in her body that even though the skin irritation does not exist, she may turn to the simulation of this "relief" as a way to cope with other factors, aside from the psoriasis itself. Therefore, when presented with intense stress, (what the book personifies as a "Kevin") unless the act of "scratching" as a coping mechanism is eliminated or reformed somehow in her mind-body-chemistry, the scratching may relapse even in the absence of psoriasis.
Thus, while I commend Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant for developing a strategy to control hair pulling that may substitute the use of SRI's or other chemical treatments (see: Medications for Trichotillomania) I still view a holistic, multifaceted approach to hair pulling as absolutely essential for long-term improvement. I think that an approach which involves a chemical elimination of the urge (diet or medication), coupled with cognitive behavioral habit-reversal, also needs to address the psychological influences that can also affect the disorder.
It's my opinion that pullers need to build up a resistance to the "Kevins" of their lives because while doctors and therapists can help reduce the urges, train your muscles and listen to stories about your childhood, they cannot place you in a bubble and take away the stress that coexists with life. Learning not to turn back to these instinctual coping mechanisms when faced with intense stress takes a great amount of self-reflection and work. For me, I see a lot of value in using techniques taught in Buddhism, like meditation and yoga in order to seek an equilibrium that provides strength. Others may find focusing on a higher power, whether it be a Christian god, Wicca or what have you. I even see value in turning to art or music in order to channel negativity into something else.
In summary: Dr. Kender and Mr. Grant's diet is an excellent beginning point for recovery, but I don't believe it's the end all answer to Trichotillomania and Trichotillomania sufferers still have a lot of work to do. But while you're seeking help for your cognitive-behavioral responses and perhaps your other issues beyond Trichotillomania, make sure that the habit doesn't take the spotlight over your own development and formation as a "whole" or "balanced" person. There's something beyond these psycho-physical factors that perhaps is less tangible and scientific than you'd expect.
So I end this post with a few words of wisdom I'm just starting to listen to myself: follow your bliss. And that bliss doesn't have to be "new-agey," smell like Patchouli, or involve Ashrams. Your bliss can be whatever you need it to be, and no one can tell you what that is but you.
Please note: I am not a psychologist, a Trichotillomania expert or a doctor. I've actually never even taken a single psychology course. All I claim to be is a writer, and not even a professional at that. So please don't take this article as scientifically proven or as professional advice. It's simply my own understanding of recovery and my own thoughts regarding the psycho-physical approaches which I have researched and experienced myself. If you disagree or notice that I have misused a particular term, please let me know! I'm open to all thoughts, theories and corrections.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Before I begin to write, I wanted to share the trailer for a documentary about Trichotillomania called "Bad Hair Life." There are viewings going on in Pennsylvania and Ohio this week. Visit this page to find out more.
This entry is Part II. You can read Part I here. This will be my last really "personal" entry before I delve into some other topics related to Trichotillomania. The following days will be less about me and more about Trichotillomania in general. On Wednesday, October 7, I'll resume my usual blog of boring anecdotes about my life!
My first part of my story focused on how I began to pull, when I pull and how it makes me feel. This second part is about the road to recovery that I have started. My main goal with the second part is that I would like to tell everyone that there is hope, that you can get help. Although you may never completely stop pulling, there are many ways to lose the shame associated with the disorder and possibly lessen your bouts of pulling.
I think most people with a problem, at least, those who have entered into the "recovery phase," have an experience or epiphany that's usually articulated like this: "I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and realized that I was the only person who was truly responsible for change." And while I'd love to articulate a more original version of this thought process, in essence, the same thing happened to me. I've come to see that others are there to support and help you, but you have to be the one who wants the change and it has to come from you. It sounds so phony, so cliché, but to really take control of my Trichotillomania, the biggest step that I had to take was acceptance.
When I arrived to Austin, Texas at the end of this summer my problems with hair-pulling were definitely more severe than usual. I was beginning to have the same fears about graduate school that I originally had before I began undergrad at Cornell. After we moved into our apartment, I started staying up late at night with long episodes of hair pulling.
One morning not too long ago, I had taken a shower, was brushing my teeth, and I noticed that I had a very small bald spot developing just above my forehead. I also saw that I was causing very noticeable thinning at the crown of my head. Panic shot through my mind for a moment and I suddenly feared that I might become completely blad someday. I decided that I needed to do something soon. I knew that if I continued to pull and ignore my problem, along with the stress of beginning another school year, that it might escalate to new levels.
I began to search The Trichotillomania Learning Center for a therapist in the Austin area. Prior to my move to this city, I had never lived in a place where one could actually find someone with experience dealing with Trich. I also began to really educate myself about the condition. I watched videos, read every article I could find, visited websites and read message boards. (I'm going to post the particularly helpful ones in a future entry.)
When I found a name of a therapist who had worked with Trichotillomania before, I nervously composed a short email inquiring about what the therapy would involve and how long it would need to last. I set an appointment with her for the following Monday.
But ... I experienced some setbacks. Beginning therapy actually made me feel worse. I felt so frustrated that I couldn't stop this on my own, angry that I had to pay $100 per hour for professional help just to stop disfiguring myself. My first instinct was to cancel my appointments, run home, and resign myself to becoming a bald hermit. But I made myself go. I probably didn't make it in that room for more than 30 seconds before I began to lose my composure. It had been a really long time since I had actually verbalized the condition to someone out loud.
The night after my therapy I went home and pulled for hours. I felt completely hopeless. Yet, when I woke up the next morning, I decided that I absolutely couldn't give up.
I decided to take another approach. I remembered that I had read that there are certain diets one can try to see if they would improve Trichotillomania. Determined for the last time, I printed out the diet information, purged my kitchen of all the "off-limits" items and created a menu for the week that would make it easy to stick to the diet. I explained to my husband that this was something that I wanted ... needed ... to do. Being the wonderful O. he is, he was 100% supportive.
The new diet involved eliminating all possible sources of sugar and simple carbohydrates from my diet. And not just sugar in your tea - absolutely no sugar, not in bread, not in cereal (even the healthiest cereals contain sugar!). I even had to give up artificial sugars like diet soda. Another major component is avoiding caffeine in all forms (soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate :( ). The caffeine was a link that I had already made on my own, so surprisingly, it wasn't difficult to begin. Within 24 hours of beginning this diet, my desire to pull decreased by an uncanny amount.
I also went to a salon to cut my hair. Prior to this experience, getting my hair cut at the salon was something I dreaded. In the United States, stylists were much quieter about my hair. They actually seldom said a word, but I could feel them looking at my hair. I would try to explain that I've "been sick" and have had a lot of hair loss. They would sweetly recommend specialty shampoos that help regrow hair. In Chile it was much worse. The stylists would look at my hair, widen their eyes and say, "What is this? Did you do this to yourself?" But this time, I made an appointment with a stylist who normally cuts people's hair who have Trichotillomania. In fact, her brother struggled with the condition. She gave me the best haircut I've had in years, and was so understanding and cool about it.
With my new haircut and diet, for the first time since the summer I randomly stopped pulling in Chile, I was able to go an entire week without pulling.
During the first week of being pull-free, I began to experience a really difficult transformation. Because I wasn't pulling, I was actually feeling my emotions again. I didn't know how to express them or how to deal with them so I was increasingly crabby to my husband and would burst out in tears for no reason. This was paired with sheer joy, being so happy that for the first time in six years I could sit down with a book and avoid pulling out any hair.
Yet for the first time, I really had to come to terms with the fact that I have a mental disorder. I had spent so much time ignoring it, pretending that it wasn't a problem, this realization was especially difficult. I've always felt like I was under so much pressure to be strong, independent and composed, actually admitting this to myself was harder than stopping pulling all together. I think for three days straight I sat on my couch dumbfounded.
But also, during that first week a really incredible thing happened. After one of my classes, one of my classmates approached me and asked (once we were away from the rest of the class) if I had Trichotillomania. She had seen me distractedly touching my hair and recognized it right away. She revealed that she, too, had Trichotillomania and was one of the facilitators to a Austin Trichotillomania support group. She was on her 93rd day of being pull-free. She invited me to come to the meeting that Sunday.
I left the conversation completely shocked. For me, the coincidence was just too much ... I had never actually met another person who admitted to having Trichotillomania. And in addition, this person was someone I perceived to be cool and smart -- I could barely believe that she actually had the disorder.
When I actually went to the support group meeting, it was an incredibly cathartic experience, seeing that normal, functioning people have this disorder as well. I felt like I could finally stop being so frustrated with myself and so self-critical. I realized that everyone has their problems, their baggage, their shortcomings. It doesn't make us less competent, it makes us human.
Today, I'm on my 3rd week of being able to control my pulling. I feel like this time it's different than before. Instead of just avoiding the triggers I'm living my life and working through them. After I made it through my first week, I felt overjoyed. Now that I'm on my third week I am even more determined to continue. Since the first day, I have only pulled a total of 3 hairs which I feel is an incredible feat. (I probably pulled about 100 hairs per day before.) And the day I pulled those 3 I had actually deviated from my diet and eaten a piece of cake.
Three weeks might not seem like a very long time, and it's not, but to a puller it's a huge improvement. To actually be able to work through my urges has been such an empowering experience. When I did pull those 3 hairs that it wasn't over. That they weren't even set backs, just little blips.
I would feel ignorant and dishonest saying that I think that every person with Trichotillomania can stop, cold turkey. But I do, truly believe that every person with the disorder has the capacity to work through it. Even if you can go from pulling 100 hairs a day to 50 it's a huge improvement.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The truth is that I can't believe I'm actually writing this. As of a few months ago Trichotillomania was something that I completely ignored. I guess I never really told anyone about it because it was embarrassing, and then in addition to that I barely thought about it myself. Up until this point, it was something that I had revealed to very few people in my life--my family, my husband and a few friends.
I have so much to say about this that I have broken it up into two parts. I will post the second half tomorrow. This first half is all about how my own case started and how it affected me. I think other people with the disorder will know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm happy to share it with people who don't have Trichotillomania so that you can somehow understand what this is and how it manifests. And for those who do have Trichotillomania, this is mostly to let you know...
Part I: You are not alone!
The first time I recall pulling out my own hair was when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. I was laying in bed one night, and I started touching my hair and feeling my scalp. I noticed that some of the hairs were shorter and sharper than the others. I had this overwhelming desire to get rid of them, I imagined that they were "bad hairs" and that they would look wrong, so I started pulling them out. But the hairs I wanted to get rid of were the short ones, the sharp ones, but I couldn't get to them. I think that this obsession lasted for a few months. My mother noticed a bald spot on the top of my head and took me to the doctor. I had also picked at the skin at the top of my head, which caused scabbing. The doctor saw the scabbing and misdiagnosed me with psoriasis, prescribing me a special shampoo that smelled like tar. I don't remember the exact point, but I magically stopped both of these behaviors, both the hair pulling and the scalp picking.
Trichotillomania didn't begin again for me until the summer before I left for the university. I was generally unaffected by Trichotillomania during the beginning of my adolescence. For many people, its onset begins with puberty, so I'm really not sure why it began for me later. The only thing that I can really attribute to its full-blown onset was that it was that I was really terrified of moving to a new place where I knew literally no one, and I was also making a concerted effort to control my emotions.
I think this may be a large key for me-- attempting to "control" my emotions. Prior to the onset of Trichotillomania I was a big crier. I really hated this about myself. When I would get upset in school I would go to the bathroom and cry. I would cry for hours alone in my room, just releasing bad feelings in general. I cried to my boyfriend at the time, something I think he got tired of hearing me do. He was the one who suggested that I learn to control it. I also was very artistic in high school and channeled all of my negative emotions into paintings, drawings and poetry. And for some reason, once I started to control my emotions and found myself too busy at the University to do my art.
I also entered Cornell scared to death that I wasn't actually smart enough to be there and that I was going to be "found out" and kicked out (or fail out). I've come to learn that many women, even the most successful experience this "impostor syndrome." It honestly created fears for me that went deep down. I'm still in awe that I graduated from that place. I think that this also contributed to the onset of Trichotillomania for me.
I have never been so stressed as I was during my undergraduate years at Cornell. I worked 2 part time jobs, was always the leader of the clubs I was in, double-majored, and tried to be social on top of all of that. I loved the time that I spent there to death, but my pulling was at its worst. Having a roommate helped me control my hair pulling, but it didn't get rid of it either. When I moved into my own room after my first two years I was honestly terrified that I would go bald.
Naturally, both of my roommates noticed my hair pulling, and actually talked to me about it. I was so ashamed and claimed that I had no idea what they were talking about. My freshman year roommate said that it was cute. My sophomore year roommate said, "Are you a hair twirler?"
I replied, "What do you mean?"
"Well, my roommate at boarding school couldn't stop twirling her hair and would pull it out. She ended up having all these bald spots. You seem to twirl your hair, too."
Hair-pulling always seemed to happen around these same times: 1) When I'm on the computer 2) When I'm watching T.V. 3) When I'm alone 4) When I'm awake late a night 5) When I'm reading 6) When I'm concentrating really hard on something, like writing a paper
I also attribute these emotions to my pulling: 1) Boredom 2) Anxiety 3) Nervousness 4) Feeling that I'm not 'good enough' 5) Anger
At the time I had no idea that what I did was actually considered a disorder, a type of mental illness. I would just religiously sweep my room, doing my best to hide the bunches of hair that accumulated on the ground.
I also had to learn to deal with my "new hair" a patching, thinning, stringy mess that I wasn't at all used to having. I tried using hair products to hide the smaller hairs that were growing back, but I realized that having something sticky in my hair made the pulling worse. I tried dyeing it darker, lighter to make it look more normal. Nothing seemed to work. I really missed my old hair, the hair I had always had.
I think that's the other really devastating thing about Trichotillomania, losing something that is supposed to be beautiful.
I always had really gorgeous hair before this disorder surfaced. It was thick, but not too thick. My hair stylists always commented that it was "a joy" to cut my hair, that it was so healthy. I could french braid it on my own, put it up in a bun, curl it. These are things I can't do anymore. Whenever people complimented me it was always on my hair, "What shampoo do you use?" people would ask me. I always thought that my hair was my best asset, really the thing that set me apart. And then, one day, I just began destroying it!
My case of Trichotillomania never has been so severe that I have pulled out all of my hair. There are many sufferers who have it much worse, and so I am thankful for the fact that my own case has just been moderate. For the most part, people who meet me now don't really notice anything except for maybe the short hairs I have growing sporadically and that I have generally thin hair. People who knew me before often ask me if I have cut too many layers in my hair. My mom always commented that I needed a haircut, that my hair was getting stringy. But no one could really put their finger on it.
Somehow, though, when I went abroad to Santiago, Chile the fall semester of my junior year, my hair pulling got a lot better. I still pulled alone in my room, at night, on my computer, but it wasn't as frequent as it was at Cornell. A lot of my hair began to grow back. People actually began to compliment me on my hair again. I think this had to do with many things: first, I eliminated a lot of negativity in my life when I went abroad (my ex-boyfriend and other assorted relationship issues). I spent less time sitting alone in front of books and was instead out and about, exploring a new city. It was in a much less competitive environment than Cornell. I also met O., my husband, who really helped me feel connected (psychology term: attached) to another person. I was also, for the first time, not involved in 5 million activities. I was relaxed, a lot less stressed...happy!
Unfortunately, returning to Cornell that spring semester meant that Trichotillomania returned, full-fledged. Yet, when I returned to Chile the following summer for a three-month internship, my hair pulling actually stopped completely. I was working full-time at LAN airline's bilingual magazine in a newsroom with my editor sitting right across from me. I didn't dare pull out my hair in front of her, or on the bus, or in the metro. At home, my husband and I didn't have internet, didn't have television. I didn't read that summer at all. But, my life, at home at least was never like that, and once I returned my three-months of good hair growth were gone in a flash!
Finally, at the end of my fall semester my senior year I started seeing a psychologist about my hair pulling. I decided I was going to take charge, actually attempt to stop with professional help. However, it was pretty much a short-lived feeling. My psychologist made me feel really uncomfortable. I felt like she was constantly trying to screen me for ADD, seeing if I could follow oral directions, asking me about my organizational habits. (I later found out she was an ADD specialist.) I didn't want help for ADD, I wanted help for hair-pulling! She told me that I had a chemical problem that antidepressants would solve it. (This is something I knew wasn't true.) She also suggested that I break up with O., that he was the source of most of my stress. I stopped going. I did make it to a psychiatrist to whom she referred me, who pretty much said, "You're not depressed, I'm not giving you antidepressants. You are too stressed, do some yoga. Here, have some Xanax." And of course, the Xanax didn't help my hair pulling. It did however make me feel a lot less affected by stress. I remember when I started it, I was in Chile. Oscar's ex-girlfriend had just called him screaming about their daughter. When he was done with his phone call, I said, "Darling. I think that you should have her come over here and I'm going to make her some chocolate chips cookies. She just needs my cookies and then we can all be friends!" He responded, "ARE YOU ON SOMETHING?"
Once I graduated and moved to Chile, I was hopeful that my hair-pulling would stop again, magically on its own. Unfortunately, when I started having trouble finding jobs and spent most of my days in my apartment, alone, surfing the internet on my computer, pulling was at another high peak. I had literally no academic stress at this point, but I finally experienced the stress of actually MOVING to another country in a more permanent sense. I also had issues with my husband's family, my husband's ex-girlfriend, the list went on and on. In Chile, I decided that Trichotillomania was simply always going to be a part of my life, that there wasn't anything I could do to stop it. I stopped thinking about it. Stopped trying to stop. I tried to accept my hair as it was.
And that brings me up to today, literally up to August, 2008. Prior to now, I had completely given up. I stopped telling people about it because it didn't seem to change anything. I just ignored it.
I'm ending this here, because I think it's a good stopping point. Part II, for tomorrow, will explain how my outlook has changed and how I've actually managed to stop pulling my out my hair!