“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”, perplexed her as a child. Her mother was already dead. But the warning seemed tremendously important. So, she avoided the cracks. At all costs.
Even to the point of tiptoeing on tiles so as not to touch the grout lines. It was tremendously important though she did not know why. It just was.
And at 14 her father noticed her long sleeves in summer. And he caught a glimpse of the dual rows of Gillette track II marks on her forearm. He looked concerned but said nothing. And she wondered why he was concerned. It wasn’t really anything. It just would happen, for some reason. It was just something she did sometimes. It relieved that gnawing ache she’d sometimes get in her stomach for a little while. Sometimes the cuts did get infected and they stung when she would sweat. But, it just seemed like the thing she had to do.
And there was always the counting of the stairs, reading words backwards because she needed to and getting tasks done to the count of 30 or 60 or…else. Or else what?
And then there was the year her father was dying at the same time her child was in intensive care, possibly dying. It was autumn 2001. Yes, that autumn. Bad timing for bad timing. And then the individual hairs started piling up beside the bed and on the floor of the car. And finally, a friend said to her…” I think that is actually a ‘thing’.” And it was a thing. It all had been ‘a thing’.
And the trichotillomania (the thing) resolved itself but the anxiety and compulsiveness still flare on occasion and the counting of the stairs and the sense of impending doom occasionally invade, like an interloper. And 2018 was another one of those years when events seemed to
confirm that life was spiraling downward and the worst possible outcomes were pre-destined. However, the hair did not pile up beside her bed nor were there cuts on her forearm or purging. She managed. And it was likely due to having survived 2001 and a challenging childhood and her own motherhood and relationships and marriage and life thus far.
Anxiety is an unwelcome mistress but so seductive in its subtlety. And it can manifest in unexpected ways with undesired outcomes. It’s important to know that ‘it’s a thing.’ And when you do, you can name it and recognize it and learn ways to manage and occasionally quell it. Or, at least, you can know that the gnawing in the pit of your stomach isn’t inevitable and doom is not the requisite outcome.
If you have any of these feeling or are compelled to cut or pull or pick at yourself, please get help. Talk to a friend or family member or a counselor, a therapist, a minister or rabbi or priest or imam khatib. Talk to someone. And know that you are not the first person to binge or purge, or who can not eat or who bites their nails or skin or pulls their hair or cuts their arm or has compulsions to repeat sentences or other things that seemingly make no sense but, nevertheless, they ‘need’ to do.
People have always had these feelings. Statements like ‘at the end of my rope’ or ‘I am going to pull my hair out’ or others associated with anxiety disorders have been around for a long time and the study of anxiety has been around since ancient Greece and Rome at least.
If any of this story resonates, please know that you are not alone and you are not unusual. But you are human and you deserve to understand and learn how to find help.
Here are some online resources:
ADAA- Anxiety and Depression Association of America can help you find a therapist
National Institute for Mental Health- NIMH www.nimh.nih/gov
NORD-National Organization for Rare Diseases: https://rarediseases.org