This week's interview is with my friend Abby. Abby and I met a good few years ago now and she's such a special person to know. She has one of the kindest hearts I've ever encountered and today she's speaking from that heart to help raise awareness around the mental health battles she's faced over the years.
Content warnings for the following interview: depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and trichotillomania.
In her own words:
I am a Midlands girl through and through, born and raised in Wolverhampton and currently residing in Birmingham, UK. A self-proclaimed weeb and art lover. A sucker for all things gaming and tech. You'll find me perusing the PlayStation games in GAME, Sutton Coldfield. A mother to 1 human and 2 cats and wife to an RAF Officer.
I spent many years just labelling myself an impulsive oddball unworthy of real love before I actually tried to figure out what was going on in my head.
1) Hey Abby, how are you?
Hey Jem! I’m good thanks - plodding along through the fabulous lockdown 3! Gotta love lockdown restrictions :) currently on furlough from work so spending an awful lot of time at home like everyone else! Trying to stay sane - you know the drill...
2) How are you really?
Erm, fed up! Bored out of my brain and honestly lockdown really affects my mental health (again, as it does a lot of people!) but I’ve really noticed the difference in myself between when I’m in a steady routine, working part time, keeping active and busy compared to when I’m just at home ALL THE DAMN TIME. It’s odd in a way as when I’m in my usual routine and I’m having an ‘off’ day - all I want to do is go home and lock myself away from the world and that’s pretty much what I’ve done through most of 2020 and into 2021... I guess because it’s not on my terms?
3) What made you want to be a part of this project to raise mental health awareness?
I’ve spent many years being confused about my own mental health - when I was a wee teen I knew I was different in the way in which I processed emotions and reacted to certain situations. I just put it down to being an oddball and an emotional teenager who “worried” a bit more than most. Doing this interview is almost an ode to that confused teenager who had no one to turn to for guidance and believed there was no one else like them who was experiencing the same things.
4) What mental health issues have affected you over the years?
Ok, hold on to your horses. So, I have a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD and a cute nugget called ‘BPD’ (Borderline Personality Disorder). BPD is one you don’t see a lot of in the media / on social platforms. It’s kind of like the ugly stepsister of bi-polar (and in no way I am saying that bipolar is like Cinderella) but it gets quite a bad rap basically. People who suffer from it are often labelled things like manipulative, mean or calculated because of how they may react to certain situations. People with BPD tend to spiral into self-destructive episodes periodically such as drug-taking, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, reckless spending, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I have unfortunately, like many others visited these darker episodes but I can proudly say now at 31 that is all pretty much behind me! (Except for the spending money bit - I am still trying to get on top of that!) BPD makes you hypersensitive to people’s words, actions and behaviours, for example a simple sigh from my husband and I’m immediately thinking he’s had enough of me. I see everything in black and white. Something is good, or something is bad. I honestly believe a lot of people don’t really like me - or that they are my friend out of pity or obligation, I also have an irrational fear of being abandoned - to the point of where I wake up in a cold sweat in the night truly believing my husband is going to up and leave me. I could go on and on about BPD but I’ll leave it at that for now.
Another one to add to the list is trichotillomania - a lovely little hair pulling disorder. :)
5) For anyone who has never heard of it, what is trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania is a compulsive hair pulling disorder. It falls under the blanket diagnosis of ‘BFRBs’ (Body Focused Repetitive Behaviour.. ooh we learning stuff today kids!). Basically, when I’m having a bad time in my noodle I feel the need to pull out my eyelashes and eyebrows.
6) How does trich affect you personally?
Well first of all, I don’t look my best after a pulling episode and although the value of someone shouldn’t be placed on their appearance - I definitely feel a drop in confidence. Falsies and eyeliner are my best friends for the regrowth period. I often find if I brave a quick trip to Tesco for a Wispa bar without reaching for the liner first, I can get some looks off people and I can see the cogs whirring within... “there’s something odd about your face and I can’t put my finger on it...” sometimes I just want to help out and be like “Hey Buddy! I don’t have any eyelashes - that’s why I look so weird!” Other times it affects the way I spend my time - sometimes when I’m really not having a good time I will loose 1-2 hours just pulling at my eyebrows and eyelashes and I don’t even know I’m doing it!
7) Is there anything you can do which curbs the compulsion to pull out your eyelashes?
Wearing glasses helps - as they kind of get in the way, I have these glasses which are non-prescription but they also help to reduce blue light from phones / screens / devices in general (fun fact: too much exposure to blue light can affect your mood too! And b*tch I love tech). Having false nails helps, and also having something to mess with - preferably something with its own hair of sorts - my sweetheart of a 5 year old bought me my own My Little Pony doll (Rarity, obviously cuz she the realest) to mess with when I’m watching TV and feel the urge to pull pull pull!
8) What is your earliest memory of trichotillomania?
Hmm think I was about 13 / 14 and I’d started wearing mascara, I remember touching my eyelashes and they felt strange then it led to me wanting to pull them out. I was soon sporting trich gaps in my eyelashes and suddenly Superdrug were out of Collection 2000 waterproof eyeliner. I would say it happened a lot more in my teen years, the episodes were a lot more frequent but this was before I even realised I may be suffering from a mental health difficulty.
9) Are you conscious that you're pulling out your hair?
Sometimes yes, and I have to literally shout “NO” out loud to myself and go wash my hands, put on my glasses and find something to do. Sometimes no, I often dissociate and then I’m back in the room and I have a gap in my eyelashes.
10) Have you ever worried about other people's opinions of it?
A lot more when I was younger, as teenagers, looks, prettiness and aesthetic are everything. I really feel for the teenagers of today who may be suffering, social media is rife with unrealistic beauty standards for people of any gender. Now I’m a bit more ballsy, I kind of hit my 30s and stopped caring about it so much. It’s still part of me, but it doesn’t define me. My beauty isn’t in my eyelashes and eyebrows... I’m saying all this now but there is part of me that still worries about other peoples opinions.
11) If someone reading this today has been recently diagnosed with trichotillomania, what would you like to say to them?
YOU *clap* ARE *clap* NOT *clap* ALONE. There are soooo many supportive trich communities on Instagram and Reddit. You will be shocked at how much support is out there from people JUST LIKE YOU. Embrace the compulsion and work with it, find other ways to feed the beast. It doesn’t matter if you have a pulling episode - hair grows back.
12) Would you say that your struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is linked to your diagnoses of either trich, depression, or anxiety in any way?
I think so, but also in a way - the PTSD just made everything harder. I know I’ve suffered with trich and BPD since my early teens but then something happened to me which I’ve only recently in my late 20s / 30s come to terms with and addressed properly, and I realised that not dealing with that event has made living with BPD, depression, anxiety and trich so much harder. I’d been running away from what happened for a long time, I had almost convinced myself it hadn’t happened and I’d been living this life with a teeny niggle deep down I hadn’t addressed - I had to deal with the elephant in my headspace.
13) How has depression impacted your life?
Like a dark cloud constantly looming over my head, sometimes there are fantastic moments of clarity, other times everything is so foggy and I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I feel hopeless and have the “what’s the point” anthem playing on loop. I just shut down basically, I retire to a safe space and sleep so I don’t have to think. As a mother, this is difficult, you can’t just drop tools and go have that depresso nap. You have to power through at times. I am blessed because I have a FANTASTIC support system. My husband is god-tier level when it comes to supportive SO’s. I am one of the lucky ones. My family and friends are amazing too - big shout to the real ones - you know who you are.
14) Do you have any coping mechanisms to get you through a depressive episode?
When I am able to, sleep is my saviour. A lot of people are against it but it works for me. I really notice a difference in my mood when I haven’t had a good nights sleep. If I am having a bad day and the cloud looms, a nap does sort me out 9 times out of 10. My other coping mechanism is art - I am a creative person and love to express myself through my art. It’s one thing I know I can do well so when I get chance and find the motivation to draw it brings me so much joy.
Also, I totally recommend THERAPY - I can’t sing about it enough. I know it’s not for everyone... but talking therapy helped me so much with the PTSD, the depression and coming to terms with my BPD. The NHS is inundated and backlogged to the nines so getting an appointment quickly with them will be difficult so if you can, invest in your mental health and see a paid therapist. Mine was fantastic. A+++++
15) Tell me about yourself, without referring to any of your mental health issues...
I’m creative and passionate about my art and my hobbies in general. I’m a bit of a weeb (look it up lol) so I love manga and my favourite artists are Japanese illustrators. I’m big into my Japanese games (Persona, Final Fantasy, Nier for those of you that want to know) and love gaming culture in general. I’m actually quite an active person when the mood strikes and I find a form of exercise I enjoy - I pole danced for 6/7 years on and off and actually won a national dancing competition! Keeping that up has been difficult with relocating and being a mother. And yes, I am a Mom to a beautiful 5 year old boy. (At the time of writing this)
16) What is one thing you would like people to understand about borderline personality disorder?
That it’s nothing like sitcoms or the media paint it out to be. I recently watched an episode of “Working Moms” and although I love that series, 100% would recommend btw - there was an episode where someone was diagnosed as having BPD, this person was portrayed as stalker-ish, unpredictable, “crazy” and calculated. I kind of just laughed it off at the time but thinking about it now, people would watch that and immediately get a bad impression of someone who was diagnosed with BPD. Like yes, there are some negative traits which have to be managed but I believe it also makes me a more sensitive, thoughtful person. BPD should just be viewed for what it is - a mental health difficulty. There is stigma attached to all mental health difficulties though, and this is a battle everyone who suffers is fighting every day.
17) What has motherhood been like whilst dealing with mental health issues?
Real talk - It’s been hella difficult. I’m not going to sugar coat anything now because there may be someone in a similar position to me reading this now considering having children and I just want to be as open and honest as possible. Too many people give very warped illusions of what being a parent is like and unfortunately there aren’t a lot of parents who will openly discuss their struggles with mental health for fear of being judged or ridiculed cuz society sucks basically. Kids do change your life and firstly I’d like to say I think my life is better now because I am a mother. When D was born, the world in my head no longer revolved around me and my mental health problems, my life was about so much more. He is my number 1 priority and for a long time my mental health took a back seat, and then I realised that my internal struggles won’t disappear with the arrival of a child. So many times I have questioned myself “why did I think I would be able to raise a child?” Honestly, a part of me regrets becoming a mother and bringing a child into a world where one of his parents suffers from mental health difficulties. I don’t regret D in any way - he is a delight, a real treasure this world is not worthy of. I do regret the decision sometimes, when I’m really struggling and can barely keep myself washed and fed. I rely on other people A LOT. A lot of people don’t have that privilege. Think of the single parents, battling depression, anxiety and the like with no help whatsoever, trying to raise children in the current situation. Honestly, I know I wouldn’t cope on my own and I would want so much better for D than me. He loves me unconditionally and unfortunately he has been exposed to seeing me at low points but children also need to see mental health struggles too. At first I tried to protect him and send him away to his Nanny’s for the weekend when I felt myself spiralling and yes sometimes that still happens but more recently I have started explaining to him when I feel down, simply saying “Mommy is a bit sad today I might need to go for a lie down later...” Anyway, as I said - my life is better now with him around because he gives me so much to live for. He is my reason “why” but please don’t take this as advice to have a child if you’re struggling. D was a “happy mistake” (he wasn’t planned - it just kind of happened, but I didn’t feel any dread or worry) and I didn’t have plans to have children before I fell pregnant because of my health. Please take EVERYTHING into consideration when planning a family, and think about how you are going to manage your own health as well as your child’s. Children are rewarding but they will flip your life upside down. Like for realzies.
18) If someone reading this today is struggling with their mental health but they haven’t yet reached out for help, what would you say to them?
Find your support system, it doesn’t have to be your immediate family. It doesn’t have to be close friends. You could try finding communities and like minded people. Social media has a lot to answer for but one thing it is fantastic for is connecting people who feel alone. There will always be someone who is going through a similar situation to you. Sometimes even opening up to a community of like minded people who are complete strangers gives you the courage to start facing your demons in other ways. Also medication and therapy are your friend and don’t ever feel like less of a person because you take meds or see someone to help you through your difficulties. Therapy helped me ten fold towards the end of 2020. Some of us just a have a chemical imbalance as a result of genetics or life experiences and that’s ok. Can someone invent a serotonin vape please?
19) What is the biggest goal for yourself mental health wise?
Honestly, to feel at peace with my mental health. It’s not going away but it’s not ruling my life anymore. Also to be completely accepting of myself and be comfortable in my own identity.
20) How do you feel after answering all these questions today?
Honestly, I feel lighter, I feel like I could run 10k! Experiencing some pretty dope endorphin highs right now! Sorry for waffling by the way! Thank you for reading - I don’t blame you if you got half way through and thought “bloody hell she doesn’t half go on” and gave up.
Thank you so much Abby for answering all of these questions today and being so open and informative about issues that are not easy to speak about. You are a wonderful mother and human and I'm absolutely honoured to have you in my life. Keep being you and look after yourself, you are important.
If anyone reading this today is struggling with their mental health in any way, please REACH OUT. There is help out there for you and you are worth helping. I'd like to repeat here what Abby said earlier... "YOU *clap* ARE *clap* NOT *clap* ALONE." If you need to, see a doctor, speak to someone you trust, or you can go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of resources which could be useful to you. Until next time, remember, you are enough exactly how you are.