Hair Loss and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

My first blog for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is on my experiences of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and hair loss.

In 2013 researchers found hair loss could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger BDD, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Doctors found that the ‘enormous emotional burden’ of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life. In fact some have said those with BDD, hair loss second most common issue, with further suggestion that it affects men more than women, but I am uncertain how true this is as I felt devoid of any femininity for many years due to my own hair loss. Much of the media reporting has been on men too, but to me this just adds to the taboo of female hair loss.

With all the twisted images and lies that the media (printed and social), it is no wonder we all feel bad about our appearances , and judge them against them. Many think of eating disorders with regard to BDD, but in my case it was loosing my hair completely over twenty five years ago. Hair loss is not just a cosmetic issue, hair transplants are neither cheap or for everyone, and can have far reaching consequences – and an underlying impact on well-being.

As well as hair loss, I struggled with self identity, bullying and abuse adding to the deadly cocktail that left me feeling like a freak and ogre. I was offered no psychological help at any stage with the trauma of dealing with being 13 (I am almost 41 now) and having no hair left on my body made me wish I actually had cancer as perhaps people might understand more, or I would have had offers of such help. My hair will probably never fully grow back, it did once but fell out again a year later, and almost twice but stress kicked in. I will always remember one little boy pointing at me, and asking if I had holes in my head when he saw patches, all I could do was run away and cry.

Being laughed at by my peers at school made me petrified to spend a few days away on a school trip with them…would they try to steal my wig in the night as some would find it funny? I would not have put it past them, but I kept it on all the time and cried myself to sleep each day. I did not want to be there; I even claimed home sickness to my teachers, when in reality home wasn’t where I wanted to be either. I was suicidal and rather be dead. By the time I did escape to university, I was so scared to be social as thought it might come off, and be laughed at anew by those I lived or studied with.

I have never had sexual attraction or a sex drive, I identify as asexual, which in turn was maybe a blessing in disguise. Nobody was attracted to me, or so I felt, so perhaps it was a good thing as how would I explain my hair loss. I struggled with every day life in terms of knowing who I was, self love, and identity as to me I was always in my narcissistic mother’s shadow and hair loss robbed me of any chance to fight back with individuality. I was so sure everyone knew I was wearing a wig, pointing and laughing at me in the street, or gossiping behind my back.

It took my love of photography to start the fight back, and win the war against my BDD. Photographs as I said at the start can be manipulated, but start off by someone taking them, and as someone who hated others taking my image I think taking them myself was equally about having that control of the image. Every time a family member took one of me my eyes are shut, I am blind in one eye and highly sensitive to light, so my eyes shut with sunshine to flashes, but he would routinely humiliate me having my eyes shut to laughing at me refusing to have him take any pictures of me. When your mind already says you’re a freakish ogre, you do not need this added to the cocktail. So turning the camera on me allowed me to see me, the raw bare faced image that the camera took. Over years, and selfies became a thing, I saw myself develop like an old film photograph. Now images of me by me are like the others I take, they are snapshots in time, which I do not manipulate as would not be truly me. Recently a student at work, who was working of self esteem, had to write something positive about everyone – her’s to me was ‘different and talented’ (I had to resist giving her a big hug).

I have learnt that my body is a shell; people see an outer layer but only as we let them closer do they see the different layers that make us who we are, with very few seeing our skeleton being. I may have very judgemental people in my family, but I have never been one except of my own self. BDD can still try crawl back, but like the black dog that is my depression, this dog’s begging will not result in treats! Ignoring those, or removing them completely, that bring us harm is just as important to do with ourselves – cutting out the toxicity we have for ourselves.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

The Edge of Forty

Every year I have written a reflective piece on the previous one on the lead up to my birthday. This year’s birthday is slightly different as it will be one of those big milestone ones as I turn forty. I am finding most people are flattering when I tell them how old I will be as say I do not look that age…but that begs the questions how should someone on the edge of forty look and how should they behave? Those younger than me are full of questions such as how does that make you feel and are you ready? Whereas those older shrug their shoulders and tell me I am still a baby or young. I am fast beginning to learn why it is the so called mid-life as feel a strange filling in the sandwich of youth and old age.

Looking back on my thirties as a whole at first they may seem quite frustrating but equally sedate after completing my PhD at thirty one and life since has been a very different journey to that of my twenties. They have brought good friends into my life that are like family who I would do anything for and love with all I have. The biggest part of this decade has been self discovery and acceptance as the ogre that lived in my head from my teens has gone and left a Fi-shaped person in its place that has the same love and respect as I give any human being on Earth that deserves them.

I have learnt to embrace life with making the most of each day and remembering to hold tight during the downs of the rollercoaster but remembering there are hidden positives and lights even at the darkest of times. Acceptance is definitely the key word to describe my thirties as have also understood what being asexual means to me and although it is very hard knowing I will never have my own child I have two lovely nieces. Equally, I no longer feel the outsider or alien that observes life rather than takes part in it as felt I did not belong or could not be what others wanted me to be. Labels and boxes are not meant for human beings and normal is a function on a washing machine!

I have also rediscovered my quirky creativeness and embraced it with open arms like a lost love, but my first love has become a greater passion with every passing year, which everyone that knows me was and is music! The written word and/or visuals are my talents to tell of my life, the tales of this planet’s citizens (not just the humans) and ensuring the forgotten or lost songs of the muted are sung for all to hear whilst spreading light and colour with my thoughts, actions and habits.

So what will my forties bring? There is hope and fear for the world we live in but determination not to let the negativity or hate drown me. On a personal level I am hoping I have final worked out my path and what that means in terms of career. As for love of the romantic nature…well I have never been one to chase it and if it is meant to be it is meant to be. The cynic in me still says it is for others not me. However, I am not scared or nervous at levelling up to a new decade in fact I am ready for it as see it as the next section in the book of my life that currently lies unwritten and that excites me…so bring it on!

© Fi S. J. Brown

I am what I am (a.k.a Self Portrait 2018)

Five years ago I posted the photograph below with the words written upon it describing my journey recovering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), self-hate, and low self-esteem. Today things are very different and this entry describes how things are today. If I am honest I still did not think I could ever reach the point of body and self positivism as the negative hung around like a bad smell I could not get rid of. Looking at old photographs I can see and feel my pain with part of me wishing I had the keys to a time machine to reassure myself but know I probably would not believe myself or recognise the person as me. The ogre that once lived in my head has been truly vanquished, such are the incredible healing properties of self-acceptance and happiness. Actually, I thought I was not allowed to be happy as was meant for others and not for me. Now I realise happiness takes many forms, and I have the right to that as much as anyone else on this planet.

In an age when judgement is made so much on our physical form it makes me still at question if I fit in. Judging on physical form deeply saddens me as know there is so much to us than our shell of many colours. To those that think looks are everything consider the following: when you see an iceberg you only ever see the top of it not what it actually looks like in physical form (this is like judging someone from the clothes you see them in and only desiring the slimmest of figures); equally consider a swan that as a child looks very ordinary but becomes a beautiful and majestic bird (this is akin to judging someone based on their past alone, not who they are in the present and what they may have overcome); and finally consider if the music remained only oral and never visual with those you judge their music based on their sex appeal you could never see (this is like basing your attraction on a walking puppet controlled by someone unseen where nothing is actually real).

I know I am not an ogre but I am equally not a Hollywood A-list celebrity, but then again I would rather be the ogre than the Hollywood star! Accepting me as me has been far harder than academic study; although on saying that my PhD was one of the greatest stresses of my life to date. I am me, not the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as I used to think. Which was replaced with Pablo Picasso’s ‘Woman in Hat and Fur Collar’ for a bit as I attempted to readjust the mental image in my head. This was followed by a patchwork doll made up of patches that represented all the different things that make me, me, and stitched together with love from those that are special in my life. However, now I see the same image others see in my photographs and smile like I never thought I could, it used to physically hurt my face for starters. If I was to have any other visual of me it is of a Matryoshka doll, because there is more to learn about me even when you think you know me well I will always surprise you with another layer to what makes me the uniquely beautiful human being I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown

5 years ago.jpg

The Baldness Ballad

At dusk I cried on hearing the sound of falling hair from head,
By dawn I sobbed as counted the hairs sprinkled on my pillow.
Knowing like leaves in a forest at fall soon there would be none,
Without any send off, funeral, mass, or toast with an old glass.

The inevitable sequel was made but bombed on day of release,
And my immune system blocked any future remakes of its story.
Leaving the me exposed and naked to a judging planet of apes,
With the moon now on my head painted as an ogre in my mind.

For nearly twenty five years the self portrait remained unchanged,
Until I learnt to dance to a new beat and so painted myself afresh.
So the patchwork doll came to life on the canvas and into my mind,
Sitting like Buddhist priest in repose as only fitting for one so bald.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Swan

Earlier this week I tuned and adjusted the white balance of this picture, which I recently took of me with my mobile/cell phone; finding myself looking in the eyes saying ‘yes that’s me‘ and ‘quite a good photograph for a quick selfie.

For a long time an ogerous monster lived in my head that would have said something like this: ‘eww, what an ugly and loveable freak of nature you are, no wonder people point and laugh at you in the street. Delete that at once, nobody wants to see your ugly face on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t bother taking any more selfies, shows your ego is growing. Oh and may break your phone…ha ha!’

Instead another voice came out, the one I use when talking to others with my natural empathy and understanding ways, and not one I have heard myself say to me: ‘You look pretty and happy there Fi. Who cares if you see flaws or things that aren’t right in this photograph, better to knit a scarf than nitpick at yourself for no reason. Anyone that laughs and/or calls you ugly can spin on your middle finger, that’s what it is best used for!

I nearly choked on my own emotion, not for the first time, but this was in a positive way of my own doing to myself. Pondering, perhaps this former ugly duckling has finally seen her own swan-like reflection, and will glide the river of life wherever it is leading her to go. I do not need a mask of chemical colours or a surgeon’s blade to syringe to make me look beautiful; I am me, not an ogre but a swan, and that’s fine with me.

© Fi S. J. Brown

me 2017

First Dates

I am not a lover of reality television, but decided to try watch a dating one called ‘First Dates’ as one of the participants like me has alopecia and was interested how the woman would be shown to their audience as well as how it impacted upon her and her life.

The lady in question was called Eve, much younger than me and a beauty therapist from Wales. I felt her tears as she told her story and felt proud of her for telling it in such a public way. She approached the topic with her date early on, which if had been me this would be not a topic for a first date even if for TV and led to her removing her wig. I have to say she looked so much happier and confident without it, the style and jet black didn’t suit her at all. She had a tattoo on her scalp with a few patches of hair (I have neither) but seemed to fit her personality as shown on the screen. The confidence she gave out was incredible and her date was lovely about it all; in the end he was too nice for her (why do some women do that I have no idea). The media and people on social media I have seen have been very supportive and positive generally, which has made me cry a bit.

I have been wearing a wig for over twenty five years now and could never have done this so fair play to Eve. However, it has gone from seeing me naked if saw me without it to just part of what makes me who I am; only last night my best friend and I were discussing what colour and style I should try next time, which I could never have done a few years back as felt shamed that my body killed its own hair cells like they were a disease. Every time the wind blows heavily I worry it will blow away, which can lead to panic attacks and why I always have a scarf on me, but it fits my personality anyway. Being bullied for my hair loss and wearing a wig in my teens are still massive scars for me, which I don’t know if time will fully ever heal. I maybe able to take selfies and share some on social media but that took therapy and a huge effort to get there, going from an ogre to a rag doll, to rewire my brain that I am not ugly or a freak to the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and Hunchback of Notre Dame. One day I would love to do a charity walk without mine but for now I will plough on finding new confidence daily. This free spirit is learning to fly, the phoenix I will forever be, who needs hair anyway…not me!

© Fi S. J. Brown

A little something for World Health Day

By the age of 7 I knew there were tears in not just my eyes but my tummy too. I was sad from school and things that even now feel like razor blades self harm if dwell on them. I did not understand what they meant.

By the age of 14 I knew these tears meant I was depressed but had no outlet for them. Turned away if talked to family and a school guidance teacher that did not understand the wounds bullies leave behind.

By the age of 21 I knew I was an outsider looking in on the world and felt I did not belong. The music that helped so much in my teens now felt like they sang of a life I would never know and forbidden entry to.

By the age of 28 I knew therapy was a must and began to admit openly I had depression. A scary label but it would not define me as a person and would not let the stigma scar me as memories had before it.

By the age of 35 I knew the image inside my head was wrong, I was not an unloveable ogre or Martian that observed earthly activities. Depression still lingered but it was never going to make me take my own life.

I am approaching 39 with optimism. The tears in my tummy are still there but no longer sting as they did. The ogre is vanquished forever to be replaced by a rag doll, made from parts of my story and sewn in love.

Today is World Health Day, which this year focuses on depression. It does not mean someone is crazy and should be locked up. Nor does it mean walking on eggshells around them. Talking is good, listen never judge.

© Fi S. J. Brown

My Unfiltered Life

This week I noticed mental health charity See Me Scotland had a campaign on social media called “my unfiltered life“, for which people post a selfie and tell their story. It made me feel proud of each and everyone of them for taking that selfie, as that can be far from a ‘simple’ tap on a phone, and being so open in a way I felt I could not; for I am not someone that likes to say hey look at me but more look at her or him and what they have achieved.

However, it felt like it did when I first saw an ad to post a picture of your smile as part of Yoko Ono’s Smiles film four years ago, which in taking part in led to the ripple effect of accepting, appreciating and loving me. I am also reminded of the photo I took two years ago without my wig, showing my bald head, during the no make up selfie craze, which showed me there was nothing to hate or fear now. I am me, not an artificial, edited or manipulated person but her free spirited, open minded self and rag doll not ogre self.

So yes I have posted a photo on Instagram, and below. However, I do not care one way or the other as did it to inspire others to learn to find acceptance not for personal gain in the hope of a 15 second taster of fame. This week coming marks a couple of personal milestones, major ones that will be on the highlights reel of my life, so makes a fitting addition to them.

Next time you see a selfie, remember it can maybe a simple touch of a phone to you but to them it maybe a whole story you don’t know, so don’t judge but admire the beautiful differences slight changes in our DNA make to create the creatures we are.

© Fi S. J. Brown

me hat

Becoming a swan

Philosophers for hundreds of years have debated what is beauty; yet today any magazine, newspaper or website I open seems to think they know what it is and not always agreeing! However, the images they use are manipulated so much that the average Joanna or Joe look nothing like that and there is nothing wrong with them being how they look. Ironically, even the people in the images look a shadow of these images supposedly of them.

I’ve grown tired of the masks that they say we need to make ourselves beautiful they are but colourful chemicals, which may enhance but do not create beauty. I don’t spend hours doing make up (I next to never wear any) or manipulating images of me I post. As they are me at that moment in time, like the landscapes and nature shots I take, so why treat myself differently from the beauty I see in the world or alter me to be something or someone else?

So this is me on an early Saturday evening in June 2016, pondering from my bedroom window. I chose black and white as I prefer it to colour and at times as emphases not detracts. I have had many nasty and hurtful comments said about me in the past that I wore like scars and boils on my face. However, this is now, the me that doesn’t care; for I know as with ‘the ugly duckling’, a swan emerges and glides off into the sunset, leaving behind the past and on to tomorrow’s whispers wherever they may lead her.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Stop judging, start loving

Every day we continually judge ourselves, often unconsciously, mutilating and deforming who we are as compare ourselves with those that are our family, friends, colleagues and peers. This internal violence can be as damaging as any punch to the face or knife to the chest inflicted by another. However, the bitter irony is how few of us really know ourselves, as judge ourselves against what we feel we should be not what accepting what we are. This is because we do not see ourselves as a person as we do others. So let us find something we love that is ours, but does not hurt another and equally not ourselves; remember it is not a matter of being good at it or becoming an expert but we enjoy doing it. So stop self judging and hating, learn to accept and appreciate who we are now not who were or like to be. Life is a roller coaster, now take a deep breath and keep hanging on.

© Fi S. J. Brown