As a person living with Trichotillomania (TTM), I pluck out excessive amounts of my hair for emotional relief.
Not much is known about TTM, a behavioural disorder and part of the OCD spectrum, and its causes. As such, cases are underreported as many feel the shame of coming forward with the issue. Not to mention the feelings of shame, anger and disappointment a hair puller feels over the their lack of control over their impulses impacting their social lives and mental health. Lastly, the lack of awareness about the issue also makes it difficult for research to be done on it sparking tensions between therapy methods and feelings of the patient.
In response to these limitations, my FYP aims to explore how an illustrated graphic memoir can offer an account my personal experiences living with the condition and to spread awareness and understanding on the condition.
To look into:
- How people see you
- what decision did you make because of this
- what do they make you feel
- okay it is that I’m not cured
- this is how i see life
- there needs to be a take away
- some sort of insight into your stance
- did it affect you? what did you for?
- what learning did this person achieve reflection
- struggle to fit or not fit
- state of mind -> emotional states -> cut between reality and mental states
- not offering solutions -> but how i coped with it
- How I normalise myself
your patient story
HOW DO YOU FEEL? long term solutions?
- that narrative -> me coping with Trichotillomania
- how do you fight that urge -> how do you manage that
- how to you visual like the urge to pull?
- triggers -> how do I feel about them?
- Cutting one’s hair & concerns
- pondering about solutions
- how does it make you feel shows the tension of therapy and the feelings of the patient
- because of all this things this is why you never seek -> autobiographical
webpage vs book -> easy accessibility -> what does it aims to achieve -> advocate -> create awareness -> character
character -> how the world look at you -> yourself ->irony and contradictions about living with Trich
FYP not about advocacy -> more about accounting experience
unsettling quietness and loneliness through layout and muted colours
- Metaphorical storytelling: putting on characters
- Metaphor -> how you see the world looks at you
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”
–Sontag, S. (1978). Illness as metaphor
In her book, Illness as metaphor by Susan Sontag, Sontag compares between Tuberculosis and Cancer and how different people and societies perceive the two diseases.
While thinking about my topic, I was comparing the perceptions between mental and physical disease. I never really thought much about the perceptions between physical diseases and how within that category itself was a myriad of perceptions going between different illnesses. How an illness could be perceived as almost tragically beautiful while being a symbol of rot and decay.
But first, what is a metaphor?
For both cancer and TB, they are illnesses that are still prevalent and dangerous today with how difficult it is to treat them especially in their terminal stages. I found it interesting how TB was perceived by societies back centuries ago was almost like how cancer is seen today. The prevalence of it, the inevitability of a slow death looming, and the lack of comfort knowing that there’s no absolute cure for it yet, are big things that societies have to deal with emotionally.
It made me wonder about the human obsession with metaphors: the romantisation and personification of illnesses. Is it the fear of the unknown? The need to control and understand something that is always way beyond us? To give disease another attribute, to compare it to something we already know, do we understand it better or do we further alienate it from what it really is?
Are the metaphors in some way a sort of comfort? It seems so when Sontag brought up examples the melancholy present in TB patients, was written and seen as a positive, beautiful trait. Were they written by patients of TB or the people around them, trying to find positivity in grief.
Are the metaphors part of superstition? Once again Sontag brought up how TB as a “wet-based” disease, could be cured by moving to dryer locations, (a typical scene in victorian-era novels).
Are the metaphors a critique on our society? How Cancer is seen as a product of our excess consumerist culture, through over-eating, over-exerting our bodies from work.
Sontag’s overall argument is this:
“ My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness—and the health- iest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking. “ – Susan Sontag
Many critics have called Sontag’s book as liberating and empowering, powerful for arguing against fear inducing metaphors that inhibits people to seek recovery. By comparing TB and Cancer, two similarly perceived diseases, one of which is less of a threat today as the other, Sontag shows the absurdity of thoughts past and how thoughts of the present are and will be.
So what about mental health? I’ll be writing on that more on my analysis on A Philosopher’s Madness by Lishan Chan in my next post.
Total Biblography of books|articles|etc read ( for my own reference):
Sontag, S. (1978). Illness as metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Flessner, C. A., Woods, D. W., Franklin, M. E., Cashin, S. E., & Keuthen, N. J. (2007). The Milwaukee Inventory for Subtypes of Trichotillomania-Adult Version (MIST-A): Development of an Instrument for the Assessment of “Focused” and “Automatic” Hair Pulling. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment J Psychopathol Behav Assess, 30(1), 20-30. doi:10.1007/s10862-007-9073-x
What is Trichotillomania? – The TLC Foundation for BFRBs. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from https://www.bfrb.org/learn-about-bfrbs/trichotillomania
Trichotillomania. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00165.x/full
(Some context: this was the work I did for Astrid’s VC4 class where we are to create a dictionary for our potential FYP topics)
Trichotillomania is a pretty small topic but hair, woah, hair is a huge huge topic.
Love it, hate it or fear it, hair has been so prevalent in human cultures over at our span of time on earth that it is intertwined in so much of the human condition. So much complexities and ironies lie amongst a pile of dead cells growing from your scalp. It is never “oh, it is just hair”.
I separated my dictionary into two parts. The first a preface of sorts. Why do I want to do this project, why hair? It was more on a cathartic self- expression and exploration piece and while doing it, I realised how much hair had played in my struggle for approval, an identity, and self love growing up. I imagined that this preface as a documentation of me treating myself as a word, what defines me, what are my origins, what do other people define me etc.
I’ve chosen this part to be illustrated as I wanted it to be 100% me and with illustration something that I am most comfortable with, it just felt natural expressing myself through this medium.
The second part of the dictionary is a tad more straightforward, I’ve collected main words and from those main words and its definitions, I categorised events, knowledge, cultures , etc etc into those parts. At the end of the book there are a list of artists that inspire me and how they treated the medium of hair or deal with issues of anxiety, identity and trauma.
As much as the first part is 100% me, this component is 100% not me, in the sense that it contains themes, ideas and culture that are not mine. While the book is clean for now, I’ve included lots of white spaces to eventually turn this book into something JJ Abrams did for his book titled S.
The additional notations, highlighting scrapbooking done in a single book all by different personas and minds is just beautiful to me. It reminds me of the past where we could write and notate on books we own. I find the process slowing allowing more of my personality and thoughts into the book, slowly digesting these information into something that could amplify my own.
I am super excited to do so to my dictionary once I get more and more information about my topic during my FYP process.
For the fun of it, to probably just start off FYP where this project ends, I’ve also included a hair-o-graphics which documents (roughly) the hairstyles that I’ve had over the years and why they are done so. It compliments the first part of the dictionary and I guess it helps in explaining Trich to most people.
Overall, this dictionary experience is as cathartic as it is rough to make, over 80 pages in and I still feel that there are still a lot that I have not discovered and read about yet. Even so, it made me understand why people treat hair with almost god like importance or why they choose to remove it completely. Our human obsession with those dead cells is never only just hair but rather it as a common medium to express the multiple facets and complexities of our emotions.
In the end, it is only just hair right?