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While I’m on the subject of admitting things, here’s another one for you: I have a secret. I’ve been hiding this secret under my hat. It causes me a great deal of shame. I’m not even sure I will publish this post.

The secret is I pull my hair. I’ve done it since I was a kid, for as long as I can remember. It’s called trichotillomania and is related to obsessive compulsive disorder. Apparently it’s more common than most people realize, but for some people it becomes extremely problematic. For most of my life it’s been manageable as I’ve only pulled a strand or two at a time, until my recent hospital stay.

While coming off of some very strong medication I had a period of about three days that I barely remember. My psychiatrist assures me that anyone in my situation would have been emotionally and mentally dysregulated and that my amnesia about it is considered reasonable. During this time I pulled at my hair repeatedly, and created a bald spot.  That is the secret I am hiding under my hat.

So why should I tell you something that makes me feel so vulnerable? I want to say there is no shame in struggling with mental health, because I believe that to be true. And even though I’m embarrassed to admit this secret, I feel like sharing it is important for my own sense of self worth.

My first reaction when I discovered this new reality about my head was to blame the doctor who prescribed the medication. How is it possible that I was given something so strong that I can’t even remember my actions? Why couldn’t the nurses have done something to stop my behaviour when I wasn’t in control myself?

I read recently that suffering equals pain times resistance and I think there’s truth in these words. I must grieve this loss in the same way other losses are grieved, but blaming the doctor is just a way of avoiding accepting that this has happened. I have a bald spot, and it’s not small or easily hidden.

Yes, my hair will grow back, and I’ve been contemplating cutting it short anyways, and thankfully I work in an environment where my hat is perfectly acceptable. But until that hair regrows I will feel the sense of loss, and it’s okay. It’s okay that I’m embarrassed, and it’s okay to keep it covered. And it does not change who I am or what I am worth.

The depression I’m experiencing these days is like none I have ever known. Despite having better strategies for coping with depression than I’ve had in winters past, I find myself pinned down by the weight of the world, on the verge of tears at every moment. This is not me.

I am shy to tell you these things. But I believe the shame of depression is not something worth carrying around anymore, so I’m just going to talk about it. In an incredible TED talk entitled “Depression,The Secret We Share” Andrew Solomon says that happiness is not the opposite of depression. Depression robs a person not of their happiness, but their vitality.

Vitality – life essence – this is what I’m in want of, this is what I desperately crave and can’t seem to find.

Today Kathryn and I went to feed birds with her sister. There is something healing in those moments, standing with arm outstretched, still and cold, and hopeful. To have a chickadee or nuthatch land on your fingertips to steal a peanut or seed, to toss peanuts to hungry squirrels and chipmunks, to be surrounded by simplicity and complexity in nature – these moments bring hope.

How I wish I could retain that feeling of peace throughout my day. Medication seems to be doing little to help, and the trial and error methods of our primitive psychiatric treatments are taking their toll on me.

I am reminded of Cold February Night, a post I wrote during a similar time, and the goals I set at that time to try to change my trajectory. Perhaps this is the kind of focus I need to move forward.

So I’m on the lookout. I’m actively seeking out answers to the question “what do you do to cultivate hope?” And I’m starting a list for myself, with the promise to do these things each day, no matter how challenging, until I feel whole again.

– Get outside and be still and quiet in nature for a little while.

– Connect with a friend over coffee, listen to their story.

– Practice gratitude daily by writing in a gratitude journal each night.

– Do some meaningful piece of work, however small, to feel engaged and productive.

– Voice my emotions, whether through writing, music or tears. Allow space every day for the emotions to be welcomed without judgment.

How else can I cultivate hope in moments of darkness? Add your suggestions through a comment or email and I’ll gladly give it a try.

And for now I will hold onto the hope that love is all we need, and that my love for Kathryn will get me through this.

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