6 masks of emotionBy Lydia Wilson, VOCAL Staff (lydia /at/ vocalvirginia.org)

Heads up: This note might be triggering for some, not sure. Let me encourage you it ends with hope!

We all find many ways to process overwhelming emotions. Screaming at the trees? Entire pint of ice cream? Can anyone relate?

Sure, I know I’ll feel better in the long run if I dealt with emotions by going for a walk to get good brain juices flowing or writing in a gratitude journal to reframe my thoughts.

Part of the human experience though, is that sometimes – a lot of times – I go for immediate, short-term relief instead.

Personally, I often choose what doesn’t at all feel like a choice – I pull out my hair. Because it is a soothing release. Because it is a deeply engrained coping skill with genetic roots. Pulling (or Trichotillomania, if you want a name for it) doesn’t make sense to – um – a lot of people. Even to most peers.

Trich is both my deepest grief and shame and my closest friend.

I share this with all you lovelies because March is Self-Injury Awareness month. We’ve all experienced stigma firsthand, most likely. What helps combat stigma? Storytelling – encounter – educating – speaking out.

So, for this, Self-Injury Awareness month, I invite us all to learn more about the experience of some peers. Listen, and you’ll hear that cutting is not a suicide attempt, the solution to pulling is not to “just stop.”

(I digress — Almost every day in this mental health recovery advocacy work, I ask myself, is my call to honor other peers’ experience just Political Correctness on steroids – playing victim? Nope. I’m sure the answer is no. Accurately understanding another’s experience allows for more effective treatment because you can really get to the source. And yes, it’s a nice thing to do to listen. But the peer movement is about so much more. Digression over.)

For better or worse, in the words of Terezia Farkas, “self-injury can help you deal with intense emotional distress by creating a calming sensation or the feeling that you have control of a situation.”

Here are a few recovery stories from those who have experienced self-injury. I’ve chosen these for their honest storytelling and emphasis on my new favorite term – “Post-Traumatic Thriving.” (More on that in a later post!)

First — a little vignette from my recovery —

This would be a photo of when my support group shaved my head.. but apparently that's not the kind of thing I shave or post on Facebok.Tonight, I’m gathering for dinner with two women from my local Trich support group – one is bring her beautiful baby girl. One of us wears a wig, another hides a bald spot under a ponytail, another (me) still can’t consistently keep my hands down after 18 years of working on it.

You won’t spot us in the restaurant by those characteristics, though. You’ll hear loud, obnoxious laughter – making jokes that only we can understand after 14 years of genuine friendship, connection, and empathy. Happy Birthday, Lady Z! Thanks for bring us together in our bizarre little fraternity of support.

Love and short haircuts,

Lydia Wilson

PS – For more self-injury awareness tools and resources, visit our sister peer-run program, Self-Injury Awareness Network.

When the self-harm scars linger, even in recovery

Noelle Fogg talks about hair pulling on the “This is My Brave” stage in Boston