Aged 11, after a year at a boarding school from hell in Lagos where I was miserable and unsettled, I developed a condition known as ‘Trichotillomania’ – a condition where a person feels compelled to pull out their hair. It is an impulse control disorder and a person is unable to stop him self or her self. Pulling out hair on the head so bad it leaves bald patches. This disorder, of course, makes most sufferers feel unattractive and leads to low self-esteem. Its most common cause is insecurity, stress or anxiety. It’s also a form of self-harm.
It is a very lonely place to be as sufferers hide and cover up such that it goes on untreated for decades. Suffering from a disorder such as this in the 70s and 80s in Nigeria is a type of hell I am not going to attempt to describe. My poor mother was beside herself because she just watched her daughter’s thick, jet-black hair turn into patches on her head.
Coupled with this, I was painfully thin and tall. I felt like the most attractive person I knew. I was very insecure about my looks. Of course all the girls around me were developing and had their full head of hair. What I did not appreciate was my smooth clear skin. I even had a complex about not treating spots like my mates.
These feelings of insecurity and the disorder moved with me into my 20s and marred my choices of boyfriends. I did not feel entitled at all and on the contrary felt glad I was chosen at all hence I would stay in a relationship despite the conditions.
With all this it never occurred to me that I was alone in that thought that I was unattractive as I had quite a lot of advances and I felt it was because my disfigurement was hidden and as such they did not see the real me. By the time I was 23 and had come home for my Law School I had three prospective proposals for marriage. Again I talked myself into believing it was because I was very sheltered growing up and they wanted the new face on the block. Nothing to do with either my personality or my appearance.
I chose to marry my first husband just after the Law School and had my first daughter the year after aged 25.
The marriage I must say was bad from the first day. It was marred with physical and emotional abuse.
My daughter was so beautiful, the feeling of giving birth to something so perfect gave my life a new meaning. For the first time in 14 years I actually stopped pulling my hair. I was a different person. I was now a protector of a life. The living conditions continued sadly and I started pulling my hair again. My second daughter came, the joy came back and it was the same cycle. The only difference was that I felt responsible for these lives and something in me grew. A fighting spirit. I had the flaw but these girls were flawless. They didn’t ask to be born and needed to be protected. That was when my first courageous act started. I walked out. I was not going to let these beautiful children witness the hell I lived in. After I left I realised I was pregnant but there was no going back.
It was a lot of pressure at the time and for a 27 year old, but God gave me the courage and my father (whom I feel was relieved quite frankly) was firmly behind me. It is important to note here that at some stage my husband then asked a Pastor to talk me out of this mad decision to leave my marriage. I am thankful that God gave him words of wisdom. He said ‘No I would not tell her to stay in an abusive marriage, I would rather have her hate you than hate God for making her stay where she is living in hell on Earth’. I believe more pastors and church counselors should be mindful of this when counseling young women in these situations.
The next stage of my life was looking after my three daughters as a single parent because having refused to go back to the marriage and despite a Court judgment that we share the responsibilities of the children’s welfare I was eased into the cold.
I made a pact with God. I will work hard and He on his part will open doors. I did and He did too.
Moving on, age 37 I remarried my best friend. I must add here that again in my choice I didn’t feel entitled in my choice but grateful that I met someone who would treat me so well and most especially would help in protecting these my treasures from my first marriage. I went on to have 2 sons.
At age 43, a good 32 years after the onset of the disorder I decided to fight it head on.
I was in a happy marriage, I had beautiful children, girls and boys and I had no more reason to find solace and succour through pulling my hair.
I got help and found other sufferers. It was not such a lonely place anymore.
Like giving up any long-term addiction it’s been a hard long journey but I got there. I can still fiddle with my hair but stopped pulling.
That done, I faced my appearance. True I was slim but had quite a flabby tummy. Not surprising after 5 pregnancies. I started to buy expensive products to enhance my flawless skin thanks to good genes and hit the fashion stores. I exchanged my comfortable flats for high heels and generally swapped comfortable to elegant. I looked better in my 40s and now at 50 than I looked in my 20s and 30s in my opinion because I now make an effort.
However, it was not the change in looks that made me reappraise my love of self.
As I grew older and saw more of the world and interacted more with people I noticed several things about life and about me that was different. I took stock and preferred my version of life.
I fell in love with the ‘Me’ that loves keeping it real. What you see is what gives. I was born well enough luckily not to need to rewrite my history and even if I was not I do not think I would want to make apologies. I am a happy person.
Even when times were the hardest for me I was genuinely happy for others doing well. I was willing to learn how they went about it even if they were younger than I. I was always content and cut my coat according to my cloth and very gladly too. I loved the fact that even in it all I was happy to help my fellow man. I have genuine compassion for others. I am always more than happy to help if I can. The amount of satisfaction that I deride from helping out is priceless.
I realize that feeling bad can be a very lonely place. Both with my disorder and whilst in my first marriage and I love the fact that I go out of my way to inject humour into every situation and meetings.
Somehow, I feel it draws people out and laughter is medicine of a kind. In my family we laugh at ourselves first! I love the fact that my impulse now is to find ways to help others, mentor the younger ones using my experience. To be who I needed when I was struggling.
I have found a lot of confidence in myself. God saw me through it all and I know it’s possible to overcome.