Free Time and Anxiety

Brain juice by: Gabby Hickey

People wait, and wait, and wait for free time. In college, it’s hard to come by. In the “post-college world,” it’s even harder to come by. But when it comes, it usually comes along with an overwhelming sense of relief and the drive to do something fun, something productive, or even just lay in bed and watch your favorite TV shows or movies. 

But, what if your anxiety doesn’t make it easy for you do the fun things, enjoy laying in bed, or come up with productive ideas? I’m currently in this overwhelming (in both good ways and bad ways) period of free time, between summer classes ending and work beginning - but unfortunately, I have an unwelcome guest with me- Trichotillomania.

I am here to remind everyone that it is okay not to be okay. We are constantly telling people, “It’s okay,” and “It will get better.” I have learned that it’s more comforting to hear, “Yeah, it sucks right now. What do YOU want to do about it?” or, like I said before,  “It is okay not to be okay.” Empathy is the most important thing for people with mental illnesses. We need for people to really imagine what it feels like to go through this, and then to respond to us as if we were themselves. 

Even when things are good (I did well in classes, I was just invited into the Honors program of my nursing school, I have a job coming up that will help me in the future), my trichotillomania is still here- a constant reminder that my life is a battle- one that hopefully, I can win with all the tools I’m learning and acquiring along the way. I am looking for normality, consistency, and safety within myself.

I’m still going through new wigs faster than I could ever admit to myself or anyone else. I still don’t have the money to afford them as frequently as I need them. I feel like I am alone in this, even when I know I am not. I still can hardly recognize myself in the mirror. I do not want to recognize myself like this. I’m still embarrassed, ashamed, and far more self-conscious than I could have ever imagined I would be at this point- even though I know I shouldn’t be. But, knowing what you shouldn’t feel like doesn’t stop your feeling like that – and that’s okay. 

But, in some ways, I feel lucky. I know about the disorder and have read a lot of information, particularly from the Trichotillomania Learning Center. I’ve gone to therapy and learned that even restraining from pulling my hair for one minute is a success. I have opened my eyes to mindfulness. I read journal articles as much as possible regarding possible treatments for trichotillomania. I’ve learned different strategies to pull less – they’re hard, but sometimes, they do help. I’ve been able to pull my real hair far less than the wig hair. Many people know about my fight with this demon and are here by my side- doing their best to help, even when it seems like nobody’s best is good enough to help me. 

However, when the free time comes- even when there’s a lot of good, there’s so much time to think- to think about and be grateful for the good, of course, but also time to think about the bad – and yes, the bad is what I think about more.  Free time can be good, too, for people with anxiety. It can give us time to try new things- like my personal favorite, art therapy. To me, art therapy is simply just doing anything semi-art-related that you can gain some sense of pride from. When you’re thinking so much, you need something to be proud of. Something (preferably concrete – that you can see, touch, smell, etc.) that can remind you that you matter, you are matter, and you cannot be destroyed.

So, when you have free time and you’re laying in your bed for what seems like days at a time, or really is days at a time, thinking about all the things you should/could/want to be doing, promise me that you will do something you can be proud of. Sometimes, the biggest sense of pride comes from helping others. You don’t even have to get up from your bed. Write a poem and send it to your best friend. Color in a mandala, go online and “create your own galaxy.” Show it to someone who loves you- they’ll be so happy – even if you’re still down. The pride that fills you (for however long) won’t be that boastful pride, or egocentric pride, or the kind of pride that glows from your skin, but it will be the kind of pride you get when you come into contact with the fact that even at the worst times, physically or mentally, you do matter.