All of us have secrets.
We learn to live with them. We usually keep them close. And of all of them, there’s usually one biggie. One we hope and pray will never come out. But what are we so afraid would happen if others discovered our secret? Why do we hold it so tightly against our chests?
I have been living with Trichotillomania (TTM) for 21 years. I pull out my upper eyelashes, and I believed that if people noticed or I shared this fact, they would stop liking or loving me. I was sure they would judge me, tell others what a freak I was. I did everything in my power to make sure no one would ever notice. I lived in extreme shame.
Applying my dark black eyeliner became an art form. When I slept at someone's house I washed my face, but never removed my eyeliner. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night just to reapply it so that in the morning it would be just as perfect as when I’d fallen asleep. I was positive people wouldn’t accept me if they knew I pulled out my hair. And I was even more positive that if they did find out, if they didn’t judge me for pulling, they’d reject me for the fact that I didn’t know why I was doing it, and that I wasn’t able to stop myself.
As I got older, a few people began to notice. If they didn’t ask, I knew by the look they gave me. When they did ask, I took a deep breath and wished the conversation away. When that, too, failed and questions still hung, unanswered, I answered them. And more times than not, I received positive responses. Many people shared something they held close to them, which they now felt safe to share with me. We connected over our deeply held, often shameful secrets. Twice people shared that they also had Trich.
Despite getting responses that were the complete opposite of what I had anticipated (including discovering that others in my own life walked around with the same shame as me), I still didn’t feel safe sharing my secret. In serious relationships with men in particular, I hid it as long as possible. When they did find out, I prayed they wouldn’t leave me. They never did. But even knowing that people were accepting, I still wasn’t ready to really share. I was holding onto those few negative responses from when I was a girl. I couldn’t let go of them, and they were running my show.