Community Spotlight: Kelsey: A Renaissance Woman, who just so happens to have Trichotillomania

YOU DESERVE TO BE

Meet Kelsey, she's a Keen family member, a volunteer for TLC Foundation for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) and an advocate for BFRB awareness. I met Kelsey through a mutual friend at the 2016 TLC conference. A year later, Kelsey gave a speech to share her journey and trichotillomania solution.

  “I hope that my story can bring hope to anyone who’s struggling with a BFRB.”

“I hope that my story can bring hope to anyone who’s struggling with a BFRB.”

In her speech Kelsey shared how she started hair pulling when she was 15, spending 8 hours a day pulling out hair, and sharing how she had “bald spots all over and eventually ruined my eyesight from looking too closely at my hair in front of a mirror.”

Like many of us, Kelsey’s hair pulling disorder was misunderstood: “I was deemed crazy, and just went with it.”

 

At her second BFRB Conference, Kelsey decided to stop going with it. Instead she decided to take charge of this ugly disorder, trichotillomania and vowed to stop hair pulling that day.

Today, Kelsey manages to stay in control of her hair pulling disorder by wetting her hair and wearing a hat everyday, in addition to using Keen.

HAIR PULLING INSPIRES A "RENAISSANCE REVIVAL"

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Kelsey has a background in scientific research/chemistry, but has spent the last 5 years pursuing her love of music & education as a piano instructor in Berkeley, CA.

Taking a leap of faith to pursue a new phase of her professional career, Kelsey applied to the Wright Institute to study Clinical Psychology. Though unsure if the school would accept her, Kelsey was keen to make this career switch because of her mission to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health.

This is surely a renaissance moment for Kelsey as she strives to absorb new knowledge and gain new talents in the world of psychology, talents beyond her existing skills of research, music and teaching. It's her "great revival" as she pursues a path of personal fulfillment, one I hope you realize you can achieve too!

I find Kelsey inspiring on so many levels:

  • Even though Kelsey knew she'd be up against more experienced undergraduates who studied psychology, she didn't let fear or doubt stop her from trying.

  • Like many of us in the BFRB community, Kelsey is dedicating her time to bettering herself so that she can give back to people suffering from excessive hair pulling, skin picking and nail biting.

  • Kelsey openly shared her BFRB journey with the university application committee to shed light on how detrimental hair pulling disorder, skin picking and other BFRBs can be and to explain why she wanted to return to school.  

What follows is an edited version of this application essay - and Kelsey's story of renaissance and revival:

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“With a piano in tow, I made the 2,000-mile journey from Texas to California. I was in pursuit of a new career and a way of life far different from what I had known. This five-year renaissance period transformed me from a research scientist into an artist, self-starter and leader in the mental health arena. 

After a decade of pulling at my hair, I attended my first trichotillomania conference, alone. I didn’t realize how much it would shape my life. Three intensive days of workshops, support groups and speakers later, I found myself imbued with the sense that I had to do my part to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders, especially those involving body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). My first essential task when I arrived back home was to organize a support group on the West Coast for both those affected by these impulses and their loved-ones. We met weekly to discuss the relevant literature and treatment techniques I learned about at the conference, and created a strong network of support. The absolute joy that resulted from these meetings led me to attend my second conference as a dedicated volunteer. My goal was to learn as much as possible to ultimately defeat my own habits and eventually assist others with the same seemingly impossible task. 

 

As I stared out the window on my flight back home, I made the important decision to stop pulling out my hair. For two uncomfortable and painful weeks I felt the withdrawal of the reinforced dopamine rush that used to accompany every pull. But with my newly discovered support network and reduced feeling of shame, I was able to completely enter recovery and live a pull-free life. Soon after, I progressed to the volunteer coordinator position with the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) and started playing an even larger role in organizing and coordinating the largest conference for BFRBs. The most rewarding (and terrifying) part was when I began speaking on panels about my experience and recovery from trichotillomania.

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I would like to transfer my passion for this underrepresented population to a more clinical and therapeutic setting. Through the PsyD program at the Wright Institute, I hope to learn more about how to help this community.

Alongside my volunteer work, my six-year stint as a research chemist helped me to foster a creative and analytical mindset for solving problems. I became versatile in many fields, such as catalysis, biofuels, therapeutic biomimetics and nanotechnology. Yet despite having gained these skills, I started to feel stuck. I started to feel a lack of satisfaction in my day-to-day work that grew from not being able to see the direct result of my work in people’s lives.

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With this awareness, and my need for more human interaction, I started teaching piano after my long days in the lab. The immediate response my students gave from their own joy of learning was worth pursuing, so I left the world of chemistry in search of more of this kind of personal fulfillment.

Luckily, the music industry welcomed me from the start. I quickly grew from substitute teacher to a highly requested full-time instructor. Shortly after, I took on the responsibilities of a project manager for an innovative music school, where I developed the business and entrepreneurial skills to start my own independent studio. My students consisted mainly of adults, all looking for some form of release from the stresses of everyday life. And as I guided them through the anxieties of starting a new instrument, and their apprehensions about playing in front of others, I realized the potential therapeutic effect of art, especially music. My lessons weren’t simply a place to learn the notes on the staff; they were a time dedicated to self-expression, building confidence, improving mood and accomplishing goals. It was then that I realized that I wanted to learn how to enhance these same abilities within a wider array of people and settings.

My ultimate goal is to treat and bring awareness to stigmatized disorders and be a strong advocate in the mental health field. I hope to incorporate my compassion and mentoring skills with my familiarity in research to accelerate recovery in all areas of health.”


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Kelsey, your drive to get "unstuck" is an inspiration. thank you for sharing your story & all you do as a TLC BFRB Volunteer. I hope others will see from your story that achieving fulfillment & happiness is a journey it itself and not an end goal.

wishing you love & awareness,


About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

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