Sunday, May 13, 2018

We Are All Afraid of Something!

Hello Sparklers! 

My name is Abigail Cardone and I am the newest Intern with Shimmer Sparkle Shine for this summer! I am an International Studies Major and a Philosophy Minor in my second to last semester at BYUI. I was born and raised in sunny California, so it was a big adjustment for me to move out to the frozen tundra of Rexburg Idaho. I have been married for almost a year now to an awesome guy named Alex! We love to go on adventures and have some pretty exciting ones planned for this coming summer. 

This is us in some Slot Canyons!

            I am thrilled to be a Sparkler this summer because it allows me to do one of my favorite things, work with people and help them realize their potential. I am a tutor on BYUI campus and I have had the opportunity to show students that they are capable of being successful and then watch them change and become confident and successful, and we can do that in all aspects of our lives! So often we are telling ourselves why we cannot do something. Maybe someone else is better at it or we write ourselves off as failures from the beginning. It doesn’t have to be that way! How often do you try something once and excel at it? Not very often. But if you keep trying you will get somewhere, you will at least be proud of yourself. To me being proud of yourself is everything. I have a story for you.
            I am a nervous wreck. I stress about things and I don’t like to go out of my comfort zone. One area I never felt comfortable in is jumping off of cliffs into water. Terrifies me. But I was blessed to be born with a mother who pushed me until I could learn to push myself. (Not literally, she did not push me off the cliff) There was one experience where I was canyoneering with a church group and my mom was there. There was a 30 foot cliff jump into a river that was about 100 feet from the edge of a waterfall, so you jumped and swam to the edge quick. I stood on the edge of that cliff for 30 minutes just crying. I was petrified. But I finally got the courage to jump. Few weeks later some other friends of mine when on the same trip, with the same guide, and the same thing happened to someone but he let her repel down. She didn’t have to jump. But I did. I was so mad, but my friend said something that has shaped how I try and look at things, he said, “Yeah, but aren’t you proud you did it?” And I am. I am proud I did it. Looking at things that way has opened things up for me. So when my mom asks claustrophobic me to repel down a tiny hole in the ground into a cavern? I say yes. I go once. Just so I can say I did it. 

            We are all afraid of something. Of standing out, of making a fool of ourselves, of making new friends or of cliff jumping. Fear is normal, we all have it. But its what we do with it that defines us. We talk about conquering fears like it will make them go away, it doesn’t. I am still afraid of tight spaces, but let me tell you, that terrified face going repelling into a hole in the ground allowed for the happy face in the tight spaces of a slot canyon above. We may never be able to “conquer” our fears and make them go away, but we can make sure they don’t conquer us. We are in control. I can say “I don’t want to go cliff jumping” because I have done it. I have faced the terror that it brings me, and because of that I know for a fact that I can do it again if I absolutely have to. Same thing goes for the rest of our lives. If we can do what scares us, even if it’s just once, we will see how strong we are. It might even surprise you what you are capable of. Strength, bravery, and confidence are in each and everyone of us, we just have to access it.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hard Work Pays Off...and Mistakes are Inevitable!!

Dear Sparklers,

It has been a while since I have written to you.  A lot has changed in life, and in such a short time!  I have graduated college with my bachelors in political science, I have started my first full time job, and I have started learning how to golf.  I know golf isn’t a big life difference, but the other two are!  I have learned a lot about life through out the past couple of weeks and I would like to share what I have learned.  First, I learned that the feelings of success and accomplishment needs to be enjoyed after working hard.  Earning a bachelors degree is hard work ladies.  Going to school for four years, pushing yourself to stay on top of five different classes taught by five different professors with opposing teaching styles, all while working to help pay bills and trying to have a social life becomes stressful and daunting.  But that moment, that sweet moment when you turn in your very last assignment, finish the last final exam, a sense of relief and excitement wave over you.  Walking at Convocation and hearing your family cheer for you as your name is called and you walk across the stage makes you realize you did it!  You did something extremely hard, and you succeeded.  I have learned that all the hard work in life is worth doing because it makes me feel so happy to know I have accomplished something and that I have learned and grown.  I urge you all to push yourselves to keep gaining an education in any and every field!  The satisfaction is worth the difficulty. 

In the past few weeks, I have also started my first full time job.  I am now a People Services Specialist for an Ethics and Compliance company.  After finishing college, one hard task in life, I started a second hard life task, learning a new job.  In this role, I have learned to laugh at my mistakes, and to understand that mistakes are inevitable.  I accidentally transfer phone calls to the wrong department and or people on a daily basis.  I have clocked in and out of work incorrectly and had to sheepishly ask my manager to fix it.  I am bound to make even more little mistakes as I go throughout my first few months at this job, and that is okay.  I used to think that I could not make mistakes.  Mistakes were embarrassing for me and I thought that people would not take me seriously as a working professional if I made mistakes.  At work though, people will email me to let me know what I did wrong and tell me that it is okay!  They also tell me to ask them for help whenever I need or want it.  Everyone is kind and understanding.  People helping me and fixing my mistakes has taught me that mistakes will always happen!  I will never be the perfect worker, but I have a team that is there to help me.  Making mistakes is inevitable, so there is no use in being upset about them all the time!  Today at work, I was able to laugh at a silly mistake I made and laughing helped me stay positive and alert.  This helped me remind myself not to do the same thing a second time.  I think we all need to remember that in work, school, home, and in every relationship we have, we are all bound to make mistakes.  We need to understand that this will happen, and that it’s OKAY!  Be positive and get through the mistakes with a smile!  Learn from your mistakes and laugh at them when the time is right.  

I love life, and I love everything that I have learned in the past few weeks.  Remember that hard work always pays off, and to stay positive through your mistakes!  
I love you all and I hope you keep on shining this week,
Alyssa Kruse

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Trich Don’t Define Me…

Guest Contributor: Natalie Tim
Teacher • Writer • Mental Health Advocate •

‘Trichotillomania, also known as trich, is when someone can’t resist the urge to pull out their hair. They may pull out the hair on their head or in other places, such as their eyebrows or eyelashes. Trich is more common in teenagers and young adults, and tends to affect girls more often than boys.’ (NHS) 

Before it all began…
I don’t remember starting it. I only know that I must have been about 10 years old thanks to my childhood photos - photos I would look at in pain. There’s a particular one I have ingrained in my mind: Disneyland, 1995. A photo of me, my sister and Charlie Chaplin wedged in the middle. There I am on the left. 10-year-old me. I look ill.

The ‘when’ it started probably isn’t as significant as the ‘why.’ I’ve spent years trying to figure out the ‘why.’ And to be honest, the jury’s still out on that. There are a few factors - could be one or the other. Or (and most likely) a combination of them all. But it’s important to talk about these factors because they are jigsaw pieces to the puzzle that is my understanding of the condition and thus, my eventual self-acceptance.

10 years old. Now, there are indisputable links between hair pulling and stress and anxiety. (I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘I’m pulling my hair out,’ uttered by people (often flippantly and not at all literally) during times of stress.) So, this begs the question: ‘what could a 10-year-old have to be stressed about?’

In the UK, something very significant happens at this age: children transition from primary to secondary school. This was definitely an anxiety-inducing time for me. Pressure was rife as I moved from a mixed, comprehensive primary school (a place where I was popular, happy and, more importantly, settled,) to an all girls’, high-powered, private high school. The unknown.

I’ve always been conscientious and have only ever wanted to do well. But in that environment, it felt too hard. I was never a match for the other girls - the girls who had been privately educated since starting school at 4, the girls much more prepared for what lay ahead. For what I wasn’t. I struggled and I felt like a failure. And for a perfectionist, that didn’t sit well. Then, throw into the mix all else that comes with being a teenage girl at high school: body image, bullying, competition. I was already at a disadvantage with the lack of eyelashes (and subsequently eyebrows when the condition ‘spread.’) I was also endowed with terrible acne, goofy teeth and pale skin. I had no chance. So, yes, perhaps all of this made me start pulling out my hair.

On the cusp of high school
– lacking the lashes…

But it wasn’t just school. Other things happen around that time - things we can’t ignore. The peak age of onset for Trich is between 9 and 13. (And not all sufferers worry about moving onto high school and struggle there for the many reasons I did.) Hormones are all over the place at this time. Puberty hits and we are thrown into a world of confusion and frustration. And so maybe that was also a factor: an uncontrollable hormonal tension within me.

Whichever the above, the fact of the matter is that I have this condition.

For me, it began as a subconscious habit - I really didn’t know I was doing it. (It’s different now, though. I know I’m doing it. I choose to do it. Most people carve out time in their busy schedules to meditate, read, and exercise. I carve out time to pick out hair from my body.) I remember the willpower I once had in trying to stop. I would wake up one day and decide that was it. I’d had enough. And I would work really hard, each day, to abstain, proudly ticking off each ‘Trich-free’ day in my diary and revel in the glory of my success. One day would turn into two, two to three, until, during the more successful periods, I was ticking off week after week. I lost that willpower at some point. (Which isn’t a bad thing - I’ll come back to that in a bit.) Because on the days I couldn’t stop myself and ruined my ‘clean sheet,’ I’d feel awful. A failure, yet again.

But the willpower did exist there for a while. And it was strong. But that was, ironically, for the wrong reasons. The Trich took over my life. Every waking moment I spent in a deeply depressive state because of it. It didn’t occur to me back then, younger, insecure me, that feeling this way was silly. After all, it was purely cosmetic – there was nothing physically wrong with me and I was lucky, really. (And whilst I will never negate the awful way it made me feel and the consequences it had on my life, I do now count myself very lucky, now that I accept it as a part of me, that it is purely cosmetic – something that I can cover up if I want to – but that does not affect me physically. I can appreciate that now, now that it doesn’t impact me mentally; it doesn’t impact my self-esteem or my self-worth.) But back then, it made my life a misery. I wouldn’t do the ‘normal’ things a teenage girl would do. ‘Normal’ would’ve been to go out with friends, socialize freely and generally participate in conversation with others. I didn’t want to do any of those things. I was scared. I didn’t want to be noticed. To be noticed, to be ‘caught out,’ would’ve been the end of the world for me. (I remember the feeling of my heart quicken - deep, pulsating thumps in my chest - every time it looked like someone who got too close to me would notice I had no eyelashes. That fear haunted me constantly.) So, I hid. And, consequently, led a very lonely childhood.

In the early stages, I was taken to the doctor. My mum thought my lashes were falling out on their own and there was some underlying medical issue that needed to be addressed. I think I was too scared at this point to tell my mum that I was doing this to myself, that I was self-inflicting this awful pain. The doctor (unsurprisingly) couldn’t find a physical diagnosis. And it wasn’t until a little later on that I eventually revealed all to my mum. She was shocked and asked I stop. Willingly, I agreed.

If only it was that easy.

The second trip to the doctor is a memory I will never forget. It’s one of those bittersweet things: at the time it wrecked my world; now it reminds me of my strength and determination and my ability to do whatever I put my mind to, regardless of the odds against me. I don’t blame this doctor. Back then, information about Trich was sparse, ignorance rife. After my mum told him what was going on, he looked at me and asked me what I wanted to be when I was older. A teacher. ‘Well, no-one will employ you as a teacher if you do crazy things like that.’ (I completed my teaching qualification immediately after my university degree and have been a successful high school English teacher, as well as an in-demand private tutor, ever since. Funny how I felt a failure at school – I had a special skill there all along (we all do) I just hadn’t yet discovered it…)

Like I said, I don’t blame the doctor. There was hardly anything out there, information-wise, about Trich. Rewind twenty-three years and we’re living in a world very different to today. No mobiles, no internet, no online world. This was all before one quick google search would present a wealth of information on any desired topic. What did we have back then? Encarta. A CD that you’d insert into your per-historic computer which had limited, non-updateable, information on a narrow choice of topics. So not only did I not understand it, people around me didn’t either. That’s what made it harder (but what also makes it easier today.)

My solution back then, like I said, was to hide away. But hiding didn’t always work. Because even if I didn’t make myself known, I was still there. And it was obvious to the naked eye that something wasn’t quite right with my face. And so I was the subject of comments and questions from those around me. ‘What’s wrong with your eyes?’ ‘Where are your eyelashes?’ ‘Are you ill?’ And that’s when those thumps in my chest came alive. Worries cramped my mind: if people found out, they’d think I was weird; no one would want to be my friend; no one would want to go out with me. And sadly, because of these worries, my self-worth was none.

The teenage years were probably the hardest - a time where you become more self-aware and self-conscious. So, as soon as I could, I wore thick black eyeliner, both to give the illusion of having eyelashes and to pencil in my eyebrows. A profile view from afar and I was safe. (And the thumps in my chest temporarily eased.) But get closer or look at me sideways and I’d be ‘caught out.’ So, I remained introverted and withdrawn. I never thought anyone would understand or accept this thing about me – this thing that for me, just felt weird. I felt ashamed and, again, like a worthless failure; I was doing something I hated and I couldn’t stop. And I paid the price in other ways. I allowed people who did know about the Trich to treat me badly. Because in my mind, if they were willing to know me, in spite of it, that was enough for me. I was lucky. I should be grateful.  (Thankfully, the more and more open I became and the more and more I learnt about it and realized I wasn’t weird and that I wasn’t ugly and I wasn’t unworthy of good people in my life, that ended.)

Wearing thick make-up

to cover up the Trich…

 Just as I don’t remember starting it, I don’t remember exactly when I realized it doesn’t define me and does not make me any less of a person than the next. Quite the opposite, in fact; if anything, it has made me the open-minded, empathetic and supportive person I am today. And for that, I’m truly grateful. Before, I said I don’t have the same willpower I did back then to stop. And that that was a good thing. It is. Because what motivated me so deeply to stop back then (feelings of ugliness, desperation to be accepted, wishes that I was normal) no longer exist.

People ask me how I got to here. Again, jury’s out. And again, a combination of potential factors. I discovered fake eyelashes and semi-permanent make up and I slowly engaged more in normal life. People commented again but the comments were different this time: ‘Your eyelashes look lovely.’ ‘Are your eyelashes real?’ ‘Where did you get your eyelashes from?’  And somehow, behind the fake lashes and the semi-permanent make-up, I found the strength to tell the truth: that I wear them because I don’t have my own. (Oh and that they’re Cheryl Cole’s!) And when the reaction was one of understanding and sensitivity, I spoke more openly about it, even discovering others (people in my very own, albeit distant, family) also had some experience of the condition themselves – either personally or through someone they knew.

I no longer rely on my fake lashes and semi-permanent eyebrows. (I will leave the house now without them and I feel liberated when I do so.) But they both gave me the confidence I needed temporarily before I found the confidence without them. I don’t feel the need to be accepted. I look back on my life and all that I have achieved and now realize I accept myself and anyone else is a bonus. And normal? Well, yes I am a bit different. Whilst Trich is actually quite common, (which we know now thanks to the recent spreading of knowledge and information) it’s not something you come across every day. But being different is cool.

Coming to these realizations has meant I no longer allow Trich to impact negatively on my life. In fact, I use it in a positive way. Thanks to google, thanks to social media and thanks to our world becoming increasingly more open-minded, it’s not a big deal anymore. I know I’m not alone. Type in the hashtag #trichotillomania onto Instagram and what comes up? 58,154 posts. (And that’s not including the 33,823 for the abbreviated version #trich.) Thousands and thousands of people in the world sharing their stories, documenting their experiences and offering support to others. Not only without shame, but with pride. And I never in a million years thought I’d be one of them. But here I am.

Now, when I look back on those childhood photos, I don’t recoil like I once did. I look at how far I have come in my self-discovery and self-acceptance and am proud to be me. I have all that I need: a lovely home, a job I love and, most importantly, an incredible family who love and support me with or without eyelashes. I made it.


and NOW!