Margaret Eby
July 15, 2014 1:31 pm

It’s been a long time since we’ve felt hopeful about the world because of a selfie. But the quickly-viral hit project of Rebecca Brown did just that. Starting in 2007, at just 14, Brown began taking a picture of herself every day. The subsequent timelapse video, which takes place over 6 and a half years, shows Brown’s face grow and change even as her expression and eyes stay the same, as the backgrounds shift and blur behind her.

The story of Brown’s 2,100 selfies is also the story of her grappling with trichotillomania and dermotillomania, conditions that cause Brown to obsessively pull out her hair and pick at her skin, respectively. In the parade of selfies, you can see Brown’s condition worsen. Sometimes she puts in a caption to explain what’s going on. “GSCE Exam Period, Lost Half My Hair,” reads one caption.. “Diagnosed with Depression” reads another.

We watch Brown’s face transform as she goes through the depths of depression and then recovers, her hair getting shorter, her face going from picked-at and pocked to bright and smooth, the fluctuations in her appearance corresponding with the changes in her life.

No wonder her project has gotten so much attention, drawing almost 5 million views since she posted it earlier this summer (though most of those views came this week). With major news outlets around the world covering the video in the past several days, Brown’s project is raising awareness about rarely-discussed mental health issues like trichotillomania, and it’s also prompting a support group of sorts on the video’s YouTube page.

“I have been suffering from the same nervous disorder for almost twenty years now. Words cannot express how I feel finding your video,” wrote one of the 2,000 plus commenters. “Maybe that I am less alone.  Thank you for speaking out!”.

Brown, a 21-year-old college student based in the UK, has been focused on chronicling her psychological development and offering support for her followers through her YouTube channel. (In a new video posted Tuesday she discusses dealing with the unknown: “I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life. I feel very lost.”)

Now that she’s been inundated with questions about her condition, she’s also been responding to viewers directly on her viral video’s YouTube page, opening up about what it’s felt like to share her story with the world.

“Watching this back is rather scary for me, it makes me both sad and happy at the same time,” she wrote. “I’m not an exceptionally happy person and don’t pretend to be. What I will say is, that when you see the smiles in this, especially after the baldness happens. . . those smiles are genuine.”

Brown’s bravery is exceptional and her video is inspiring. Through her 2,100 selfies, she shows that a life with a mental illness is still a life, full of firsts, turbulence, change—and most notably—rebounds.

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