Woman reveals how a car crash caused anxiety so severe she’d compulsively yank her own hair out
When most people say the phrase "I was pulling my hair out", it isn't meant to be taken literally, but for people who suffer from trichotillomania, they really do mean it. Trichotillomania is an anxiety disorder characterised by sufferers harbouring an intense and urgent need to rip or tear their own hair out. Sometimes it's a mild habit; no worse than nail biting or hair chewing. But sometimes it can turn into a painful and disfiguring compulsion. Now, a hotel cleaner from Nottinghamshire, England, had opened up about how she developed the disorder due to stress provoked by her surviving a car crash.
The trouble began back in 2010, when Fiona ended up in a coma as teenager, as a result of a collision on a slippery road in rural Lincolnshire. Fi was driving to go to the gym with some friends, when her car skidded off the road and crashed into a bank. To this day, Fi has no memory of this incident. She does, however, remember being rescued by the emergency services, after a concerned bystander called an ambulance after spotting her amongst the wreckage. She was rushed to hospital, where doctors learned that she had sustained a traumatic brain injury. After waking from her coma, the brain damage she'd sustained was so severe that she had to learn how to walk and talk all over again.
Although Fi went on to make good progress at an 18-week-long rehabilitation programme at the Oliver Zangwill Centre, her mental health had been seriously compromised. Moving back in with her dad, she soon became severely depressed and over-anxious as a result of the stress of her recovery process. Fi lost many friends as a result of her trauma and soon became withdrawn and isolated. She began pulling her hair out to cope with the stress, and eventually, the compulsion became so bad that she was forced to wear headscarves, hair extensions, and eventually a wig as a result of her condition.
Commenting on her condition, Fi stated: "With the stress of everything I’d been through, I was yanking my hair out in clumps. It felt good to get it by the root ... My brain injury affected everything, especially relationships,” she said. “I lost a lot of friends as they didn’t understand that I was different. To them, I seemed physically fine and back to the old me, but I wasn’t. The differences were subtle, but I struggled a lot with memory and felt very isolated. My confidence completely plummeted, and I started pulling my hair more and more."
She added: "Growing up, I’d taken such good care of my hair. It was my crowning glory,” she said. “I felt guilty that I’d done this to myself, but it was a vicious cycle of feeling sorry for myself, then pulling to calm me down in my darkest days. It was a sort of escapism from my ruminating thoughts, like a safety net ... I wish I’d read stories like mine when I started pulling my hair, as I didn’t understand it at first. But I want others to know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t have to hide away if you don’t want to."
However, there is a happy ending to Fi's story. In 2014, Fi met with Lucinda Ellery, a hair-loss specialist who was able to fit her with an Intralace System. This is where a piece of mesh is fitted between her existing hair and scalp, with real human hair added to it after. She's also sought cognitive behavioural therapy, to help her cope with her trichotillomania. She still pulls her hair sometimes, but far less than she used to, and she's hopeful that soon she'll be able to kick the habit for good. You go Fi!