“Hair is so important to a teenage girl’s confidence and because I didn’t have it, I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone”
19-year-old Phoebe Ottomar suffered with trichotillomania for nearly a decade before she was able to overcome it. Here is her story, in honour of International No Pulling Week, 1-7 October.
“The first time I pulled a hair out was when I was very young, about eight or nine years old. I can vividly remember looking at the hair root and feeling quite fascinated by it, and I think it was this fascination, paired with an unexpected kind of relief I felt when I pulled, that led me to continue. After this, I pulled on and off throughout primary school.
“At about age 11, when my primary school days were coming to an end, my pulling started to get worse. This was when I realised it was becoming a problem – but I didn’t actually realise I was pulling most of the time when I was doing it. I even visited specialists who believed it could be alopecia.
“But my mum started to notice that I was pulling, and that’s when we realised I had trichotillomania. I went to therapy and tried hypnosis but it just didn’t help. Then, at secondary school, the pulling got a lot worse. I can’t remember a time during secondary school when I had a full head of hair.
“Everything seemed to make it worse – friendship issues, boys, nasty comments! Hair is so important to a teenage girl’s confidence and because I didn’t have it, I felt like I couldn’t relate to any of the girls in my year. I especially hated it when conversations turned to hair.”
“I actually had to scrape my hair up in a granny style. It was the only way I could cover up the bald patches and I hated it. The worst thing was in windy weather it would get blown about revealing the patches, and I would get so paranoid. I was always so stressed. I spent most of my school life being stressed about my hair, and I felt I couldn’t do the things that normal girls could do. I began becoming very reclusive, never going out.
“Then one morning about four or five years ago, my dad saw me scraping my hair up, trying to cover up the ever-growing bald patches, and said he couldn’t stand watching me struggle anymore. So my parents decided we needed to do something major, and took me to Lucinda Ellery. In addition to offering hair extensions, she’s one of the UK’s top experts on trichotillomania. Just talking with her about it made me feel so much better.
“I had a set of extensions fitted, and I love them. It’s fair to say it has totally changed my life. I have the most amazing boyfriend now – before I didn’t have the confidence to talk to boys – and he is so supportive. He even wants to see me without the hair system…but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I’ve been living with a system now for about five years and would never look back. My hair is really growing now and I really believe that one day I will be pull free.”
More than 800,000 women in the UK suffer from trichotillomania, but less than 10% of women seek treatment. Lucinda has a team of 100 dedicated hair loss specialists in London, Manchester, Edinburgh Bristol and Los Angeles. They are also currently the only salon accredited with NHS funding.