Stress caused woman to pull out chunks of her hair for over 40 years before she finally asked for help
Angela Habeshis, 55, started tugging out handfuls of her thick, brown hair when she was a girl – it took decades for her to admit to her family she had a problem…
Growing up, Angela never really paid much attention to her thick, wavy hair. She was just a normal girl living at home in Hertfordshire with her parents and three younger siblings. But soon after turning 11 years old, her life changed forever.
“It started when I was buullied by two girls in school,” says Angela. Although she didn’t know it at the time, she developed a condition calle trichotillomania (TTM), which means Angela constantly battles the urge to rip out her hair from the roots. Soon after the bullying began, she started to tug out clums of her lovely, dark lengths – daily, and often subconciously.
“I would do it in private while watching TV, or alone in my room,” she says. “I’d end up with a big bunch of my hair by my bed, so I would throw it away quickly before anyone saw.”
While the actual pulling didn’t really hurt, the guilt that followed was always huge – she knew it was wrong but she couldn’t stop herself.
Too embarrassed to say anything to her family, Angela surprisingly managed to keep her thinning hair a secret, by cleverly arranging healthier hair over the areas she pulled – usually at the front. It was only when her aunt spotted the problem a couple of years later that anyone really took notice.
“She’s a hairdresser, so she saw it was getting thinner,” remembers Angela. “Mt family took me to a hair specialist near my home, where they did some sort of electrical treatment on my scalp.”
With everyone assuming that her hair loss was down to genetics, Angela spent four years being taken to expensive clinics, where they did everything they could to re-grow the masses of hairn that she was losing. But not once did anyone think to ask her if she was pulling it out.
The more hair Angela lost, the more she started to withdraw from her friends and social life. Her confidence was dropping with every day, but she found ways to hide it from the outside worls.
“When I was 18, I got a job and I had this hairstyle that I sued to do,” says Angela. “I would put it into a up-do and comb the top over to hide the patches.”
As mortifying as it seemed at the time, life was about to get much harder, as she had her own wedding on the horizon.
“I got married when I was 21, and it was an arranged marriage, so I’d only met my husband nine months before the actual wedding,” says Angela. The run-up to her special day should have been like any other excited bride-to-be’s, but because of the state of her hair, it was just a painful reminder of how different she was to everyone else.
When the big day arrived, she didn’t have the thich, flowing waves from her childhood – instead, she had to hide under a veil.
“My aunt did my hair, and she arranged the veil so that it sat right at the front and covered most of my head,” Angela remembers. “I was so worried about people staring at me, but inside I knew I couldn’t say anything. I’d inflicted this on myself, but I couldn’t stop and there was no-one I could tell, so I put on a front. I was good at that.”
If Angela thought the condition had peaked on her wedding day, she was wrong. Soon after getting married, she had the first of her three sons – and with each pregnancy, the stress and the hormones only aggravated the TTM.
She spiralled into a vicious cycle where the more she tugged out, the worse she felt about herself, so she began to comfort eat. Angela put on a lot of weight, and the angst of it all only made her pull out more hair.
“I was just so stressed. I didn’t want to see anyone, or go out,” she says.
And as the boys got older , they started to realise their mum was different to others.
“When we’d go out in public, or when they had friends round, they used to say, ‘Look, Mummy doesn’t have any hair!'” she says. “It was humiliating. My husband never said anything. It was like the elephant in the room – he could see what was happening, but he never drew attention to it, becasue he knew I didn’t want to talk about it.”
Just when Angela thought she couldn’t take any more, a chance discovery turned her life around. At the age of 39 – after nearly 30 years of ripping her hair out – she sat down to read a magazine one day, and came across the article that would save her.
“I read it and it started to explain everything. I looked up trichotillomania and I knew that was what I had,” she says. “From researching, I saw there was a four-day conference about it in Texas. I had to be there.”
Dropping everything, Angela booked herself a return-trip to Dallas – and she was going alone. With here husband staying to look after the boys, this was somethingshe had to do for herself.
It was the first time she’d been to America, and the first time she’d ever flown on her own, and she was terrified.
“When I got to the airport, the US customs asked me why I was visiting. I told then I was there for a conference, and they asked me which one,” says Angela. “I told them I didn’t want to tell them as it was personal, so they called security. I had to explain in front of everyone that I was going to a hair-loss event. It was so embarrassing , and the first time I’d said it out loud.”
Getting her life back
The conference flew by in a blur, and the impact of all the information took its toll. In the middle of one of the talks, Angela began to hyper-ventilate, and they had to clear the room. It was a mix of pent-up emotions and relief, but realisation had finally hit – she wasn’t alone any more.
Coming home, she plucked up te courage to explain to her family what she had been dealing with for most of her life.
“They were all lovely, but I found it easier to admit the problem to strangers than people I love. I thought for all those years that they would judge me.”
The final step was the one that gave Angela some normality. Following the advice of experts, she booked herslef in to see hair-loss specialist Lucinda Ellery, who talked her through treatment options. While she was offered counselling and hypnotherapy to try to change the habit of a lifetime, neither of those would bring back her healthy hair.
Instead she opted for a specially designed wig, which sits on her remaining hair – stopping her from pulling out any more, and gives the illusion of thick, natural lengths.
“When I put on the hair, it took a while to get used to it,” she says. “I’d spent so long without having any hair, but now it’s second nature and a part of me. I can’t imagine life without it.”
With her confidence finally starting to grow, Angela was finally able to build her social life back up and come out of years of isolation.
“People used to stare, and when I was talking it was never me they were looking at – it was my hair,” Angela says. “Now I can go out for dinner with friends, or go shopping in London without feeling so insecure. It’s the little things people take for granted.”
Angela will never escape the condition that stopped her from having a normal life.
“I’m 55 now and it’s so ingraed in me,” she says. “Even now, subconsciously, I still pull at my fake hair. I try hard not to, but if I’m stressed I just do it. I also puled for such a long time that any hair that grows back comes out thin and white, so it will never be the same.”
Angela hopes in the future no young girl suffers in silence the way she did. “I thought I was a freak. I hope they realise help is at hand.”