'I've been pulling out my own hair for the last 20 years': Mother who claims she suffered from alopecia admits she was self-harming
Ipswich-based Zena Williams, 32, suffers from trichotillomaniaPsychological condition has frequently left her completely bald
Was called 'cancer face' at schoolHas spoken about her problem for National No Pulling Week
12:50 GMT, 25 September 2012
At school, Zena Williams was called 'cancer face' for wearing a wig to hide her bald patches.
And for over two decades she has allowed everyone to believe she has alopecia, the auto immune condition that causes hair to fall out on its own.
But now, in the wake of National No Pulling Week, the 32-year-old mother-of-one from Ipswich has bravely revealed she has been pulling out her own hair since she was a child, the result of a little-understood psychological condition called trichotillomania.
Zena Williams, aged 11, when she first began pulling out her hair and was left with a bald patch, left, and wearing the wig her mother bought her to stop the school bullies, right.
Bald areas of Zena's scalp that won't ever grow back because of the pulling.
Tormented by the condition since she was a child, Zena has, at various stages in her life, been left almost completely bald.
When, age 11, having removed most of her hair over the course of a single summer, she returned to school wearing a wig, cruel classmates soon subjected her to relentless bullying.
But still Zena refused to reveal the truth about her condition, believing no one would be sympathetic to the compulsion which has blighted her life ever since.
Zena Williams is now 32 but there are some sections of her hair that will never grow back.
She said: 'Hair pulling has been at the root of all my problems throughout my life. It's made me depressed and turned me into a recluse.
'It's made me very antisocial and I can't hold down a relationship. I just want what everyone else has, to have a job and a partner and normal things but I feel trapped in my own head.'
Zena's trichotillomania (TTM) began one day at age 11 when, during a class at school, she says she went into 'a kind of trance' and when she looked down at her exercise book, it was covered in handfuls of hair.
Zena – pictured, left, with her daughter Amy, six – says her secret obsession has got in the way of her enjoying a normal life.
Zena Williams with her daughter Amy and, from left to right, her brothers Chris and Matt Dunnett.
She said: 'I didn’t even realise I'd been doing it but I remember that day specifically because I was shocked at the amount of hair that I had pulled out.
'After that, I did it all the time. The summer came and I was pulling every day until I had a huge bald patch on the top of my head.
'I hid it from my mother under a baseball cap but eventually she spotted it and she took me to a doctor who said I had alopecia.
'I thought, “Okay, I have alopecia. That's what I will tell people”, even though I knew I was doing it to myself I let everyone believe that was the case. Alopecia was a real thing and it was accepted.'
Zena, aged 11, when the pulling began, left, and in happier times when the condition was less severe, right.
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Zena, left, having just given birth to Amy, and right, using a clip to hide the fact she was wearing a wig.
Zena, who has a six-year-old daughter, Amy, said: 'I was mortified about going to school wearing a wig but I didn’t want anyone to see what was underneath.
'People would point out that my hair didn’t look real and I tried to shy away from their comments.
'A couple of girls started bringing a camera to school in order to take pictures of me while I was sat in the playground.
'The cancer rumour started around the same time and I remember being cornered while a group of them taunted me, calling me “cancer face”. It was horrible.'
The bullying continued until Zena left school but still she could not resist the impulse to pull out her hair.
Eventually, she managed to grow an inch of hair all over her head and gave up her wig. But in resisting to pull, she found herself self-harming with scissors, knives and compasses.
Zena Williams and her friend Zoe Chenery who has helped her through tough times.
Zena said: 'I blocked out a lot of that time in my life because it hurts too much to remember it.
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Zena enjoying life when the trichotillomania was less severe.
She said: 'I always made sure I never plucked from the front of my head so I could wear a wig and then clip the fringe over it to make it look like I had a natural hairline.
'When I split up with my boyfriend it got so much worse and I would have to hide it from everyone.
'The only time I've ever managed to stop pulling was when I was pregnant. I felt so ill throughout the pregnancy I literally didn't have the time to think about it.
'When my daughter was born was the only time since I was 11 when I've had a full head of hair.'
Two years ago Zena stumbled across a video on Youtube made by a young girl with TTM, and was shocked to discover that her compulsion had a name.
Until that time she had never dared tell anyone about her secret shame, and until today has only shared her condition with her closest friends.
She said: 'I couldn't believe it when I saw this video made by a girl who had trichotillomania.
'My condition was a real thing with a name and I just burst into tears to discover there were others out there like me.
'Until that point I had always believed it was this disgusting thing that only I did and that no one could ever possibly understand.'
Zena previously worked as a care worker, but has been unable to work for the last eight years due to her anxiety and depression issues.
Now her hair-pulling has improved, and for the last two years she has avoided pulling from the hair on her head.
However, years of yanking out her hair have damaged the follicles in her scalp, and Zena has been left with large bald patches which are unlikely to grow back.
Asa result, Zena dyes her hair and scalp black to hide the thinning areas and always wears her hair scraped back to cover up the worst areas.
She is currently on a long waiting list to receive cognitive behavioural therapy, which she believes will help her problems.
Zena said: 'Now I only pull from the hair on my arms and legs. It relieves the tension but it doesn't give me the same satisfaction.
'Whenever I tell people about my TTM they always say, “Well, just stop doing it”, but it’s an urge I have no control over.
'I find myself doing it more when I'm stressed and when I'm sat watching TV I find it's best to keep my hands busy as I often don't realise I'm doing it until they are filled with clumps of hair.'
TOWIE star Sam Faiers revealed she lost her eyelashes to TTM.
Sam Faiers, from The Only Way Is Essex, recently revealed that she lost her eyelashes due to TTM, and it is thought that around four per cent of the population will experience compulsive hair pulling at some point in their lives.
Women seem more prone than males, with pulling usually starting around age 12, but it can start later in life too.
Zena has found some support through social networking groups and says that simply knowing there are other sufferers out there has given her a great deal of comfort.
But she hopes to finally rid herself of the condition for the sake of her daughter.
She said: 'I have always been very careful not to do it in front of Amy, but I would hate it if she ever thought it was normal.
'I can never take her swimming because I’m terrified of getting my hair wet and showing my bald patches.
'I would love nothing more than to feel beautiful, have a relationship and give her the family life she deserves – but up until now TTM has held me back.
'Hopefully, if I get some treatment, that will finally change.'
For more information and support on trichotillomania please visit www.lucindaellery-hairloss.co.uk or call 0208 741822.