Woman With A Rare Hair-Pullling Condition Is Set To Have A £10,000 Transplant
A woman with a rare condition that made her pull every single hair from her head and entire body is undergoing a £10,000 transplant to give her back the hair she lost.
Claire Jenna Ory, 24, from Bristol has lived with a condition called trichotillomania (trich) since the age of 10, which gave her urges to pull every strand of hair from her scalp, eyelashes and whole body.
Swiss-born Claire describes the condition as an addiction, comparing it to the pressing urge to spark up a cigarette for smokers.
Circus contortionist Claire says she struggled with a lack of support for the condition and that, because of a lack of understanding, bullies called her names like 'alien' at school in Switzerland where she grew up.
Claire, who now lives in Bristol, explained: "The condition is like an addiction. It's like smoking cigarettes. It's a need and you feel a relief when you have done it.
"When you are ten in Switzerland, you go to middle school. It's a much bigger school, with exams and big classes. The stress of that had something to do with the hair-pulling, I think.
"I remember sitting at my school desk and right next to it was a clump of hair which I had to clear up every day.
"Nobody knew about it, or even the name of the condition. You have no idea why it is happening. You are thinking 'why am I doing this?'
"The horrible thing about it is you are doing it to yourself. It isn't socially acceptable."
Claire's started to experience symptoms of OCD at the age of nine when she had an overwhelming urge to clean.
By the time she was 11 she had a bald patch on the back of her head. And one year later, as she turned 12, she had shaved her head and was wearing a wig.
"Kids can be really cruel, playing with your wig and pulling it off in class. They don't realise how important it is to you. They make fun of you and call you 'alien'. It made things really dark. I was afraid of everyone. You don't trust people," Claire added.
"I had friends, and they were the one reason I was going to school, but I was always thinking 'is that person going to try to find a way to see me bald?'"
Claire was reluctant to meet new people and unable to enjoy her hobby and passion of circus performing because of her condition.
"I was afraid of my wig falling off," she explained. "I tried everything to stop pulling - elastic round my wrists, pulling hair from dolls, medication, hypnotherapy. It didn't work. I had therapists but they'd never had a patient who pulled their hair before."
She tried to take her own life twice at the age of 13, recalling: "I couldn't take being at school. The bullying didn't help, but I couldn't just sit in a classroom. I wonder if in my whole life I spent a whole week at school without missing a class."
Shortly before Claire turned 14, she was left devastated when her mum Stephanie took her own life.
She received treatment for "constant depression" in a psychiatric hospital over the next two months.
"My only goal was to survive, to go another day," Claire confessed.
After her stay in hospital, Claire enrolled at a different type of school in Lausanne which she says was "like a hippie community".
"There was a lot of focus on things like art and singing. They were really supportive, more than at my old school," she added.
"They knew the kids were there for a reason, and that we needed to express ourselves."
Claire's anxiety and hair-pulling continued despite feeling happier in school.
When she turned 18 she moved to Bristol to train in the Circomedia school and credits it with saving her life.
She explained: "Before that I was letting other people decide things for me, and all I wanted was my mum.
"Moving here was me doing something for myself. I am a totally different person since coming here.
"Bristol is like a big family. I make friends everywhere I go.
"I have learned to hold myself back from panic. I try not to be stressed about things as much."
Claire is now a hair and makeup artist as well as performing at circuses across the country.
"I still struggle with the picture I have of myself," she said. "I can't remember what it feels like to have a full head of hair."
Most of the hair from Claire's scalp is gone, but she plans to have a hair transplant soon.
Her dad Philippe, who supported his daughter through the toughest times, has offered to pay for the £10,000 operation.
"I am really excited for the transplant. It's about not having any worries about whether my wig is attached. If I sweat it means three hours of washing my hair and changing the adhesive. It's something to worry about every day," she explained.
Claire is also taking part in a new documentary by filmmaker Arthur Cauty called Faces of Mental Health, which speaks to young people about the issue.
Arthur says the short film: "challenges stigma and encourages open conversation around mental illness and suicide in young people."
The closing words of the documentary are ones of advice from Claire: "Open up. Don't be scared. It can save your life."
Her work to raise awareness of trich has resulted in other young people with the condition reaching out to her for advice and support.
"I have had messages from teenagers saying they had been pulling their hair out for years, and they had been hiding it so no one knew," she said.
"They told me that my speaking out had really helped them. It was a really nice feeling to hear that."
Featured Image Credit: Credit: SWNS