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Taunted teen now succeeds in school

April 15, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Faith Clevenger spends hours on her hair.

Like many teenage girls, the sophomore at South Hagerstown High School devotes much of her time before school to tweaking her locks into the latest styles.

For Faith, 15, the morning ritual has deeper significance. Less than two years ago, she was bald.

Strand by strand, she started pulling out all her long blond hair when she was in seventh grade at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown. It was the sensitive youngster's way of dealing with the teasing she said she suffered at the hands of fellow students.

By April 1999, her parents, Mark and Becky Clevenger, had withdrawn Faith from public school in hopes of finding treatment for what psychologists diagnosed as a psychological disorder called trichotillomania - a compulsion to pull out one's hair.

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"She was just a mess. She kept pulling and pulling," Becky Clevenger said. "It didn't seem like it was ever going to end."

Faith was treated for trichotillomania at the Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Md., and for her accompanying depression at Brook Lane Health Services and Behavioral Health Services in Hagerstown for more than two years.

Faith began attending school year-round at Brook Lane in late April 1999, eventually earning enough credits to graduate this year if she chooses to take summer school classes, she said. She hopes to be her class's valedictorian.

Faith is having so much fun in high school she isn't ready for it to end, she said.

The straight-A student twirls flags for the Rebel Band, participates in choral activities, hangs out with a new group of close friends, grooves to the Backstreet Boys in her bedroom and writes lengthy love letters to her boyfriend, she said.

"She's just done remarkable," her mother said.

Faith has come a long way for a girl many of her middle school peers thought was dead after she lost all her hair and dropped out of public school for three years, she said.

"I'm so much stronger now," Faith said.

Her straight blond hair started growing back thick and curly about a year and a half ago, she said. It was about shoulder-length was she started at South High last fall.

"I tell her that her curls are God's gift to her for everything she went through," Becky Clevenger said.

At one point, Faith took 13 pills a day to help control her compulsion and depression, she said. She takes no medication now.

Gradually, Faith learned ways to better deal with stress and modify her negative behavior by keeping her hands busy with other activities, she said.

"I still get urges and I still want to pull, but I don't," Faith said. "I pick something up and play with it instead. I'm really good at typing because it keeps my hands busy."

Faith credits dedicated psychologists and therapists at the three facilities where she was treated with helping her learn to cope with her disorder, she said.

She and her family also wish to thank the community for the outpouring of financial support that enabled Faith to get the help she needed.

More than $1,300 in donations from individuals and businesses in the community helped fund Faith's treatment at the Behavioral Therapy Center, Becky Clevenger said.

The Clevengers donated about $575 in funds left over after Faith's medical bills were paid to the Behavioral Therapy Center to help another child like Faith, Becky Clevenger said.

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