It was the middle of the night when I woke suddenly. A burning sensation prickled my scalp. And there, coiled around my fingers, were long strands of my thick, dark hair.
I lifted my head from the pillow and that's when I saw it was flecked with tiny specks of blood.
It seemed like a nightmare - too awful to be true. But for the last few weeks this had been my reality.
I'd woken up several times during the night to the same horror. What was happening to me?
I'd always loved my long and lustrous locks. In fact they were my crowning glory. 'You have the most beautiful hair,' my mum Sarina, 42, would say, lovingly brushing it when I was a child.
I'd always been proud of my tresses and they rarely went unnoticed. So I struggled to understand what was happening to me now.
Although I'd suffered depression after being attacked a few years earlier, I'd thought things were looking up. I'd been feeling much better.
Until that night in October last year when I woke to find blood on my pillow and strands of hair plucked from my scalp.
No-one else was there. Everyone in my family was in bed sleeping. Had I really done that to myself?
I could hardly believe it was possible, the pain in my head was so severe. Perhaps my hair's just shedding a bit, I tried to tell myself.
But a few days later, it happened again and as time passed, when I woke I'd be confronted with a pile of more and more hair.
Then I started to wake in the night to find clumps of hair in my hands.
Bald patches started to appear on my scalp and there were areas where my locks were torn short.
Was I really attacking myself in my sleep?
It was horrifying, and at first I was so shocked I kept it to myself. Creatively I tried to cover the patches by styling my hair in different ways.
But soon the patches became too obvious to hide any more. And I was so distressed I couldn't keep my secret any longer.
One day I was at home with my sister Shanell, 18, when it all came tumbling out. 'I feel like a freak!' I confessed, explaining how my hair had been falling out.
'I think I've been doing it myself,' I went on. 'In my sleep.'
Shanell listened calmly and was such a support. 'Don't worry,' she soothed, embracing me in a hug. 'We'd better tell Mum.'
I didn't want to worry her but I knew Shanell was right. So a few days later, I sat Mum down and tried to explain. 'My hair has been falling out in the night...' I started.
Tears flowed as I explained what was happening, and Mum started to cry too. 'Let's go to the doctor,' she said and a few days later we went together.
At first, the GP suggested I might have alopecia but when I explained how I had found the hair tangled in my hands, he agreed I must be pulling it out myself.
'There's a condition called trichotillomania,' he said, explaining it's an impulse disorder characterised by a compulsive urge to pull out one's own hair. 'Sometimes it's associated with anxiety or depression,' he continued.
However he'd never heard of anyone doing it in their sleep!
Although the doctor told me there was no cure, it was comforting to know there was a name for what I was going through.
I was already taking anti-depressants so my psychologist suggested I try wrapping a scarf over my hair in bed, or wearing a shower cap to ease my habit.
I tried that, but still I would wake in the morning to find the scarf or cap on the floor and my shredded hair scattered on my pillow.
Nothing seemed to help. As my hair loss continued, it became impossible to cover the bald patches any more.
I couldn't wear a hat all the time and anyway, what long hair I had left now pulled painfully on my irritated scalp.
So, in January, three months after the trichotillomania started, I cut my long locks to shoulder-length.
It was hard looking in the mirror and not recognising the girl staring back. The beautiful long hair that had once been my glory, was gone. I felt I looked so tired and ill.
But at the same time I realised my hair had become a weapon I'd unconsciously been using against myself. Something had to be done.
So four weeks later, I made a decision. 'I have to get rid of it,' I told Mum. With support from her, Shanell, my other sister Dominique, 23, and brother Jordan, 21, I decided to shave my head.
As Shanell took hold of Jordan's shears, my chest clenched tight. Was this really happening? I was so anxious, but as my locks fell to the floor, I felt such a sense of relief.
It's okay, I realised. It can't hurt you anymore.
At last I was free to make a fresh start. My psychologist taught me some meditation techniques to help relax my mind and body and I also started to use art as a way to focus my mind.
I've always been a keen artist and when I'm painting I can go into my own little world and dream of a better time in the future.
I hope as time goes on, things will improve. And with peace perhaps my hair will return too.
What is trichotillomania?
The condition is an impulse disorder which can be triggered by depression or stress and is characterised by the compulsion to pull out one's own hair.
Sufferers may pull hair compulsively from parts of the body, including eyelashes, eyebrows, legs, arms and hands. It is often chronic and sufferers can become socially withdrawn.
If you're suffering from anxiety or depression, help is available. Visit www.beyondblue.org.au