The OCD Center of Los Angeles is offering a free subscription to an exclusive 52-week online program developed specifically for those suffering with Dermatillomania and Trichotillomania. Follow the link to find out more or to sign up today. I think this is something I’ll be willing to try… what have we got to lose right?
I got to thinking tonight that if I could address my future/current partner about my mental illness, what would I say? Those of us with derma know how tricky it is to maintain relationships and intimacy because of the way we feel about ourselves. It’s a hard topic to discuss. When is the right time? When should we bring it up? Before or after they notice our uncanny obsession with our skin? And for those of us who are public about our disorder, what do you do when a person interested in you, reads about your illness online before you even have the chance to inform them of it? It sort of feels like someone has read your diary without your permission. I have had that happen to me before and I didn’t like it. The only alternative for me is to jump right in before I’m ready and share my intimate deals with a potential partner before they find me online. It’s not a nice situation to be in but the only alternative is to disappear online and I cannot do that to all of you who have kept me going for so very long. So I’m curious, what would you write to your future/current partner if you could? How would you explain this disorder to them? What would you want them to know? How would you want them to show that they understand? How would you want them to show that they care?
This is what I wrote…
Dear future/current partner,
If you have stumbled across my blog before we’ve had a chance to talk about this thing that I have, then please be honest and let me know.
Don’t pretend you haven’t seen it and then try and find ways to get it out of me.
This is not a secret of mine. This is a mental illness. A serious one. Not only has it physically damaged my body but the emotional trauma that living with this disorder has had on me, has been profound. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve almost committed suicide over this condition. It felt (feels) like the only way out at times.
I have had this since I was 4 years old. I’m almost 29. I cannot control it. It is a part of me. Sometimes I will go into remission and I will look almost completely normal, to the point you wouldn’t really think anything too serious is wrong with me.
And then I relapse. As you will no doubt see from my many photos and videos.
And of course the symptoms aren’t just physical. When I relapse it takes a huge toll on me mentally and emotionally. I become withdrawn, angry, depressed, anti-social and suicidal. Not only do I become my own punching bag but so do the people around me. The people closest to me. Although I am working on this.
If you are still reading this and are still interested then please know that it will take me a while to become comfortable in my own skin around you. I won’t let you see me naked unless the lights are off. I will flinch and pull away if I think you can see or feel my imperfections. I quietly die on the inside when you notice them. I know they are there; I don’t need to be reminded of them.
I will wear makeup all the time not because I love makeup or because I am trying to hide my true self from you, but because I find my own reflection so distressing that I don’t want to put anyone else through that.
And maybe you think I look fine. Beautiful perhaps. But after years upon years upon years of being called every synonym under the sun for ugly, I don’t feel anything but. I have been told my appearance makes people feel sick to the stomach. I’ve even been told that I look so f***ing disgusting that I should just kill myself already. So I wrote my goodbye letters and then thankfully found the courage to book myself into a mental hospital instead of acting on those words and taking my own life. These comments were made to me in my 20’s. I won’t even bother describing the school yard bullying. We all know the nasty things kids say. I don’t need to repeat them.
The point is. I don’t feel beautiful enough to let someone see me in my own skin. In the bare flesh with not a trace of makeup on. I don’t feel worthy enough of a partner. I don’t feel pretty enough to be someone’s ‘arm candy’. So I hide away. I am imperfect but I desperately long to be perfect. It’s why I have been attacking my skin for so long because I just want to be perfect. Makes no sense right? Yeah, it’s a skin picker thing. But I am so badly damaged now that I could never be perfect.
So this is me. It takes a lot to love me. It takes a strong person. Maybe you’ve met me at an ok part in my skin picking journey, because I certainly wouldn’t let anyone in otherwise, but there’s always the chance that I will slip up again. And I will look like I did in all of my old photos. The ones where I am so badly wounded and sore and broken that death felt like paradise to me.
And even though I know when I compare photos of myself now to ones of me even just a couple of years ago, I don’t look like that person anymore; I still feel like that person, and that is the person that I still see in the mirror each and every single day.
So if you’re still reading, perhaps you’re curious, perhaps you genuinely care and understand, perhaps you’re still interested.
Now you know a small part of my story and a large part of what makes me who I am. I’m open to talking about this with you. I want to talk about this with you. Especially if you’ve stumbled across this blog without me sharing this condition with you first.
I don’t need anyone to fix me. I don’t need anyone to help me. I don’t need anyone to judge me. I don’t need anyone to criticise me. If you think you will do any of those things, then please walk away now. Because all I need is someone to understand and love me for who I am.
This is me. You don’t have to like me, hell I don’t even have to like me. But I can’t change me. I’ve learned to accept me for me (and I’m working on the loving part). All I ask is that if you stick around, you do the same… accept me, and all my imperfections, that is.
What do you do when you’ve reached the stage where your derma could pass for acne, or pimples, or bug bites or just generally shitty skin? Do you still tell people you have Dermatillomania? Welcome to my current conundrum.
I mean obviously I still have it. Enough for people to still point out the scars and the scabs… but not so bad that I can’t pass it off as something else. Something everyday. Something normal. Something that anybody could have. “Oh it’s just pimples. Oh it’s just acne. Oh my cat just scratched me. Oh bugs must really like me. Oh I just have really shitty skin. Oh I scar really easily. BLA. BLA. BLA.”
And people believe it.
And I mean there’s some truth in it.
Yes I do get pimples. Yes I do suffer from adult acne. Yes my cats do scratch me. Yes bugs think I taste delish and they help themselves to a snack whenever they fancy a feast. Yes I have shitty skin. And yes I do scar easily.
But I also pop the pimples and the acne until I create sores that last for weeks and months on end. That 1mm cat scratch… I’ll turn that into something that looks like I’ve been attacked with Captain Hook’s hand… you know the one with the hook in it. And those bug bites… I’ll itch them until I bust them open. So I do have shitty skin and after years and years upon years of doing this to myself (24 years and counting) I am really really badly scarred. White scars. Brown scars. Red scars. Purple scars. Smooth scars. Lumpy scars. You name it, I have it.
And you know what… scars kinda suck. I mean, I love scars on other people. They’re cool. They tell a story. But on me… no. What story can I possibly tell?
I do this to myself. It’s self-inflicted. But it’s not self harm.
Derma is my demon.
I may go into remission from time to time and let my demons lie but relapse is always there. Within arm’s reach. At the tip of my fingers. What’s that saying… Idle hands make devil’s work.
You see the thing is my skin has been going kinda ok lately because I’ve been batshit busy. Like crazy super busy.
I graduated uni with a double degree… YAY.
I landed my first full time job in my chosen profession… YAY (sort of).
I bought my first house… YAY.
And I’m renovating it from scratch… HELL!
And so with barely any time to pick, my skin isn’t dotted with as many wounds as it is used to. But the scars tell a different story and they remind me that I still have this thing. This demon that I want to bury. To forget about. To never talk about. Again.
Notice I’ve been quiet on here. Notice I’ve been quiet everywhere. I shut off when things get too hard. I shut off from things. I shut off from people. I shut off from life.
I’m in a dissociative state right now. I am writing this in an attempt to come back to myself.
But I still feel so detached.
Things have been hard lately.
I always assumed that when life started falling into place (degree, job, house, child, etc.) that I would fall into place. That I would start to feel normal.
But I don’t.
As the picking lessened (and not through any choice of my own)… wait is it bad that I feel sad about being too time-poor to pick… anyway where was I… Oh that’s right. As the picking lessened my anxiety sky rocketed. I mean like to infinity and beyond… Buzz Lightyear style because I haven’t really left Earth yet. But I mean WOAH. Like leaving my house is hard. Driving is hard. Shopping is hard. Breathing is hard. Thinking is hard. Being is hard. Living is hard.
Is this what always lay underneath the surface of my Dermatillomania?
Because, shit, pass me the derma and depression any day over this anxiety.
It’s so suffocating.
To the point my heart is always beating twice, almost three times, as fast as it should be. The doctor reckons it’s gotten up to 180bpm. I wore a holter monitor for 24 hours and they recorded 167bpm at its fastest.
The diagnosis… inappropriate sinus tachycardia.
I feel like dying everyday. Not as in I want to die. As in my heart beating this fast all of the time makes me feel like I’m about to die.
And of course they’ve given me medication. And of course the anxiety and OCD have kicked in about taking the medication. And so it’s just one big vicious cycle.
OCD DERMATILLOMANIA ANXIETY PANIC DISORDER DEPRESSION
I know something needs to change. I know I need to get my shit together. I know I should give the beta-blockers and antidepressants a go. I know I should probably be reassessed by my psychiatrist because I know something’s not quite right.
And I know I probably shouldn’t be writing all of this because I don’t really want anyone to be in my head right now but here I am.
I never thought I would go silent. Disappear. But I have. And I’m sorry. I shut myself off from talking about this disorder – Dermatillomania and my other basket full of mental health issues – because I just didn’t want to be that person anymore.
But I’m still her.
And I’m still here.
Thank you to everyone who still follows me. Who still request to join my Facebook group. Who still enquire about my wristbands. Who still read what I write. Who take the time to leave comments, even though I know they go unanswered (I’m truly sorry).
But most of all thank you for being you. I could not survive this shit without knowing that there are other beautiful human beings out there just like me who totally get what it’s like to be a prisoner in your own body.
I love you all and thank you for keeping me going.
For bringing me back to life.
So after months and months of hiding offline due to hitting a major picking low and having a major depressive episode (I was picking to the point of suicidal ideation) I have managed to get this disorder somewhat back under control. Not many sores left but OH THE SCARS!! So my mum just finished giving me a facial using microdermabrasion products. Mum was right when she told me that as I grew older my skin wouldn’t heal itself as quickly. My scars used to fade within days, now they take months to years to disappear which does not motivate me to refrain from skin picking. I’m almost 27 now (yikes!) and one of these days I’ll stop picking…
I haven’t posted in a while. Purposefully. I guess I don’t really feel as though I have much to say. Much to share. I started this blog with the hope of encouraging myself, and others, to stop skin-picking. But I find the battle so overwhelming that I don’t know how to stop. I admit that I am in a much better place today than where I was just a few years ago. But I still pick. Daily.
I have sort of come to terms with my derma, in the sense that I now think of it and treat it as more of a physical dis-ease than a mental one. For example if one were to have diabetes, they may have it for life but they become aware of the symptoms and risks and how best to manage them. With skin-picking I am aware of the symptoms and risks (depression, suicidal ideation, open wounds, scarring) and I simply have to learn how best to manage them as I may very well have this disorder for life. Part of this disorder is having a desire to ‘perfect’ the skin when in reality we are actually destroying it. I am trying to shift my thinking to actually caring for my skin – ‘perfecting’ it in a different way. I exfoliate. I moisturise with coconut oil. I use scar treatment oil. I cover open sores with bandaids to let them heal and to remind myself not to pick. Little by little these small things are helping in their own small way but I know I could be doing a lot more.
Every year I make the New Year’s resolution to stop skin picking. Every year, I fail. This year is the first year I have not made any New Year’s resolutions although I know in the back of my mind I still want to stop picking. And the sooner the better. It’s just I can’t handle the failure anymore. I’m trying to find things to motivate myself to stop picking – less time to get ready, more confidence, be able to wear what I want, enjoy summer, date. And again whilst these desires motivate me a little, I still can’t seem to take that extra leap to actually stop.
I know I’d be a better mother if I stopped. A better daughter. A better friend. A better partner. A better lover. But at the same time my derma has made me who I am today and I guess I have to be thankful for that. My derma has made me a more compassionate and empathetic person who has the ability to look past physical appearances to the person underneath the skin. I find all people beautiful – if they are beautiful on the inside. I have never judged someone for their appearance. I give people second chances. I make people laugh. I will always listen. I will always care. I’m a better person on the inside because of my derma. I may be more scarred and a little less appealing on the eye than the ‘average’ person but perhaps that’s a compromise I have come to not only accept but also to appreciate.
I am a walking contradiction. At times I find life so difficult that I think death is the only answer but then I desperately want to live. I fear ill health and death and yet I fear my fears to the point that I see death as the only way out.
I realised tonight that mental health is just as important as physical health and deserves the same amount of recognition. I have a mental condition and I don’t think I’ll ever be cured from it, the best I can do is learn how to manage the dis-ease. I find that my mental illness also causes physical illness. I feel all kinds of things that I just don’t want to feel but the more I try not to feel the more I end up feeling.
My legs are restless. I am lying in bed but my legs feel so itchy from the inside out that I just wish I could tear them both off. I feel like I need to get up and move around but I am so tired that I just don’t want to move. I’ve just discovered I have a vitamin B12 deficiency so all my symptoms of late can be put down to that – breathlessness, faintness, dizziness, chest pains, rapid heart rate, fatigue, depression, tingling arms and legs, restless legs, etc. At first my doctor just thought I was stressed and anxious, and I could believe that, but it turns out there was an underlying condition. Apparently it can be quite serious if left untreated but I am petrified of the treatment.
You see I fear medication because I fear side effects. Even though an illness makes me ill and could even possibly kill me I never take anything I am prescribed because the medication could make me ill and even possibly kill me. Seriously how fucked is my mind? Like can you even win with me?
And I know I don’t think rationally yet I can recognise my irrational thoughts as irrational. Like I think about ending my life over the most stupidest of things. No seriously it is ridiculous! When I was 13 years old I remember wanting to commit suicide because I thought my wrists were too thin and would snap at any given moment. Lately I’ve been wanting to end it all because I received a dodgy filling months ago and it is still causing me pain even after they were forced to redo it. Now I am too scared to have it replaced a third time so I am just putting up with the pain.
And I know there are people out there right now in excruciating pain. Mental and phsyical. And they would give anything to trade places with me. And here I am complaining. There are people battling cancer right this second. Mothers who have just lost a child. Travellers being beheaded by terrorists. And here I am in a warm comfortable bed. I had a beautiful deliciously healthy dinner and I relaxed to a movie and a new TV series tonight and yet I still can’t feel happy. I just feel… empty, lost, lonely, tired, hopeless and full of regret.
The only thing that helps me is to write. To just get it all out of me. I feel like a failure but at the same time a success. I feel lonely but at the same time I like being alone. I want to be well but at the same time I avoid everything that will make me well. I want more children but I fear I will never be able to have any more. I want to go and check that my fridge door is shut for the hundredth millionth time but I don’t want to keep giving in to my OCD. I want to not suffer with mental illness anymore but at the same time I am grateful that I am not suffering with a serious physical illness. I am so many things that I do not want to be and yet I do not do anything to change into the person that I do want to be. I am a walking contradiction. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
I understand that this blog post probably makes no sense. I haven’t bothered to censor myself. I just wanted to provide you with a snapshot of what goes on inside my head every second of every day. Dermatillomania is not my only disorder. Sometimes my anxiety, depression and OCD overwhelm me and at times like this, it is not at all related to the skin picking. Tonight is just a night for my other mental illnesses to come out and play. Anyone reading this would probably assume I was drunk or off my face on drugs. I know I sure would think so after reading such scattered thoughts. But then again I am a highly rational irrational person and I can assure you that I’m 110% sober but I maybe just maybe am a little bit crazy. Unfortunately.
If stress had a face this would be it…
I wish I knew a healthier way to cope with my stress. This disorder is slowly killing me from the inside out. Although of course it is quite possible that this disorder could kill me from the outside in. With every wound comes the risk of infection and I’m no stranger to infections.
The cause of my stress may also be the reason I go quiet on here again. I am back to working 4-5 nights a week, full-time uni goes back on Tuesday, my little man goes back to school on Wednesday, I have a 5 week teaching practicum coming up in mid-October and on top of all of this I am still trying to sort out my furniture and a home for my cats from my break up almost 2 years ago now. I know I have taken on too much. I always do. I have an extremely addictive personality and I get addicted to work and study just like I am addicted to picking at my skin. I don’t know how to slow down. I find keeping busy helps with my Dermatillomania but at the same time the pressure it puts on my heart and my brain and my body – sometimes it feels like I will have a nervous breakdown and never come back from it.
I attended an OSPA (Obsessive Skin-Pickers Anonymous) meeting online about a week ago and this helped me come to the realisation that I am powerless over my skin-picking. It is an addiction and it does have a hold on me. Unfortunately unlike drugs and alcohol I can’t simply abstain from the substance for the very addiction is me. My fingers, my nails, my hands always constantly searching my skin for the next spot, the next pimple, the next blemish, the next scar to reopen. THE NEXT FIX! How can I distance myself from myself long enough to beat this thing once and for all?
Once I came to the realisation that this disorder has more control over me than I want it to, I contacted an addiction recovery clinic here in Perth, Western Australia. I explained Dermatillomania to them and I wondered if they would be willing to take me on as a patient. Although they had never treated anyone with my specific disorder they advised me that they had successfully treated a number of patients with compulsive disorders using a drug called Naltrexone. In their words: “Naltrexone works to block the opiate receptors in the brain, but a flow on effect of this is that it reduces surges in dopamine (surges in dopamine are what gives you the pleasure and reward from doing a certain task)”. So although the drug would stop my picking from feeling good it appears that it would also stop other things from feeling good. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for my depression. However given how low my mood can currently drop I worry about how dangerously low it could get if I no longer experienced any pleasure whatsoever.
The good news is that I haven’t given up yet. I still want to beat this and I am still exploring my options. Addiction treatment and/or having my nails surgically removed are two options I am considering as last resorts. In the meantime (now that I am finally working again) I am hoping to be able to afford the regular upkeep of acrylic nails and I may even start looking for a new psychologist or hypnotherapist to work with again. This is the longest I have gone in my life without seeing a mental health professional (from the age of 8 years old I have seen one regularly). Sadly I had to finish up a 4 year relationship with my psychologist in January of this year as she was offered a job elsewhere and it was a great opportunity for her. Up until this point I have been coping but I know I’m at the stage where I need the help again.
This post was a bit ranty and maybe a bit all over the place. It’s 3:00am here and I have a splitting headache but I just needed to write and get things off my chest so that maybe just MAYBE I can sleep tonight. I have spent the last few days and nights picking sometimes until 4am in the morning and sometimes for over 3 hours straight. I know I need to start taking better care of myself but I also know I don’t have the time right now to do that. I often think of deferring uni for 6 months and really knuckling down and working on this condition but at the same time I worry that having nothing on my plate will only contribute to more picking. At the moment it seems like a lose-lose situation whichever way I turn. So for now I will leave you and myself with the serenity prayer, sometimes referred to as the AA prayer:
~ God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. ~
So it has been a while since I have written anything on here. My apologies! Last year I found it really hard juggling full time uni, my night job, volunteer work, a teaching prac, being a single mum as well as keeping this website updated and selling the Dermatillomania Awareness Wristbands. Something had to give because we all know what happens when we suffer from this disorder and we become stressed and overwhelmed: PICK PICK PICK!!! So I decided to leave the blog for a bit and just become more active in my Dermatillomania Support Group. It turns out that this year has been just as hectic as the last (although I have learnt to manage my time a bit better) and next semester is going to be one of the most chaotic semesters I have ever undertaken so I may or may not go quiet again on here. Please understand it is not because I have stopped raising awareness of the cause or because I have no more stories to share… quite the opposite in fact! So here’s an update on how I’ve been doing:
NOT SO GREAT!!
Any surprises there?
To be fair I was doing quite well. I managed to wear a dress to a party in January and a pair of shorts to a catch up with friends but then… that dreaded word… RELAPSE!! Made worse by the fact I am on break at the moment and when I find myself with nothing to do, well, I pick of course! Stress and boredom are two big triggers for me. Plus I suffer with depression so unless there is something motivating me to get out of bed each and every single day then chances are I will stay in bed and pick. I will also stay up all night and pick. Of course this makes me feel bad so then I pick more! But you all know this right? This vicious cycle… the never ending merry-go-round of derma, a ride we desperately want to hop off from but how?
Not only do I feel bad for myself but now I am starting to feel guilty. Guilty that this skin-picking disorder is now impacting on my son. I mean we have spent most of the school holidays inside because I am too ashamed to leave the house… I won’t even go outside to throw rubbish in the bin! Yes I am back there again! BUT if I put makeup on then I at least manage to force myself to go outside. It’s just finding the motivation to first look at my reflection in the mirror and then begin the painstaking process of trying to cover up each and every one of my self-inflicted wounds so that I at least appear somewhat ‘normal’ to the outside world. But my son brought something to my attention the other day in the roundabout innocent way that children get straight to the crux of the issue.
I was sorting laundry when I noticed certain stains on little boy’s jocks and so I teased him that boys were dirty (because let’s face it, we’ve all found those stains in grown men’s underwear too)! Little did I realise I’d get teased back!
“Ewww boys are dirty” I teased with a smile on my face.
“No you’re dirty” my little man retorted.
“How” I asked, curious as to what response he could possibly have for girls being dirty.
“You’re not clean because you have polk-a-dots” he said, pointing at my face.
“Can’t you just go and put some makeup on” he added, pouring salt into my wounds.
Well what was I supposed to say to that? I did manage to mutter a “that’s not very nice mate” but at the end of the day he was just speaking the truth. And that’s the thing about kids… they’re damn honest even when you don’t want them to be! Family, friends and even partners (as nasty as they can be sometimes when it comes to this disorder) mostly try to make you feel good about yourself placating you with comments such as: “It’s not that bad” “I can barely notice it” “You still look beautiful to me” bla bla bla. But let’s face it; my seven year old nailed it! I know I look like shit. In fact I think I look like a junkie at the moment. My hair is unbrushed and all over the place, I stay dressed in my pyjamas all day and my face and hands are covered in open wounds. Luckily it’s winter at the moment so at least my legs and arms and all the rest of me are mostly covered up!
I admit I sometimes criticise people (only in my head of course) for their dress and body art choices after they’ve become a parent. Not that I have anything against people’s choices when it comes to their own appearance but sometimes becoming a parent means a bit of conservativeness wouldn’t go astray. I often wonder if these children will be embarrassed of the way their parents’ look; however never once did I stop to think how my son must feel about the way I look. I will put on clothes and makeup to cover up this disorder to everyone else (family, friends, partners, work colleagues, etc.) but not my son. Never my son. Maybe I thought because he had only ever known me this way that he wouldn’t even notice it. But he has. And I know that now. And I feel awful that he has to look at me every single day and stomach what this disorder has and still is doing to my appearance. I have a good kid! In fact I think he is fantastic and he’s usually super sensitive to other people’s feelings. But maybe just maybe I needed to hear in a roundabout way what MY disorder is doing to HIM. Part of being a good parent is protecting our children, especially from pain and suffering, but how can I do that when I keep exposing him to my own pain and suffering? This is not his battle. This is mine. It is not fair that he has to suffer because I am suffering. I have always wanted to stop picking but now I want to stop for him. I just wish I knew how…
I felt like my last post may have come off as a bit of a “my skin picking is more severe than yours” rant which was not my intention at all because regardless of whether you suffer mildly or severely, you are still suffering and you can still have this disorder, so I felt the need to write this follow up post just to clarify a few things. Over the years I have noticed two things: 1. Those who are suffering quite mildly (in their own words) and therefore don’t feel like they fit into the derma community because they only pick certain areas, at certain spots and as such they feel like they fail at having this disorder; and 2. Those who are suffering quite severely (in their own words and as evident in their photographs and stories) and therefore don’t feel like they fit into the derma community because everyone seems to have it so much more under control than they do and as such they feel like they too fail at having this disorder. This is why I made the point in my last article that “In order for no one person to feel isolated about living with a condition such as Dermatillomania, it is important that there are different ways to describe the severity of the disorder, ones that are backed up by thorough medical and psychological research”. It was never meant to be a competition about who had it worse, it was just another viewpoint that I felt was important enough to be added to the conversation. Also when I spoke about severe dermatillomania, I gave an example from my own personal life. As someone who has suffered from this disorder for 21 plus years now I have experienced the highs and lows of Dermatillomania and have experienced stages where I would consider my suffering quite mild and at other times quite severe. Part of the reason I want a sliding scale for derma to come into existence is because if we can’t categorise derma then how can we even begin to evaluate our own progress or relapses? Or in my case how can I even begin to explain how I used to look and feel a few years ago compared to how I look and feel now? This is not about singling people out; this is about finding ways to make people feel included!
Sliding scale of severity set aside, the reason I wrote my last post was because I wanted to raise the point that while self-diagnosis can be helpful as a starting point (as it was for me) it does not always guarantee an accurate diagnosis and that is why it is worthwhile to have a discussion with a medically qualified health provider about the information you have found online. The second point I wanted to bring up was that there is a difference between having a bad habit, suffering from tendencies of a disorder or suffering from the full blown disorder itself. The third point I wanted to raise was that when it comes to Dermatillomania there are varying degrees of severity, just as there is with most other mental and physical illnesses and I think this needs to be acknowledged by medical professionals and other sufferers as well – not because it is a competition but because treatment options may vary and our ability to relate to other sufferers may differ depending on our own personal struggles with this disorder. And the final point I wanted to make was that the symptoms of Dermatillomania are very similar to those of Body Dysmorphic Disorder which is why it might be helpful to seek a clinical diagnosis after self-diagnosing simply to ensure that the information you are accessing online will actually be beneficial to you.
I think Dr. Phil hit the nail on the head last year with the two segments he aired that related to skin picking. The first “Distorted Beauty” featured a guest by the name of April who sought help for Dermatillomania but was perceived to be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder instead. Many viewers agreed with Dr. Phil because for those of us covered in marks/scars/open wounds April’s skin appeared flawless. Even in her photographs she appeared flawless. And this was backed up by Dr. Phil’s own words referring to April’s skin after she had removed her makeup: “It’s flawless. You are stunning!” It is hard to make judgements on this without seeing her in person though because she could have made a concerted effort to clear her skin up for the show and she was wearing long pants and sleeves in the segment however given the information I was being presented with I found myself in support of Dr. Phil’s diagnosis.
Fast forward a few months and “Obsessed and Over It” features a guest by the name of Samantha and her little sister Rachel who both engage in skin picking. The marks/scars/open wounds were highly visible not only in her photographs but also when she was asked to remove her makeup. We were even able to see video footage of Samantha and her younger sister engaged in the skin picking behaviour and I couldn’t help but think “FINALLY”! Finally Dr. Phil has featured someone on his show clearly suffering from Dermatillomania and he even went as far as to mention the DSM-5 and the diagnosis of “Excoriation Disorder”. What a relief!
Whilst I was glad that a professional with a widespread public audience had made the distinction between Dermatillomania and BDD clear there were still some things bothering me and so I felt compelled to write about self-diagnosis because it was paining me to see:
- People seeing a list of mental illnesses and/or body focused repetitive behaviours and saying “Oh I have EVERY single one of those” without seeking out a clinical diagnosis to find out if they actually DO suffer from every single mental disorder/BFRB listed. Again there is a difference between sharing symptoms from a multitude of disorders or each symptom/behaviour being severe enough on its own to warrant the diagnosis of multiple separate disorders.
- “Supposed” sufferers bullying other sufferers online, leaving remarks such as “Why can’t you just stop”, “Why would you pick where people can see it” “Why would you post such a disgusting picture” … boy does it hurt me to see other sufferers subjected to this kind of bullying by people who are not only meant to understand the disorder but also be suffering from it themselves?
- People saying “Oh I pop pimples too” and then assuming that means they also have the disorder and therefore understand a Dermatillomaniac’s innermost struggles.
- People who say they have Dermatillomania and then don’t understand why I don’t socialise, why I don’t have many friends, why I’m too embarrassed to go out after a picking session, why I HAVE to put makeup on before I let anyone see me, why I have to wear long sleeves and long pants in summer, why I don’t want to get naked in front of anyone, why I don’t want a relationship and the list goes on and on and on. If you have the disorder like you claim you do… wouldn’t you to some extent, understand what it is I’m going through?
- And lastly those who again supposedly have Dermatillomania and then call me vain because of my preoccupation with my skin. Facepalm right there.
For the most part I have had overwhelmingly positive interactions with people online and there have also been some positive experiences in face-to-face interactions as well. But then I have also witnessed and/or experienced all of the above. Now I am extremely understanding about the varying degrees of suffering that a Dermatillomaniac can experience and I totally get that this disorder comes about in a multitude of ways and therefore presents itself in a multitude of ways which is why I have never turned away a sufferer seeking help or advice. My aim here is not to take away from other’s struggles or win some kind of imaginary competition about “who has it worse”; it is about educating people, raising awareness of this disorder and encouraging those who are unsure whether or not they may be suffering from this disorder to seek a diagnosis.
And if you don’t have this disorder but you want to reach out or try and relate to what it is we go through, I will leave you with the most positive interaction I have ever experienced between a non-sufferer and myself when my picking was in a pretty severe state:
When I was around 19-20 years old I decided to take a holiday to visit my best friend, her fiancé and their daughter and stay with them in their home for over a week. It was the first holiday I had taken away from the comfort zone of my own home as an adult sufferer of Dermatillomania. I had packed all the necessities: Makeup and Tweezers. I would sit with the urges to pick ALL day until everyone went to bed, then I would grab my toiletries bag and rush into the bathroom only to spend the next few hours picking in front of the mirror. One night smack bang right in the middle of a gloriously successful picking session my best friends fiancé walked into the bathroom and caught me leaning in close to the mirror, tweezers in hand, covered in fresh open sores with blood spotted all over my face. I tried my best to cover up what I’d been doing and I was that shocked by his presence I didn’t even know how to begin to explain to him this sight he was witnessing. Instead of recoiling in horror or making some disgusting comment he simply walked over to the wall-length mirror, inspected his face and then said something along the lines of “I pop pimples and pick at imperfections on my skin too. I could easily get absorbed in it and be here all day except the only difference is I know when to stop and walk away.” That moment and that comment have always stayed with me as a positive interaction. Here was a man who despite our differences could provide a totally empathetic response that both made me feel normal by admitting he picked/popped too while recognising the severity of what I was going through by acknowledging I didn’t know when to stop. Had he walked into the bathroom and said oh I sometimes pop/pick too so I know how you feel, it probably wouldn’t have come off as such a positive experience for me. Instead here was someone who totally got it, without having to be a derma sufferer himself. Still to this day I don’t think he knows how much that interaction had an overwhelmingly positive effect on me but if he happens to stumble across this post one day … THANK YOU!