The Big Red Elephant
Dermatillomania is the big red elephant in the room when it comes to intimacy in relationships. How does one navigate the world of dating, which is tricky enough on its own without having the added complication of living with this condition? How do you even begin to describe to someone who barely knows you that you have Dermatillomania? The obvious answer to me has always been to avoid situations like this. Quite simply: don’t date. However that is unrealistic because at one stage or another we are bound to desire the intimacy of being with another human being – mentally and emotionally as well as physically. For someone with Dermatillomania all three of these connections can pose a serious problem.
Whether we like it or not there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health issues which is why I usually lie and tell people I have a skin disorder. This makes the condition sound physical – almost out of my control – without me having to explicitly state that I am suffering from a mental condition. However it’s only a matter of time before it becomes obvious that Dermatillomania is more than just a physical affliction and that there is something else going on underneath the surface. But how can you explain a condition to someone when you don’t fully understand it yourself; when you know that what you’re doing makes no logical sense whatsoever and yet you still can’t seem to find a way to stop. It really does make one sound a little bit crazy, or in other words it definitely puts the mania in Dermatillomania.
Then emotionally it’s very hard to connect with others when you are suffering from a condition like this. The saying “You have to learn to love yourself first before you can expect others to love you” comes to my mind when I think of what it feels like living with this condition. How can I expect another person to love or accept me physically, emotionally and mentally when I can’t even love or accept myself the way I am? It seems like a pretty big ask to me and because I fail to see how someone else could accept me as a Dermatillomaniac, anyone’s genuine attempts at showing me love or affection is lost on me. I have lived 21 out of 25 years with Dermatillomania and the way I have been treated because of this condition and the insults and bullying that have come my way, has affected me to the point that I struggle to believe someone even when they compliment me. I shake my head and don’t know what to say because they couldn’t possibly be talking about me or if they are then they must certainly be lying just to try and make me feel better about myself.
And finally this brings me to physical intimacy, the most problematic connection one can experience when living with Dermatillomania. If I am physically disgusted by my own appearance, how can I expect someone else to be able to look at my skin and still feel an attraction towards me? In the past I have dealt with this by only getting undressed or being intimate with someone in the dark – the very very dark! But even then I spend that much time worrying about the makeup running off my face or the feel of my skin underneath their hands, that I can’t relax enough to fully enjoy the experience. And because your mind is racing with worries instead of feel-good feelings towards the other person, the chance to emotionally connect with someone is once again lost and sex becomes a chore or an act instead of the fun, loving, bonding, intimate experience it’s supposed to be.
So how does a Dermatillomania sufferer navigate the complicated world of dating especially when we live in a society that is obsessed with body image and where we are inundated by images of flawless skin on a daily basis? For me, I don’t think I will ever allow myself to experience a truly intimate relationship, one that involves experiencing all three connections (mental, emotional, physical) simultaneously with someone until I first learn how to accept and love myself just the way I am. However I understand this isn’t for everyone so what I can say with confidence is this: There are some truly loving genuine people out there who are accepting and understanding and will not treat you any differently for being a Dermatillomaniac. Find those people and hold onto them with both hands. Anyone else, especially those who treat you differently or make you feel bad for having Dermatillomania, are not worth your time and they should be shown the door immediately. Just because we have this condition, does not mean we don’t deserve the very best – a lesson I am still learning today!