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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!

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Happy Birthday To Me

About three months ago I put a plan in place to stop picking by my 25th birthday. In 1 minute, I will be 25 years old and my picking is the worst it’s been all year.

That photo is of me on Friday night… I spent my night picking for hours on end to the point I felt physically sick to my stomach and that depressed I contemplated suicide.

I feel worse tonight.

My back is on fire. I have a weeping open wound in between my shoulder blades that just won’t heal and I can feel it burning. All the skin around it is red, raised and hot to touch. My face is stinging and my arms and legs are covered in band-aids.

I haven’t felt this sad in a long long time.

I’m 25 tomorrow. That’s 21 years living with Derma and I’m not sure I can do it anymore.

I’m in so much mental and physical pain. I just want to cry but I can’t.

I can’t handle how much this disorder has consumed my life. I feel so ill. A sign I am infected once again.

Happy birthday to me.

Dermatillomania – It has a name!

Video Number Two: This was made at the beginning of 2009, a few weeks after I found out that my illness had a name: Dermatillomania. By this stage I’m getting pretty desperate for help… it’s very hard for me to watch back over these but I’m uploading them again in the hope that they will help other sufferers realise that they are not alone in this. Much love to you if you are feeling or have ever felt like I did in this video. x

Kicking Dermatillomania

I’ve been looking through old pictures and thought I would share a comparison between how bad my skin can get (when my derma is severe and my stress levels are high) and how good my skin can get (when my derma is manageable and my stress levels are low). No matter how clear my skin can get I ALWAYS feel like the girl on the left. Having spent so many years in a continuous state of severe derma I struggle to see myself how I look now – I still think I look like the girl on the left until I see proof like this. Photos like this set out side by side show just how far I’ve come. As hard as it is to take pictures, especially when the picking is at an all time high, it’s worth it to see the progress you have made. It also motivates you to keep fighting the fight! Kicking Dermatillomania… we’ve got this!!

Dermatillomania – My video to Dr. Phil

One of the very first videos I made about my Dermatillomania. Never before has this video been uploaded until now. This was filmed in 2008 when I was 19 years old and before I knew that my condition had a name. You can tell in my video that I have no idea what I suffer from or that there are other sufferers out there as I still refer to my condition as “scratching” which is the only name I knew for it growing up. This is painful for me to watch and intimidating for me to upload but I’m hoping in sharing this it may be able to help others out there. It’s also a way of showing how far I’ve come in this battle over the years. There will be more videos to come over the following days and weeks containing old footage of myself describing my struggles with Dermatillomania – so stay tuned!

Dark Memories

I finally set up my old computer and managed to locate the old Dermatillomania videos I had uploaded 4 years ago to YouTube plus one I made over 5 years ago for Dr. Phil but never uploaded or made public. They were so incredibly heartbreaking to watch! I had no idea my picking was that bad 😦 Watching those videos has literally crushed me! I was so broken back then and it bought me to tears watching how much I used to suffer. All I wanted to do was reach through my computer; give myself a massive hug and say:

DON’T GIVE UP! You are a strong young woman with so much potential and so much to give! You WILL get through this dark period in your life. One day things will be so much brighter. You will be so much happier. Beneath the sores and scars you are so incredibly beautiful – don’t let the marks define who you are! YOU ARE NOT YOUR CONDITION!

Keep those words in mind. They apply to you too. Even if the days are dark. Even if it feels like you are stuck beneath a storm cloud that never shifts and never lets any light through – one day there will be a break in those clouds and the tiniest ray of light will reach you. From there it can only grow until one day the storm clouds pass completely! There is HOPE in your STRENGTH! Life is too beautiful to hide away from it. LIVE IT!!

Much love to all of you who suffer with this. I’d forgotten just how hard it can be when your life is being severely impacted by Dermatillomania. I still pick. I’ve never stopped. But it has gotten a lot better and I’m determined to keep up the good work and kick this fucker once and for all! Expletive was totally necessary here!

Stay tuned for the videos that are to be re-uploaded.

Progress Is Being Made

I’ve been doing really well lately – so well in fact that my picking has lessened enough that I went to the dvd store last night with NO makeup on my face. I was devastated when I realised the dvd store was shut and I would instead have to go inside the shopping centre to return my rentals BUT I did it! I may have been extremely anxious, fiddling with my fingers in my pocket the entire time and turning my head or looking down every time I passed another shopper, but I managed to leave my house without makeup and this is a small step in the right direction! I’m also weighing in at 43.3kg, and that was after a yucky bout of vomiting thanks to gastro, which means I have managed to put on 4.7kg in 6 months (probably more now that I can finally eat again)! Which means I’m only 1.7kg away from my goal weight of 45kg and I am slowly starting to not be so paranoid about germs in my food. Next step will be buying and cooking mince or chicken. At the moment I’m only ok with steak!

If you’re wondering why I’m all of a sudden talking about food I too suffer from OCD and have done since I was a little girl. I used to spend hours checking locks, taps and light switches but I managed for the most part to overcome that. Now, after a stressful period last year, it has returned in the form of thinking my food is contaminated and being extremely cautious with what I buy and eat. And I also have to wash my hands quite frequently with hot water and soap! I thought I’d kicked my OCD but my psychologist told me that in times of stress it can return as it is the only way I feel like I can have some control over what’s happening in my life. OCD is about control and when I felt like I was losing control the OCD returned.

Does anyone else suffer with any other conditions on top of the Dermatillomania? My official diagnosis a few years ago, when my picking was at its peak, was: severe depression with suicidal tendencies, anxiety disorder, OCD and Dermatillomania. Fun times… not!! :/

Could I have BPD?

I learnt something very interesting in my psychology session the other day after I asked my therapist whether or not she thought it was possible that I could have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) due to my inability to maintain relationships and feel attachment to people. I dated someone with BPD whose similarities to me were uncanny and this, along with the fact he continually told me I suffered from it, prompted me to finally get up the courage and ask my psychologist once and for all. Turns out, there is a very fine line between simply having the traits and having the actual disorder. The way she explained it was this:

  • Picture a circle with three lines stemming from it. The circle is the circle of sensitivity and each line represents a sensitivity – these being Separation, Esteem and Safety.
  • The lines are like a continuum and if you sit in the circle you are what’s considered “normal” although there is no such thing as normal.
  • The closer you are to the circle the further away from a disorder you are but it is perfectly natural to experience traits in each of the three categories: Separation, Esteem and Safety. It is when you cannot control your feelings/traits that each of these can then become a disorder. Separation turns into Borderline, Esteem turns into Narcissistic and Safety turns into Schizoid.
  • Each person sits along these continuums and I just so happen to have Borderline traits but this does not mean I have Borderline Personality Disorder. It would also be perfectly natural for me to exhibit Narcisstic and Schizoid traits and again this does not mean I have the disorder.

My relationship problems (and she’s been my therapist through 6 relationships now) stems from my choice in men. I choose men who “need me”. Men who expect their needs to be met before my own. And that is where the problem lies. As demonstrated by the main female character in “The Silver Linings Playbook” – “Time after time, I do all this shit for other people. And then I wake up and I’m empty, I have nothing.” It is also when I am putting other people’s needs before my own that my picking gets worse. I pick at myself both metaphorically and physically.

When I am happy in life and happy in myself my picking lessens because I feel worthy! When I am in a relationship and my needs aren’t being met or are just outright being ignored I take this out on myself by picking at my skin. I also do this when someone is bothering me and instead of telling them I have a problem with what they are doing; I go to the bathroom instead and PICK PICK PICK! I need to stop internalising other people’s problems and picking myself because of it. My therapist said I need to realise that their issues are their issues and I don’t have to take them on. Their issues are for them to deal with – I have my own that I need to sort out!

Now this is hard for me to do because I like to help other people. In fact my dream in life is to help others. I feel like I have experienced so much pain in order to help others through theirs. I am also a good listener. BUT I realise now that I am not in the correct mental space to be taking on other people’s issues while I am still sorting out my own. This does not mean I have to stop being a kind, caring friend to others – it simply means I do not have to beat myself up (pick at my skin) when I cannot solve their problems. The best thing I can do right now is BE HAPPY and show them how they can be as well; and also to stop dwelling on the negatives and start focusing on the positives. Life is what you make it… and I choose to make life FANTASTIC!!

It’s been a week since I started on this stop picking journey and for the most part my skin has been getting better. I haven’t stopped cold turkey but I have definitely cut down! I was going to post a picture for you all to see my improvement but I had a little slip up last night and turned two almost healed scabs on my face into two nice open wounds. I started to get angry at myself when I saw my reflection in the mirror this morning and then I stopped. I decided to be kind to myself instead. I told myself “You’ve been sick in bed with gastro for the last two days and it’s stressed you out. You’ve only made two sores so just leave them alone from now on and don’t be so hard on yourself.” This is a big change from the negative internal dialogue I used to succumb to.

Anyway sorry all for the delayed post – this stomach flu has really knocked me. And also the conversation I have written about between me and my therapist is not to be taken as medical/psychological advice and may not be accurate word for word. This is what I remembered from our conversation and I thought the theory she discussed might make sense to others as it did to me. I have also told her I want to stop picking, I don’t need it anymore to which she replied something along the lines of “Wow this is the first time I’ve ever heard you say you actually want to stop; before you would always hold onto it because it was your only coping strategy.” So now, together with her help, we will be looking for healthy coping strategies that can be used to replace the picking as she mentioned I can’t quit until I find something to replace it with. Otherwise what will I do when I’m stressed? How will I cope without my picking?

Never Ending Struggle

Never Ending Struggle

Woke up… Started picking. Completely forgot that today was the day I was meant to start trying to stop. Got angry with myself. Went to the mirror, grabbed my tweezers and picked every spot I could find on my face. In this picture you can even see the indented scars by the side of my eye. They look like pock marks from acne but they are just from me picking continuously at the same sore over and over again until I’ve created a “crater”.

Good night had after a bad afternoon ♥

Decided not to let my picking, depression or other people’s “not-so-nice” words and lack of understanding get to me tonight. Sooo after I posted my blog post and made my video I shouted myself a Jacks n Coke and took myself to see a movie – The Internship. First time I’ve ever gone out on my own and I LOVED it!

I think for me, when trying to stop picking, even if I relapse I need to push myself to get out there and not curl up into a ball under my doona. Which is tempting… BUT unproductive and doesn’t help me feel any better. Now that I’m home though and it’s past midnight I think I’ll give myself permission to make a cuppa and curl up under that doona… just got to make my bed first… ooops!

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