One thing I see a lot of advocates worry about is their disorders becoming their identity. Not in the sense that it consumes who they are, but in the sense that it consumes other people’s perceptions of who they are, becoming all they’re known for.
It’s something I think about, too.
On the one hand, I want to help people who have dermatillomania like I do. I want them to know they’re not alone and that it is possible to live a happy and full life even with this disorder. I want others to know that like other mental illnesses, it’s not something we should feel shame for. I want them to know there is hope.
I want those same people to know who I am in the body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB) and skin picking community and that it’s okay to approach me. That they can come to me for reliable information and solid support in the wake of a world that currently tries to shut us down and shove us aside. I want to be the voice that didn’t exist for me when I was young and struggling through this disorder.
I want to educate people about dermatillomania so there is less stigma and more understanding, support, and love. I want people to know that we’re people too, not contagious or atrocious or anything to be fearful of. We just have a disorder – an extra challenge in our lives that we have no control over having.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be known only for my advocacy. I don’t want to be known only as the woman with skin picking disorder. I don’t want that to be all people see when they look at me.
I want people to know who I am beyond the disorder. How I love to write, how I love my pets, how I love the people in my life very dearly, and all the other things that make me human.
I want people to see my marks and scars and know they’re not an issue. But I also want people to look beyond them to see who I am as a person.
I spoke at a one-day conference hosted by the Canadian BFRB Support Network back in November, and one of the things I said to the crowd was, “Skin picking is not who I am, but a part of my story. It is a part of the narrative that makes up who I’ve become, but not the defining feature.”
It’s important to me to continue to advocate for awareness for my disorder, but it is also important to me to live in spite of it, which to some degree means to live beyond it. It’s not the only thing in my life and more importantly shouldn’t be the only thing in my life.
I’m a multifaceted person, as we all are.
My dermatillomania and other mental illnesses are a big factor in my life, but they are not my identity.
About Laura Barton
Laura is a 25-year-old writer living in Ontario’s Niagara Region. Her passion for writing and personal journey with mental health issues has led her to become an advocate, a blogger for the Canadian BFRB Support Network and also to release her own book, Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars. She struggled with depression and anxiety through university, but pulled through, receiving a BA in English Language and Literature from Brock University. She is currently pursuing a diploma in Journalism. You can follower her on Twitter and find her on LinkedIn.