Having a mental disorder is rough, and when it manifests itself on your skin, like dermatillomania does, it presents a whole new set of challenges. At that point, the disorder is no longer a secret, but something for everyone to see, even if they don’t understand what they’re looking at.
My disorder is not a self-harm behaviour, but a grooming behaviour gone haywire. Think about it. Everyone picks their skin to some extent, right? Getting rid of a little blemish here or a random scab there, but then that’s it for them. For me and other skin pickers, there is no off switch for that behaviour and we just keep going and going.
The damage done from picking at my skin is a by-product of the over-grooming my mind insists upon, rather than the goal itself. This is what separates the disorder from self-harm diagnostically. (Despite this, there are many who feel their disorder is still a self-harm behaviour. I am not among them.)
The fact that I am damaging my skin was always what made the disorder so difficult. It’s like everyone gets a sneak peak into whatever isn’t wired quite right in my mind. And then even when things start to heal, the scarring has the same effect.
Then the questions start. What happened? What did you do? What’s wrong with your skin? That’s just the tip of the iceberg of invasive questions people seem to think they’re entitled to ask. They also are quick to offer advice to get clearer skin and help the wounds heal. Or worse, quicker to try to shame me out of the behaviour.
This summer, I made the decision to not cover up in clothing like I would have in the past. The thought of melting in jeans and long sleeves left me exhausted because first and foremost, it is ridiculously uncomfortable. Second, because even that doesn’t stop the questions or any sort of comments. Instead it just transforms them: Why are you in jeans? Don’t own any shorts? You must be crazy, it’s so hot outside!
In the past, I had feared stigma—being made to feel like a freak, like something was so wrong with me that people couldn’t stand it and were afraid to catch it—and to some extent, that feeling still gnaws at the back of my mind whenever I walk around with my scars showing and bandages on my skin. But overall I’m just done with it.
I’m done letting the fear of what other people might think control me. I’m tired of letting this disorder control me.
The stigma that comes with mental disorders is still a heavy one to bear because despite any headway that has been made, a lot of people still just don’t get it.
Dermatillomania, for instance, is so foreign to people that their assumptions can go straight to drug addiction or to the other end of the spectrum of it just being a habit that we could stop if we really wanted to. Neither of those things is true and the only way we’re going to start changing people’s minds is by doing what we can to break the stigma.
What does wearing what I want have to do with breaking the stigma? Well, for one, it breaks the hold that the stigma had on me. Instead of letting it crush me and shame me, I’ve chosen to fight back against it. I definitely do feel freer.
I don’t consider myself courageous, but I understand the courage it takes for skin pickers to do this. That first step of courage could lead to feeling more comfortable about speaking openly about the disorder; conversation is ultimately the only way we’ll ever be able to break the stigma of any disorder, but especially ones that people really don’t know about, like skin picking.
The first step though is to break the hold that stigma has on ourselves. To remind ourselves that even though people can see the marks on our skin, we’re not as detestable as we can be made to feel. That we’re loved and valuable and most importantly that our disorders don’t define us.
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.