To some degree, there is a dual stigma that comes with having skin picking disorder, and one of those stigmas is not really mine to bear. What I mean is when people look at my skin and see marks and scars, they may judge me as flawed or messed up in some way, but for a lot of skin pickers, we also get labeled as drug addicts.
Drug addiction has a stigma, too. Drug addicts are painted as good-for-nothings, low-lifes, and damaged beyond repair—essentially people that don’t need, or deserve, our help. All completely false and all completely driven by ignorance, as all stigma is.
You might be thinking, “But drug addicts do pick their skin!” Yes, some of them do. But dermatillomania is separate from drug addiction, as stated clearly by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s fifth edition diagnostic criteria for skin picking disorder:
“The skin picking is not attributable to the psychological effects of a substance (e.g., cocaine) or another medical condition (e.g., scabies).”
That aside, it’s not just the confusion of the disorders that’s a problem, but also that both are stigmatized.
I know other skin pickers have been called drug addicts—I distinctly remember a post from one girl who used to be called “meth arms”—but I can’t recall a single instance in which I have. However, it’s something that I’ve always been acutely aware of as a possibility, especially when my skin picking gets bad on my arms. Nowadays, it’s not something that I’m overly concerned about because I’ve learned that people are going to think what they’re going to think, but in the back of my mind, the thought is still there like an old fear still trying to gain purchase.
I was especially afraid of being called a drug addict as a child—even writing that sentence feels ludicrous to me. Why should a child be afraid of being labeled a drug addict? A lot of it was because I still didn’t understand what was going on with me and I really didn’t want one more thing put on me to bring me down. I didn’t understand stigma, even though I felt it poignantly, and I didn’t understand the dynamics of addiction. All I knew was that being a drug addict was bad, and I didn’t want to be bad.
I hated every time someone would point out a mark or scar, or even one of my Band-Aids, because that fearful chill would creep through me and I would feel like the word “drug addict” was what was going through their mind exactly. At the very least, “screwed up” or “gross” would be something that must be crossing their thoughts—that weight of the double stigma again.
What we need to do is start educating people, and ourselves, too.
Ask questions instead of judging. Or if you’re not comfortable asking questions, look it up. In this day and age, the information age, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. A lot of the time we use it to look at pictures of cats (I love cats) or to post selfies (guilty!), but honestly, there is so much information to be had out there.
True, not all of it is accurate, and some of it is still heavily stigmatized or just plain misinformed, but at least it’s a starting point. Sometimes we don’t even know what to look up, but even Googling seemingly arbitrary words might lead you to an answer.
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.