It was February 4th, 2010 when I wrote my first journal entry to start my last ditch effort to save myself and bring some sanity into my life. I remember buying the journal for the sole purpose of this endeavour, and the memory of the first time I sat down to start writing in the journal is still pretty clear for me, too.

At Brock University, there was (and maybe still is) a little convenience-like store in one of the far buildings, which had things like snacks, subs, Booster Juice and coffee, but I always went in there for the seating. It was there that I first opened the cover of that journal and started writing during the hour or so break I had until my next class.

My second year of university was one of the most difficult for me. It was the year I was struggling the most with all my mental health issues, which included depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and a disorder called Excoriation (Skin-Picking) Disorder (although I’m more apt to call it dermatillomania).

For those unfamiliar, dermatillomania was officially recognized as a disorder in May of 2013, so there is still so much that is unknown about it. Why the disorder manifests or where it comes from is still under speculation, there is no cure, and treatment is even on shaky ground because no one thing works for everyone. It is part of a larger group of disorders called Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours, all of which are currently categorized as Obsessive Compulsive Related Disorders. Even that categorization is arguable.

DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Excoriation (Skin-Picking) Disorder.
DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Excoriation (Skin-Picking) Disorder.

All I know for sure is that I have been picking my skin since I was roughly five years old, and on that day in February 2010, I was at my wits’ end.

The journal was a way to deal with all of the internal chaos and confusion as I attempted to pull myself out of the darkness I had spiraled into because of my disorders. At the time, they all exacerbated and fed off of each other, mostly because I didn’t know what to do with any of them. Especially the skin picking.

Although I have picked my skin since I was a child, I still didn’t know anything about it at 19. I had a vague idea that it was some horrible disorder due to an internet search I had made three years earlier, but that was about it. I didn’t know any cause, I didn’t know any control, I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was something I carried around with me in shame and fear of being discovered. It was something that scared me because it was so foreign even doctors had no idea what was “wrong” with me.

In the first entry of the journal, I couldn’t write the disorder’s name. At that time, I only knew it as “chronic skin picking,” a name which sickened and embarrassed me, and made me afraid. It wasn’t until I discovered the term dermatillomania that I was able to write it down, because it was a word that no one would know and didn’t explicitly define the disorder. It felt safe, and finally like something I could latch on to.

Awareness Week 2014Writing that first journal entry was super stressful for me because I was afraid of who would be looking over my shoulder or who would discover just how screwed up I was. But after all this time, I look back at it and think about how glad I am that I put pen to paper. Not only has it helped me sort out the chaotic thoughts in my head, but it helped put me on a path to learning about my oldest and most secret disorder.

Without starting that journal, I don’t think I would be where I am today—open and honest about my skin picking. I probably wouldn’t have met anyone else who shares the same disorder I do and others like it, and I probably wouldn’t be going to conferences and information sessions and support groups like I do now. I wouldn’t be on the path to literally feeling comfortable in my own skin. I would probably still be in turmoil or, in all honesty, not here at all. Instead, I am advocating for awareness and experiencing the wonders in life.

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.

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