Until the semester ends, I’m on the “health beat” for my school’s newspaper. What this means is that every journalistic piece I have written from the beginning of the term and continuing up until the end will focus on health and health alone. One thing that does seem to keep coming up whether I cover a mental health story or a physical health story, however, is this idea that many people can share one label, but that label affects everyone differently.”
It’s a completely valid and true thing to say because, yes, we can all be given labels and diagnoses and whatever else, but that label’s confines aren’t absolute. We’re not going to necessarily fit into a definition.
When it comes to me and my skin picking, I know that the way the disorder manifests in me is not necessarily the same as in others or even perfectly fits the diagnostic criteria.
Many skin pickers talk about spending hours on their picking and this is something the diagnostic criteria mentions too, but that has never been a reality for me. Maybe hours collectively, but not hours at a time. My skin picking comes along in spurts, a lot of the time when I’m just waking up or when I’m heading to bed—in other words, when I’m not entirely coherent. Which, to me, makes sense because in those moments I’m not on the top of my game for shutting down the behaviour.
Even more skin pickers become entranced by mirrors and get locked into using tools such as tweezers or acne removal devices as a part of their picking rituals. I don’t. All I’ve got are me and my hands.
The ways that I don’t quite fit in with what my skin picking label says I should become most apparent when people share tips to stopping, reducing, or just overall self-helping. Covering mirrors and throwing away tools when I don’t use either is an unhelpful piece of advice for me. Telling me to set a timer so that I don’t get caught up in a picking session does nothing for me when my “sessions” are quick spurts and then I’m done.
I used to be upset that I didn’t fit into the label’s confines. I was absolutely sure that I had dermatillomania from the moment I first read about it, but I felt like it must be especially screwed up for me because it wasn’t exactly as the information said it should be. I felt like I was outside of what everyone else seemed to be experiencing and I felt lost because of it.
The thing is, we’re kind of obsessed with labels as humans. Whether that label is dermatillomania, depression, anxiety, bipolar, or even healthy, the label seems to have some great level of importance over us. I get it, we’re just trying to put into words our own experiences, however, when we don’t quite fit labels, it’s not some additional flaw on our part, it’s just how our reality is different. Don’t let the generalities that make up a label get you down and make you feel even worse about yourself.
What I learned was that I could start making my own tip lists and start reaching out to see who else might be dealing with things a little closer to the way I do. You’ll be surprised how many others were too afraid to come forward too because they felt different, just like you did. Sharing what you’re going through and what you do to help yourself cope can be immensely helpful to a lot of people and you just don’t know it.
Mental health is especially complicated and there is still so much unknown about it that to try to fit ourselves into the little boxes that exist is ludicrous. Even well known disorders like depression have things being learned about them every single day and we discover their “definitions” are perhaps much broader than we could have anticipated.
All we have to do is reach out and we’ll find someone else who can say “me, too,” even if we think we won’t.
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.