I used to hate going out in public or even to family gatherings; I wanted nothing more than to stay at home and hide away from the judging eyes of the world. When my skin picking was at its worst, both on a physical and mental level, I couldn’t bear to have anyone see me because I thought I looked like an awful mess and people shouldn’t see me like that.

Holidays like Christmas could end up being occasions of huge anxiety and discomfort for me because of the state of my skin. Family all gathered into one place made me hypersensitive to whatever glances would come my way because even though I did my best to hide my picking (with sweaters and long pants—no skirts, dresses or short sleeves for this girl), I felt like they always knew and there were just some areas where I couldn’t really hide the damage, like my face.

The moments I dreaded the most were those that sometimes came and sometimes didn’t: the moments my skin became the focus of conversation, even if only for a moment or two. The shame was heavy on me already, and unfortunately in those flashes of conversation it felt like even my family was judging me. Looking back now, I understand that it came from a place of concern and not understanding what was going on with me, but it sucked all the same.

The thing that has really helped to alleviate the negativity surrounding the holidays and my skin picking for me has been being more open about it. Because I don’t see my extended family too often, the chance that it will come up as a conversation piece is there, but it doesn’t feel like a focus anymore. It’s just a side-piece as opposed to an interrogation. And if anything, it seems to be more to speak about the advocacy side of it, rather than what I’m actually doing to my skin anymore.

The importance of education and advocacy is strong for me when I reflect on this. These two things have completely changed the dynamic in my family when it comes to dermatillomania, both in my perception of how they see it and also in how they treat it. It’s actually something I’m realizing as I’m typing this now, and it’s sort of leaving me with a sense of awe.

If education and advocacy can do this for a small group of people, a group of people which in turn make waves by sharing with their social circles if they so choose, I wonder what the grander scale will look like if it continues on. If people learn that sometimes our brains aren’t well either, and that that’s okay, I wonder if advocacy and education will take a shift from awareness and breaking the stigma to teaching people how to be healthy and advocating for treatments that can help people lead happy and whole lives despite their disorders.

With disorders like dermatillomania (and many mental health disorders), it’s just a baby in terms of people knowing about it. It was only added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, and even professionals who have been studying body-focused repetitive behaviours for years have really only grazed the surface. Myself and others are only at the beginnings of fighting for our disorders and their legitimacy, so really it could be decades before we see any headway.

But we have to start somewhere, right?

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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