Dr. Mark Sinyor holding a sign he filled out for Canadian BFRB Support Network’s 2013 BFRB Awareness Week campaign. Photo by Sarah Robertson

There’s something amazing about finally finding a doctor who not only knows, but is well versed in your disorder. When I was younger, no one could identify my skin picking disorder, dermatillomania.

It might seem like a tiny thing, but when you have a mental health disorder controlling your entire life, not having someone with even a shred of knowledge is devastating. It can lead you to wanting to give up.

By the time Dr. Mark Sinyor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre became a common name for me, I was already past the point of wanting or feeling like I needed traditional therapy. Peer support has been an amazing healer for me, and so when Dr. Sinyor stepped into the picture through the Canadian BFRB Support Network, I didn’t really need support in that way. Instead, I was enthralled by his wealth of knowledge because he was saying things that even the online community I’m a part of didn’t seem to know.

More importantly, he was saying things that made sense for a disorder that once seemed like utter nonsense.

On top of that, having someone who could get up in front of a room and speak about skin picking and other body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs) was an incredible thing. Having someone that I can reach out to and have a conversation with if I need to is even better.

The internet is a wealth of knowledge, true, but there’s nothing like having someone in person who can share with you what they know.

Dr. Jon Grant speaking at Trichotillomania Learning Center's 2015 BFRB conference. Photo by Laura Barton
Dr. Jon Grant speaking at Trichotillomania Learning Center’s 2015 BFRB conference. Photo by Laura Barton

In April 2015 I got to meet another doctor studying BFRBs. His name is Dr. Jon Grant from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago and when I heard him speak, I was captivated. Another professional who knew things about the disorder that I never really knew things about. Another professional who I could look at for myself and hear speak in person. Another professional I could ask a question to and receive a response from.

The big thing about both these wonderful men is that they don’t discount my disorder and actually have a lot of information on it. Dermatillomania’s sister disorder trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) often gets the spotlight and is often what most professionals speak about. They’ll either use it as a blanket disorder to kind of cover all BFRBs or focus on trich exclusively, which is absolutely unfair on both counts. Sure, I can identify in some ways with trich, but there are so many differences setting my disorder apart and which calls for it to be treated as its own independent thing (which I also believe is the case for all BFRBs).

I guess what treatment for me has become is knowledge. Years ago, I wanted the kind of treatment that would tell me how to stop, or what childhood trauma happened that my mind turned to skin picking (just to make note, BFRBs are not caused by trauma, but I didn’t know that at the time). Now, that is not the case. It seems what I really needed all along was for the wealth of knowledge that people like Drs. Sinyor and Grant can provide. I’ve never liked science, but learning about what may or may not be the cause of BFRBs in the brain itself is fascinating to me and has given me answers I didn’t even know I was looking for. For me, knowledge has become my power in both conquering the stigma of my disorder and finding peace within myself in terms of dealing with it.

Although I was desperate for help as a child, I don’t know that I would have been able to process any of what I’ve learned so far, let alone know what to do with it even if I could. I feel like these encounters came at the right time in my life and for that, I am forever grateful.

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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