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From the time I was a young child, I wanted to write. I grew up on books, absorbing their words and the adventures and the amazing characters. They were my escape, and writing became my escape too when I started to create my own characters, adventures and worlds.

I wrote my first “novel” at age nine, nothing more than a collection of one or two page stories about a group of anthropomorphic characters and heavily based on the stories I already knew. Through the years, I kept writing, more novels that were actually novel length and with better developed stories and characters.

In 2014, I self-published my first book.

But it wasn’t a book I ever thought I would publish.

There is no fiction in it. Only raw, hard truths. The ones I had kept inside for most of my life and ones that I was telling publicly for the first time. It is a book about my skin picking disorder.

Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars. Photo by Laura Barton
Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars. Photo by Laura Barton

Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars is the title we eventually settled on and I say we because it is ultimately a compilation and team effort. It’s not just my story, but the stories of a group of ten other amazing people as well.

As probably everyone with a secret knows, it’s one of the hardest things to finally be honest about, especially when it encompasses a huge part of your life, like my dermatillomania does for me. Especially when there is huge stigma attached to it.

When I first started working on it, I worried how receptive people would be to my story. Would they judge me more for my honesty? Would they love me less? Would it actually turn out to be a bad decision?

I almost packed it in and put the project away many times because of that anxiety and uncertainty. The only reason I didn’t is because once I had invited other people into the project, it wasn’t just my book anymore and not just my story to tell. And they believed in what I was doing and wanted to be a part of it, and for that I am grateful. Despite my doubts, we pushed forward for the two years it took to go from idea to book and made it happen.

There was also a feeling of necessity to writing and making this book come to life. Too many people suffer in silence with this disorder. Too many people don’t know it is actually a thing, that anyone else even has it, that there are options, that there is hope. There is barely any legitimate literature out there at this point talking about dermatillomania (I say legitimate because myself and other advocates have come across scam artists trying to sell a cure, which is an unfortunate reality for body-focused repetitive behaviours). Because of that, people are left in the dark.

Angela Hartlin and Laura Barton with their books Forever Marked: A Dermatillomania Diary and Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars.
Angela Hartlin and Laura Barton with their books Forever Marked: A Dermatillomania Diary and Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars.

It’s something I went through and something I suffered with for years—not knowing anyone else in the world did what I did or that there was even a name for it. I don’t want that legacy to be the legacy of all of us with skin picking disorder.

There’s something very freeing about it for me, too. Finally, I don’t have to carry this weight around anymore because my secret isn’t a secret. Sure, I sometimes get a little nervous about people in my life reading my book because I don’t know how to react, but ultimately, I feel having them read it will amount to positivity somehow. Someone else will know there’s a name to this disorder and maybe someone else will have the opportunity to finally realize they’re not alone.

I’m not sure I would recommend that everyone else run out and write a book about their struggles. Everyone deals with things in different ways; for me, it’s words and the power and comfort they can bring. For other people, it might be art, or dance, or sports, or speaking at events. You also have to know your own comfort levels and readiness to have people know your story. While I have received nothing but positive feedback and support for my book and endeavours, there are still a lot of people out there with stigma-driven minds, and we have to be ready for that.

Obviously for me, writing a book was my avenue, and maybe the fact that it took from 2012 until 2014 to happen was actually a good thing. I’m definitely a lot readier to deal with anything that comes my way because of the book now. I have no regrets with having published this book and I love that it is actually reaching and helping people around the world.

Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and through its website projectdermatillomania.com. All proceeds from the book are donated to the Canadian BFRB Support Network and Trichotillomania Learning Centre.

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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