We first came across “Skin Pick Guy” on Twitter (@skinpickguy) and asked if he would share his story with CBSN on our blog. I am so thankful to have him share his story with us and help educate others about Dermatillomania (Skin Picking Disorder). Thank you for your bravery and courage SPG!
I am a lifelong skin picker. In fact, I’ve been picking for over 25 years. Maybe longer. I can’t remember precisely when I first started because it was so long ago.
My story begins when I was a teenager compulsively picking my pimples, like any other teenager probably. Everyone picks their pimples, right? But I knew something was different. Picking and popping my pimples slowly became an obsession.
Although I don’t remember when I first started picking, I imagine it was in my teens. But in my 20s, I remember my picking became increasingly worse. I had extensive scabs and scars all over my legs for years and I would never wear shorts even in the summer. I tried not to pick my face much, and fortunately my acne wasn’t too bad. So I could get away with picking my face even in my 20s. But I always wondered why I had so much acne. Was it my picking that made it worse? Or did my acne just not get better as I got older?
I started picking other areas. Aside from my legs, I also started picking my scalp. I blamed myself for having an itchy scalp, so I had to scratch it and pick at it. I thought I had some scalp condition, or at least a bad case of dandruff. But I kept picking. The scalp was a great place to pick because it was hidden from view, yet I could still get away with picking in public. I could scratch my head, or make believe I was thinking. But no one really suspected, I think. No one
really said much to me, so I guess I got away with it for many years. Picking my skin was my big secret. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I was too embarrassed to admit that I was damaging my own skin.
Over the years, I continued to pick at myself but there would be periods where it would decrease. I don’t remember picking much during my 30s but things were going better in my life. I moved to the West Coast to start a new job and had some fun and met new friends. Eventually, I fell in love and got married. So things were going pretty good for a while. My picking was under the radar. I never told anyone, but really I think I didn’t say anything because a) I felt very weird doing this to myself and b) I didn’t even think there was
anything really wrong with me, except for itchy skin or a overwhelming need to pick at it.
Something happened just a few years ago however. I was unemployed for a few years, and at a low point in my life. I realized I was picking more and more. New favorite locations were my thighs, inner thighs, buttocks and my back. I would still pick my scalp too, but I mostly picked areas that were not visible while I was wearing clothing. But my picking became more intense. I would make myself bleed more often.
A few times I went to the doctor because I realized that I had a skin infection. My stomach had a few bumps and was red to the touch. It was also sensitive. I realized that I had to go to the doctor, but was scared. Do I tell the doctor that I did to myself? That I pick at my own skin? Although I was unemployed and had no health insurance, I was able to go for free to a local hospital and was given antibiotics which got rid of my infections. And I never did admit to the doctor that I was picking my skin.
I realized then that I was doing this to myself. I was causing these infections. I was picking, popping, squeezing and scratching my skin to the point of making myself sick. I was causing my skin to become infected. At the time, MRSA was in the news and I was getting scared that I might catch it because of my numerous open cuts and sores.
I turned to the Internet for help. Over the years, I searched for things like skin infections or skin conditions because that’s what I thought I had. I thought I had dermatitis. Or a bunch of other skin conditions. I thought it might be some disease I’ve never heard of before.
Finally, about 2010, I stumbled across the word “dermatillomania” after searching for information on skin picking. As soon as I read the definition I felt a huge wave of relief. This was it! This is me! I am a dermatillomaniac! I soon found the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) web site (http://www.trich.org) and other places. It was a huge relief to know I had some sort of medical condition. I finally found out I was living with this for my entire life. But I also found out that there wasn’t much known about dermatillomania. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to get better.
At this point in my life, I was tired of picking. It was affecting my work and personal life. I would pick until I bled, and had to clean up and wipe away blood all the time. When I bled on the bedsheets, I just told my spouse it was a pimple I popped. But inside I was tortured. I
was depressed. I let dermatillomania take up so much of my mindspace that I didn’t feel like working. I was distant to everyone. I was avoiding any contact with friends or family. I started drinking alcohol during the day instead of working. I was scared, but I also realized that I needed help. So after much effort, I decided to seek help with a cognitive-behavioral therapist who specialized in skin picking. I started calling therapists and finally made an appointment.
While waiting, I saw a documentary on TV called “Obsessed” about a woman, Vanessa, who picked her face uncontrollably. I watched it with my spouse one night and realized this was triggering me. Although I had discovered dermatillomania, and wanted to get help, I watched the show and I remember mocking the lady who was picking her face. I guess I wanted to show that that wasn’t me. In a few days, I had my first therapy appointment with a counselor who had lots of experience with skin picking and was listed on the TLC website and thus began my healing journey.
Not long after discovering I had dermatillomania, I decided to start a blog on Tumblr called “Diary of a Skin Picker” (http://diaryofaskinpicker.tumblr.com) dedicated to documenting my recovery. I’ve used it to write about my therapy sessions and document my attempts to control my picking. Although it has taken over two years, I now have almost 700 Tumblr followers, and over 200 Twitter followers (http://www.twitter.com/skinpickguy), and I get many new followers every week. I also get many questions, usually anonymous, from people who just discovered something called dermatillomania and want to know how to get help. In the last year or so, my blog has changed from just being my daily diary, and is now also a resource on dermatillomania, with tips and strategies to stop picking. There is also an active community on Tumblr of people who are documenting their struggles and supporting each other and am proud that my blog is one of the most used resources. (Just search the “derma” or “dermatillomania” tags on Tumblr.)
I was in therapy for over a year and got a lot of help and have seen a reduction in my picking. I had cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the ways to treat dermatillomania. I also started taking an anti-depressant because my therapist realized I was depressed also. So, she spent many sessions getting me out of the depression hole before we even started on working on CBT and skin picking interventions. I learned about how to control picking urges
using self-help methods like relaxation and fidget toys. I also learned more about my picking. Like when, where, and what stopped it. Talking to my therapist about picking sessions and what I was doing or what I was thinking of helped me understand how to stop. For example, I realized I was picking my legs absently while I was in the bathroom so I learned to keep my trips short and to keep my hands busy. I also picked a lot while watching TV, so I started collecting fidget toys to keep my hands busy.
Today, I am in therapy for PTSD and I think that’s been a huge help for my picking. My PTSD came about after I realized I had been sexually abused by my brother when I was younger. This all came about because a family member told me that my brother had sexually abused her when she was a child. Her experience and mine were eerily similar. Apparently he used the same methods. After she told me of her experience, I realized that what I thought was a weird and gross encounter with my brother was really sexual abuse. Although I only remember one instance (when I was about 20), I believe he abused me when I was younger. My therapist said that it’s common to not remember sexual abuse when it happens as a child. Your mind blocks it out. And it’s also common to use a variety of things to deal with PTSD, like being a skin picker or having eating disorders.
I think understanding my anxiety and realizing I was sexually abused as a child have helped me heal. I don’t need to pick much anymore. I still have some anxiety, but I was able to confront my brother about my abuse and tell my parents. I no longer have any contact with my abuser brother and have even limited contact with my mother because she doesn’t believe the abuse happened and is trying to control me. I’m supporting this particular family member as much as I can but she has decided not to confront her father or to tell anyone else about her abuse. She’s young so I hope in time she can learn to protect herself and stay away from him and confront him about what happened.
Because dermatillomania is still not very well understood, I am proud to be part of the skin picking community. I believe that we are just at the beginning of understanding dermatillomania and many people who are suffering are still unaware that there is help and hope to stop picking. There is still not much scientific and medical research behind it yet, although there are common treatments with trichotillomania. I am glad that skin picking will be added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), published by the American Psychiatric Association later in 2013. This means that much more study and research will soon be conducted in order to better understand this disorder.
I am still a skin picker, but I don’t pick as much. I have one spot on my scalp that I pick at constantly. I’ve had the same spot for what seems like dozens of years. Perhaps if that spot ever goes away, I can consider myself cured. But I think most people will struggle with
dermatillomania for most of their lives. Itching and scratching are just a part of life. You can’t stop doing it cold turkey. But I’m excited to be able to help people, and I continue to blog and support people. And I continue to go to therapy for PTSD and picking. But I already feel like I’m winning the battle. I am hopeful for the future. I know that I am strong, I know I’m a survivor since I’ve survived the worst already. Now I just have to continue work on overcoming skin picking and PTSD. I am dedicating to helping as many people as I can and spreading the word about skin picking and dermatillomania so people aren’t ashamed or afraid to talk about this.
There’s one more thing I want to share. I’m not your typical person suffering from dermatillomania–I’m male. According to most medical studies, most people who pick are women, but there are lots of men out there that pick as well. Anyway, that’s just one story. My story. But there are so many millions more ready to be told.
— Skin Pick Guy