Guest Blogger Samantha Wake shares with us the story of her journey with dermatillomania.
It began in my early teens, around age 13, when I started to get acne just like any other teenager. Having said this, I’d always picked at things on my skin such as scabs at an even earlier age, but nothing that was particularly out of the ordinary. When I saw/felt that I had a lump under my skin which was far from being an actual formed spot, I would squeeze and pick at it until I was satisfied that I had got the ‘crap’ out of my skin. In a result of this I would be left with a large sore, which would then scab more than twice the size of its original existence. I remember not being able to wait to get home from school to squeeze my face (which I would do for hours at a time), despite the damage I was doing. I think at this point, I still found it normal as I knew that everyone would get spots, and my behaviour wasn’t effecting my daily life. I noticed that it was getting worse when people would ask what had happened to my face, and that I found it embarrassing, but still just believing that I had bad acne and that a had a normal bad habit of picking at it. I then made an appointment at the doctors to get some medication to help clear the acne up, which I later then just assumed that the medication didn’t work as my skin still looked the way it did. It took a good few years for me to finally admit that I was the problem. At around 15/16 I was aware of this, as we’re my close family and friends. I just assumed that it was something I would eventually grow out of, it wasn’t until around the age of 18 when things really started to go down hill.
I began to do my research and found that it was linked to anxiety, but I was certain that this wasn’t the reason why I did it because I didn’t matter what mood I was in, and I had always done it. But looking back now, around this time my grandma passed and I was dealing with other stressful issues just like anybody else. So I’m not sure whether this was a trigger, or whether it wasn’t. I became more deeply indulged in picking at my skin, to a point where it not only had an effect on my physical appearance, but my mental state too. So I made an appointment at the doctors to talk about what was going on. The nurse that I saw paid no attention to what I was trying to tell her and almost ignored what I said, continuing with the other reason that I had made the appointment for. This really knocked my confidence and made me feel like I was alone, and genuinely crazy. Why was I doing this to myself? At a later date my mom took me to the doctors, where I basically broke down in front of the GP. This was the first time I was taken seriously, and referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy, which I am still currently having. During this time, I found that addressing this problem I had, as an actual issue, made it become more of an issue. I would wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom to pick. Also, I found that if I had an upcoming event that I was looking forward to, I would put pressure on myself not to pick as I didn’t want my face to look a mess for this event, but ironically putting the pressure on myself left me with picking my face to more of an extent than normal, giving me the exact opposite result that I hoped for. I would then cancel last minute, making up an excuse that I was ill so I didn’t go as I now felt down and embarrassed about what I had done to myself. Unfortunately, this is still the case. Although, I’m more honest about the real reason why I don’t want to go, as I’m open about this condition that I have now. I just find it difficult when it comes to work and college, as the worst part of the day for me, where the urge is at it’s strongest is at morning and night, and if I’m lost in the urge I don’t want to go, and often can’t get myself out of the ‘trance’ like state that I’m in. And it’s not like you can ring in saying ‘I’m sorry, I can’t come in today, I’m picking my face’ nobody would understand or take you seriously, which is the exact reason why I want to make awareness for dermatillomania. I do feel that CBT has made a positive impact on dealing with this, as I am completely aware of what triggers the behaviour, and often able to act on it. Around a month ago, I was in a real bad place because of this condition, and honestly, felt like just giving up on myself, as I felt that there was no way of getting away from this ‘curse’, and I didn’t feel like I was making any progress and that I never would. Dermatillomania effects everything in my life, from simple day to day tasks to relationships and other things that maintain a happy life. Since going through this bad stage, my therapist made an another appointment with my GP to see if they’re was anything they could give me physically to aid me through this. I was prescribed this amazing gel called epiduo which stops my skin from going infected once I have picked. This helps tremendously and has taken a lot of pressure off, which then led to me going through a really good patch, although I was still picking at my ‘primary area’, which is my nose – this is the part that I find the hardest to leave alone, and haven’t been able to for over a year now. Currently, I’m going through a bit of a bad stage, but I’m hoping that in time, after all I’ve learned I will be able to balance these stages out. I’d like to say that one day I will be cured from dermatillomania, but deep down, as I know that there’s no actual cure for this, I think it will always be with me, and a part of who I am. I can only hope I can control it, rather than it control me.
There are lot of people in the world who have a lot worse circumstances that they have to live with than body focuses repetitive behaviours such as dermatillomania, I just believe that no one should suffer in silence, and people should be open minded to what they don’t know, which is why I’ve shared my very personal experience of this condition, in hope that other people who suffer with it, will feel comforted that they are not alone.