When I was five years old, I fell in love with picking my skin. It is one of my earliest memories. I can still recall the place of discovery and the circumstances surrounding the start of my struggle. I was in my bedroom putting on a T-shirt, when my hand moved over a small bump on my chest. Being curious, I investigated to discover, what I would later learn to be, a blackhead. I had never seen or felt something like this on my body before, and I was drawn to it. I stood in the middle of my room, with my shirt off staring down at the blackhead. My fingers moved back and forth over the bump wondering what it was.
My older sister walked by my room and peered through the open door. “What are you doing?” she asked. I showed her the little bump on my chest. “Mom,” she called. “Ryan has a pimple.”
A pimple. What is a pimple? This was something new to me. I had never heard this word before. My mother walked into the room.
“Let me see,” she said. I pointed to the spot on my chest. My mother kneeled down to take a closer look at my blemish. She extend her hand and felt the little bump with her finger. “That’s a blackhead,” my mother said. “I’m going to try and pop it. Let me know if it starts to hurt, okay?” I nodded to her letting her know I understood.
I watched, fascinated, as my mother framed the bump with her index fingers and proceeded to push towards the blackhead, squeezing. A little white glob popped out of the bump. I was shocked. I was amazed by this event. I had no idea you could do things like this with your body. My mother wiped the puss away with a tissue.
“Did it hurt?” she asked. I shook my head no. It didn’t hurt at all. It actually felt really good, and I thought this is a neat thing I can do. I can push on this little bump and stuff comes out. To me, this felt like discovering a new game, or getting a new toy. My sister and mother left my room. I looked down at the blackhead. I touched it. It felt different now. I tried squeezing it like my mother did, but nothing came out. I was disappointed.
For the next few days, I would try popping the pimple on my chest, just like I had seen my mother do. I could never get anything to come out, but I kept trying, gradually pushing harder and harder. I was convinced it wasn’t working, because I wasn’t using enough force. Soon the area around the blemish became red and the bump started to swell. I kept squeezing, but still, nothing would come out. The irritated skin began to hurt at the slightest touch. Annoyed by my failure, and the pain caused by my quest, I gave up.
A few days later, I was changing clothes when I looked down at the bump and saw that a small white point had formed in the middle. I touched the white part. The bump was still sore, but it also felt similar to how it felt the day I discovered it. I reached down to the pimple, and pushed on it, like I had been doing, not really expecting anything to happen. To my surprise, a massive amount of puss and blood spurted out.
It felt good, like the release of a long built up pressure. I remember a distinct popping sound, followed by a wetness and a relief that I had removed something that was unwanted. Happy, that I was finally successful, I pushed on the pimple again. It was extremely painful. I stopped. That didn’t feel good. I looked down to see blood oozing out of a shredded piece of skin. Red smears covered my chest and fingers. I had damaged myself. I felt afraid. If my mom or my sister saw this, I would be in trouble. I wanted to hide what I had done. I had to hide it.
I used a tissue to wipe up what I could, but some of the blood had already dried on my hands and chest causing it to stick to my skin. I licked my fingers. They tasted funny, not bad, but different from what I had expected. I used the saliva on my hands to wipe away the blood on my chest. Satisfied with my concealment, I put on my shirt and walked to the bathroom. I dropped the bloody tissue in the toilette and flushed away the evidence.
This was the start of my dermatillomania.
I started picking my skin, because it gave me pleasure. This was hard for me to accept, and almost impossible to admit to another person. The fact that I like to do this gross thing that causes physical damage made me feel ashamed. “Why don’t you just stop?” is something all of us have heard. For me, the truthful answer would have to be, because I didn’t want to.
Getting to a point of wanting to stop is what has helped me diminish my dermatillomania. For me, it was when the consequences of the skin picking overshadowed the benefits. Unchecked, my skin picking escalated over the years, reaching a point of being unmanageable. I was missing out on so many things, because I was ashamed of my appearance.
I still struggle at times, and I am not pick free, nor do I think I ever will be, but I feel I am managing my condition. I am in a better place today, because I wanted to stop, I admitted to needing help, and went out and found the tools necessary to fix the problem. I know I will continue to struggle, but through support and self-discovery I have gotten better, and will continue to do so over time. I refuse to have an unmanagable life, and I’m prepared to fight for the life I want and will settle for nothing less.