Twenty years ago, I was going on five years old. I wish I could say I had the hopes and ambitions of my future sparkling in my eyes while I went about life in a carefree manner, but I don’t know for sure if that was the case. I don’t remember a whole lot from my childhood, just flickers of memories here and there, which is why I have to take people’s words for it when they say that’s when I started picking my skin.
My story is one I’ve told many times now and one that is similar to many of other BFRBers. Shock. Confusion. Fear. “Just stop.” Shame. Self-loathing. And not knowing I wasn’t alone until much later in my journey. For eleven years, I didn’t know what I did had a name. For fourteen years, I didn’t have any hint that another human being existed with this problem. While names and diagnoses (which I’ve never gotten, just to be clear) should give some indication of others “out there,” until you actually meet someone who can say “me too!” they’re just cold words. Sentences to a life that we didn’t ask for.
Once upon a time, all of this information was devastating to me, and reaching twenty years without having a day of reprieve would have crippled me. But honestly, while reaching twenty leaves me awed and astounded, I’m not feeling devastated or crippled. True, there are worse days than others, but nowadays I have more good days than bad.
That’s not the only reason twenty isn’t depressing to me though. The biggest reasons are the awareness that is being raised and the knowledge that is being acquired through research. We’re still a long way from knowing all there is to know about dermatillomania and BFRBs in general, and perhaps much too far off to be thinking of cures, but the sheer fact that progress is being made is amazing and hopeful.
Honestly, when I was sixteen and first found chronic skin picking as a name, all I had was a grim title and a “fit into this box” description. If all the information there is now had been around back then, I don’t think I would have felt quite so bleak, if at all. The amount of resources and information out there is not huge by any means, but is gargantuan compared to when I had my beginnings with skin picking and no one know what was wrong with me.
And not only is there all this information, but there are communities—actual people to reach out to. Even though I’m still young, I’m one of the last generations that grew up without computers, technology and social media like there is today. True, computers have been around for quite a while at this point, but they weren’t the household items and every-second-of-the-day staples that they are now. I didn’t have a computer in my house until my early teens and social media only began to really take hold and flourish in my later years of high school.
The access we have to these things now can help us connect to people we wouldn’t have know otherwise. I’ve had to throw the notion of “don’t talk to strangers on the internet” out the window, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. When I was younger, I had no way of connecting with someone who could understand my story. Now I do. I didn’t have access to the information about my disorder and the network of people that go with it. Now I do.
We often take technology and social media for granted or get caught up in the toxic side of it, but, really, look at all it has made possible within its short existence.
All the progress and social media have both made it possible for me to turn my darkness, sadness, and shame into something positive. I can use my story and all I know and learn to help others. I can use this disorder and my struggles to achieve some good.
My journey might have started out with me feeling alone and hopeless, but as time continues to progress I get better. I learn more and can do more to change the outcome of my life. That’s why twenty doesn’t leave me feeling heavy even though it is such a big number and the majority of my life. I’m not stuck in the same place I used to be and none of us have to be. Don’t fear the number. Instead acknowledge the journey and the progress in the community and your own life.
Remember, every victory matters, no matter how small.