She was about 12 years old the first time. She remembers looking in that mirror, trying to stop, but having no control. A process that has repeated almost every day since for the last 26 years. Open oozing wounds litter her face alongside the scabs and scars from previous days. Aside from her husband knowing the truth, her secret was hers for 25 years. She dug and dug into her skin. The more she dug, the more shame and guilt she felt. The more shame and guilt she felt, the more she dug. This was her endless cycle of Dermatillomania.
She is me. I am her. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish her in my mind as me. Acceptance has been a long journey. Some days I can feel it close but some days acceptance of the fight I have with this monster called Dermatillomania is wearisome. For many years I kept my secret safe within myself. Even with the outward evidence of what I was fighting, I never shared it with anyone. Most people thought I had bad acne. I let them think that. It was easier than divulging the truth and trying to answer questions that I had no idea how to answer.
Dermatillomania is exhausting. It is burdensome, demanding, punishing, grueling, fatiguing, wearisome; it is controlling. I often feel like it is a fight within myself. The compulsive drive to pick, dig into and destroy my skin fights with my intellectual self. I know the consequences I will suffer. The infected blood soaked skin, oozing wounds, thick scabs and eventual scars, but I do it anyway. Most days the obsessive thoughts win over any rational ones. I must do it.
I always thought I was the only one. Who else would do this? What normal person digs into their skin to the point of injury? I thought I was sick, abnormal, disgusting, and alone. Two years ago I found out I wasn’t alone. I found out that this was a real disorder. My years of shame, guilt and hiding didn’t have to run my life anymore. I didn’t have to spend 4 hours a day in front of a mirror destroying my skin. I could seek help. So I did.
Honesty saved my life. Treatment saved my life. I was long down the road of anxiety and depression that often accompanies Dermatillomania. I had thoughts of suicide. I came out to my primary care doctor first. His compassion towards me and encouragement to seek counseling gave me the strength to walk into a mental health center and get help. I found a fantastic therapist and psychiatric nurse practitioner who have worked tirelessly together to help me walk the journey towards recovery.
I didn’t know I could get better. I thought I would do this until one day I just died. I never thought there would be a day where I could spend just 5 minutes picking and be done, but that day came! Treatment has been life changing. I’m still on the road to recovery. It’s a long road with bumps, bruises, backslides and opportunities for growth, but it’s worth it. The journey has allowed me to discover myself, learn ways to accept and love myself, and gradually make changes that give me power over Dermatological.
I’m not fully recovered. I don’t know if I ever will be. One thing is true though; I won’t ever stop trying. I promise to stay walking on this road, no matter how long it takes. I deserve it.