“I used to cringe when I would hear the word ‘pick.’ It could be pick a colour, it could be pick a direction, pick a college, it didn’t really matter.”
Lauren McKeaney’s story with skin picking started out like many others’ stories with skin picking: an issue that she couldn’t put a name or reason to, multiple doctor’s visits, and hiding her skin.
She says her memories of the disorder trail all the way back to when she was four or five years old. Babysitters, camp counsellors and old photos from that time also confirm for her that it was around that age the disorder kicked in for her. Although she says it could have been a coping mechanism for dealing with her father, who was both bipolar and an alcoholic, she feels in some ways like she was predisposed for something.
Her cousin pulled her hair, her sister picked until she was a teenager and McKeaney says she also has a sensory disorder.
“When you take a look at all of the little pieces, I think it was almost inevitable that I was going to experience this,” she says.
Experience is perhaps an understatement when it comes to BFRBs, but the reality of it is that it became a part of her everyday life. She says she can pretty much tie any experience she has had into her disorder, whether it’s dealing with scabs stuck to her figure skating tights, studying at Kilimanjaro and getting so many “bug bites,” being a child at space camp and having the other kids make constellations out of the marks on her skin, or going on the road with a musician.
“I went on tour with Willie Nelson once when I kind of left home for a bit when I was 16,” she says. “These roadies thought that I had cigarette burns on my arms and like I was kind of hardcore and you know I’d go with it. I’d kind of just hook on whatever would get us to the next subject, I guess.”
She describes herself as gregarious and not being shy, but her picking was one thing she always kept under wraps. It was the one part of her story she couldn’t speak with anyone about.
That is until she contracted MRSA, which is a hard-to-treat infection that can take lives. It landed her in the hospital for two weeks, but when she came out, she went from not talking about the disorder at all, to sharing about it.
“Normally I would have so many things I would just say for what happened, like what all the marks are, what all the scars are, you know. Like Rolodex of reasons,” she says. “But literally just to random strangers … I don’t remember who it was exactly, but I shared.”
The sharing has continued and grown into McKeaney starting her own initiative to bring awareness to dermatillomania.
She started Picking Me just over a year ago with the goal of changing the connotation of the word “pick.” The play on words speaks both to the disorder and to the fact that we must choose ourselves over it.
“It doesn’t mean that I stopped anything or that anything is done but it’s just, when it comes to weighing out what’s important, picking me over picking me.”
At the 2016 TLC Foundation for BFRBs conference in Texas, McKeaney had an information table and asked those that passed by to fill out her whiteboard. They were asked to complete the sentence “I’m picking me over my BFRB because” to help people realize they are more than their disorder.
“We’re still all people that have passions and purposes and things that we like that are the main part of us,” she says. “Whereas, you know, the picking is just a part.”
Beyond that, McKeaney hopes to raise $10,000US for Picking Me so that she can send out 1000 “fiddle packs” to people across the country.
In the fiddle packs are sensory items that skin pickers can use to help keep distracted, but the items work double time, too. She says she also wants these items to help non-pickers understand or engage in the conversation of dermatillomania on a tangible level. So far, she knows of kids that have brought them to their teachers and she says one mom even gave it to the babysitter.
“(People) can google it and stuff, but I think that it gives them more tactile, hands-on conversation and approach to ‘here’s what’s going on with me.’”
McKeaney is also attending and hosting events to raise awareness and funds for skin picking. One of her main goals it to pump funds into research for the disorder because maybe that can lead to a cure.
She describes learning about how little research there is about skin picking as devastating. When she was first diagnosed, she had hoped it would lead to answers, but the more she researched, the less she realized there is available.
She says the only materials she could find that shared personal stories were Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars by Laura Barton, and Angela Hartlin’s Forever Marked: A Dermatillomania Diary and Scars of Shame. Medical research was more or less what TLC’s website had to share and while that’s great, she wishes there were more.
With Picking Me, she hopes to change how dermatillomania is viewed and increase research for the disorder.
She says it’s also helping her to get over her aversion to the word “pick” and that she’s having a lot of fun with the play on words.
Lauren McKeaney Social Media
Picking Me benefit in St. Louis, Missouri – June 26, 2016
Picking Me booth at the International OCD Conference Chicago, Illinois – July 29, 2016
Picking Me BFRB workshop with TLC Foundation for BFRBs in St. Louis, Missouri – August 7, 2016
Picking Me benefit, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Jon Grant, in Chicago, Illinois – August 19, 2016