Inspired by a blog on The Mighty about things the blogger wished she had been told about mental illness, I thought let’s delve into what we wished we had been told about body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs), starting with dermatillomania.
As a skin picker, this is what I wish I had been told when I was first learning to navigate my life with dermatillomania. As new information comes out through research, I think we will be able to pass this and more information on to the next generations with this disorder, which is amazing. These, to me, are among the most important points we need to realize about dermatillomania.
While I understand that the reason I wasn’t told it exists is because it was (and still is) mostly an unknown disorder, knowing that this skin picking is an actual “thing” would have helped immensely when I first started picking. I felt like a freak of nature for so long because no one could put a name to what I was doing.
It’s not your fault.
Coupled with the one above, knowing that it’s an actual disorder would have helped with understanding it’s not my fault. All the same, having someone tell me that it’s not my fault would have been a godsend. I might not have blamed myself at all or at least not as fervently.
You can be honest about having dermatillomania and not lose everything.
I used to worry that revealing to people that I have this disorder would be the end of me; I would have to become a shut-in because people would either be a) repulsed by me or b) make fun of me for it. What I didn’t realize until I did it is there are two other options: c) no one will give a damn or say a word and d) people will rally around and support you.
And people will support you.
One of the biggest fears I used to have with dermatillomania is that no one would like me once they learned about my disorder. I worried they would desert me because of how disgusting I was, so I kept everything to myself. When I actually started opening up about my picking, though, I learned that there’s a world of support out there that I wasn’t even aware of, not only in terms of the BFRB community, but people in my life, too.
You can have romantic relationships.
I was convinced I would never be in a relationship. How could anyone love me with the way my skin is—full of scars and wounds and covered in bandages? How could anyone touch my rough, wounded skin and not recoil? But we are more than our skin and the wounds upon it, and there are people out there who will see us for who we are.
Your skin might be scarred, but it is not ruined.
I know a lot of people still struggle this one and will probably disagree with me, but I’m at a point with skin picking where the fact that my skin has wounds and scars is just that, a simple fact. Medically speaking, it has absolutely been damaged and there’s no denying that, but aesthetically, it’s still just skin—it just happens to be a little (okay, a lot) marked up.
You’ll be more miserable trying to stop picking than just accepting it.
For years I struggled with trying to stop picking my skin, to the point where I was so miserable that I couldn’t, coupled with a deep depression, that death by suicide seemed like the only viable option. I didn’t understand how I didn’t have enough willpower to just quit it. But the secret to this disorder is that it’s not willpower-based, so even if I had the most discipline in the world I’d still pick my skin. When I came to accept this disorder for what it is, I was able to start finding peace because I was able to find other ways to deal with it.
You can take your life back, even if you never stop picking.
When it comes to dermatillomania, many have the all or nothing attitude about it: we either pick and suffer or don’t and are happy. As I alluded to above, I used to believe that too, but have learned this disorder doesn’t have to control my life. I can pick and be happy at the same time. I can pick and have a functional life with a job, going to school, and so on. It doesn’t own me, I own it.
You are not alone.
Current American statistics suggest as much as five percent of the population has this disorder. That might not seem like much, but it definitely means you’re not the only one who does this.