Carrying the Weight of Dermatillomania


There’s an invisible backpack on my shoulders. In it, I carry all my secrets, many stuffed so deep I’ve forgotten they even exist. They’re there, always holding me down, always pulling heavy on the warn straps. Many people can handle the weight of their troubles, but I cope differently.

When I was 8, a traumatic event caused me to step over the edge I’d been teetering on with many various other issues my environment had me dealing with at the time. I had a moist dermatitis on my scalp, nothing that wouldn’t go away after a few days, but I began to itch and pick at it every time I thought about that event. Every time I felt like I could have done something to prevent it I’d peel more skin away. It didn’t feel good, it never did, but I made that small pencil eraser sized spot on the back of my head the size of a softball that year.

It only got worse from there: scabs, my chapped lips, the calluses on my feet, were all fair game. I never sought it out. I’d just look down and find my fingers bloody from whatever I’d been working on without knowing.

High school was filled with excuses, saying I’m cold in 90-plus degree weather so I could wear my quarter-sleeved shirts without too much of a look. I’d rather sweat than have people ask questions I couldn’t even answer myself. I finally went to the doctor for it, and I was only given a steroid cream and told to just stop picking. I still laugh at it, of course I’d love to stop picking, doc. Like I’d want to have red scabbed-up, scarred arms when the pinnacle of style at that time was spaghetti straps and halter tops. I learned a good skill then: how to deflect and hide my feelings. They’d all just go into that heavy backpack.

As I got older, my anxiety and depression would fuel a picking fire. It’s like it came in waves. My picking, while I was doing it, was a moment of silence in my noisy, broken brain. By the time my day was over, I would be so exhausted from talking my mind down I’d need to let go somehow, and the only thing I knew is to pick.

When I’m in the middle of a session it’s like a haze. It’s like I’m in this zone between reality and whatever land my brain goes to when it needs to sort its shit out. When I finally come back, I’d look at the damage and clean up the mess I made, arms stinging from the pain.

It wasn’t until I met someone with trichotillomania that I started searching for answers to what was happening to me. I finally had a name for my condition — dermatillomania — and I didn’t feel so alone. What I was doing wasn’t just me being “crazy.” There were other people out there tearing at their bodies like I was, and there was some kind of explanation for it.

Now that I’m a mom of two boys, I still have this backpack heavy on my shoulders, but now I have to be a parent. I worry so much, and there’s so much guilt that comes with parenthood. At the end of the day, I’m so tired because I’m still dealing with my bursting backpack full of emotional bullshit. My depression no longer manifests as indifference or lethargy. No, now it’s anger and rage, so these bricks heavy in my backpack tore a hole recently when I got angry at my kids for something that didn’t warrant the reaction they got from me. I have memories from my childhood of my parents doing that, and I don’t want to be like that. I can’t be like that.

That’s what brings me to yesterday. I saw my first psychiatrist. I was worried after being told what I was dealing with wasn’t something I should be making a big deal about, that I could just easily stop, that I was just being dramatic. But she validated everything and looked downright horrified that I’ve been dealing with this for as long as I have without seeking help. I was put on a low dose of medication to help with my depression, anxiety, OCD, and dermatillomania, along with my screwed-up sleeping habits.

Have I stopped picking? No, but when I started to pick even just after my first dose I noticed it actually hurt more. I didn’t go to that place I normally do when pick. I still did it, but the session was short and I was able to move on without too much damage.

Listen, I know the medicine isn’t a cure-all, and I know it works differently for everyone, And I’m probably not going to see the full benefits of it for a while, but it’s pretty nice to have a little extra help with that heavy bag.

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Thinkstock photo by Remains

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