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The Things I Want You to See About Me as Someone With Dermatillomania

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Does my dermatillomania scare you? Well, does it?

I only ask because I am sitting here packing makeup on my skin in an effort to be able to make connections with people. I truly believe if I don’t do this, others will not want to talk to me. So let’s remove the ambiguity and be straightforward with each other.

Does my dermatillomania scare you?

Does the idea of me locking myself in the bathroom for hours on end, searching for any imperfection make you feel uneasy? Does the possibility seeing me with red, splotchy colors all on my face make you want to turn around and run? Is it scary to imagine hundreds of scars peppering my back, chest, arms, face, legs and shoulders?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” I want you to know I am three for three.

My dermatillomania traumatizes me. I always wear makeup, even at night. If I have a longer than usual session, I lock myself in my room so my family cannot see the toll my BFRB has taken on me. I am scared for summer seasons when I will be lounging in the sun in a bathing suit. I have thrown out all my dresses that expose my back and shoulders.

My dermatillomania has taken the confidence I have gotten from being two and a half years clean from self-harm and thrown it out the window.

I am broken. I am trying to be better.

So please, do not feel bad about yourself for answering “yes” to these questions.

Hug me. Make me feel as if I am more than the casing that holds my soul, my heart and my brain. Try to look for those things when you see me, and I promise I will try to as well.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

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Thinkstock photo via isaxar.

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How I Keep 'Covering Up' My Dermatillomania

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As a child, I’d notice my mom bent over the bathroom sink, peering into the mirror. She would be scanning her face with her fingers, having just scrubbed off makeup before bed. Through doors that were left ajar, I’d catch glimpses of my mom picking at her skin.

I remember the creamy, ivory mask she wore. My mom’s first task of the day was to conceal the blemishes that speckled her forehead, cheeks and chin with liquid foundation. I rarely saw her without this thick coating of makeup on her face. My dad would complain about my mom’s liquid foundation rubbing off on towels and clothing. He complained about stains, but I think he resented the barrier her makeup formed between his fingertips and her natural skin. The foundation seeped into every minuscule pore on her face.

While my mom was covering up her face, I was covering up my arms. I had been inflicted with relentless acne during my preteen years. I’d spend hours curled up on our basement couch, picking at the pimples on my arms. Then I agonized over going to school the next day, worried that people would notice all the constellations of red spots. I felt little choice but to wear long-sleeve shirts and sweat it out in my warm classroom.

At 30 years old, I’m still covering up. And like my mom, I cover up my face and feel a certain level of dependence on makeup. I feel exposed if I don’t wear liquid foundation. But I can’t cake on enough makeup to cover up the regret and shame I feel from having marked up my face — yet again.

I’ve played out a scenario in my mind. I go to apply my foundation in the morning, only to realize the tube is empty. The tube I’ve had for at least three years. It seemed bottomless. I feel relieved when I imagine my solution. I’d cut into the tube with scissors and use my finger to desperately scoop liquid off the sides. This motion reminds me of childhood; how I ran my index finger around the sides of a large mixing bowl, raking up cake batter while baking with my mom. With the last bit of foundation on my finger, I’d dab it only on my reddest spots.

I remind myself that I’m unlikely to run out of foundation. Just like my mom, who kept unopened jars of foundation in the bathroom cupboard, I have back-ups. I have sealed bottles of foundation tucked away.

I recently read a study that looked at the social impact of dermatillomania. The researchers found that most participants made efforts to conceal the effects of their skin picking. A majority of them used makeup, with clothing coming in as a close second for concealment methods. And in consistency with other studies on dermatillomania, most participants reported picking skin on their faces more than any other body part. It’s a wicked predicament we’re in — having a disorder that causes us to compulsively mark up the most prominent parts of ourselves.

Each morning, I dot the aggravated wounds and scars on my face. And then I run a concealer pen over my shoulders and upper back, wishing it were a Magic Eraser. I don’t leave home without my foundation and concealer pen. That way, if I pick my skin during class or while studying at the library, I can slip into the nearest bathroom and reapply. The need I feel to maintain my camouflage is a type of prison. The urges I feel to pick the skin on my face are an endless struggle. I am grateful for liquid foundation.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

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Thinkstock photo via mixformdesign.

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How Dermatillomania or Skin Picking Affects Me

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

We all do it — pick a scab, pop a pimple — but skin picking or dermatillomania becomes a serious problem when it begins to affect how you live and when it causes you real distress. For me, my feet take the worst of it. I’m not very open about my issues with skin picking; I feel ashamed and am afraid of judgment. However, I want to raise awareness of how disabling this problem can be. So, here are some ways skin picking affects me:

1. Showering pain.

When my skin picking gets particularly bad, the skin on my feet can become completely raw; the slightest touch and they will bleed. This is when showers can be excruciatingly painful. Water on red and raw skin is painful itself, but the added water pressure from the shower makes it hurt even more. At times I have had to wear plastic bags on my feet.

2. Walking pain.

My walking is affected when my feet are badly damaged. Just moving them hurts, but also having to wear socks and shoes.

3. Hiding the damage.

Compulsive skin pickers will often go to great lengths to hide their injured skin. For me this involves never showing my feet – you will never see me barefooted. I’m fortunate in that sense, as my feet aren’t too difficult to hide, but some people struggle because hands and faces can be victims difficult to cover up.

4. Random urges in public.

Urges to pick can come at any time, and in any place. I remember on one occasion I had the strongest feeling of needing to pick my feet during a class at school. I tried my hardest to fight the urge, but gave in, and took my shoe and half my sock off under the table to secretly pick away.

5. Not having a skin picking tool available.

Some people pick their skin with their fingers, other with tools and some with both. Because I bite my nails so much, I have to use objects. When I get the urge to pick and I can’t find a tool to use, my mind will not let it go. I will drop whatever I’m doing to search until I find something to use. When I can’t find an ideal object, I have resorted to strange inventions. This really shows just how powerful those impulses can be.

6. Hours wasted picking.

I can spend hours, even entire days or nights, picking at my feet. When I go into “skin picking mode” I seem to enter a weird trance-like state where time doesn’t exist and I am purely focused on what I’m doing. Heck, I’ve turned down family and friend activities because I have been in the middle of picking my skin – just wasting the time destroying my feet.

7. Body soreness from hours spent picking.

Sore skin aside, being hunched over picking for that extended period makes my back and neck ache for a long time afterward. I’m sure many people who pick other parts of their bodies can relate to skin picking causing pain in more than just the direct body part.

8. Finding blood on clothes.

After a long day, when I take my shoes off I will often find that at some point my feet have bled without me knowing and my socks will be stained. Similarly, my fingers will often bleed and I’ll be unaware until I find red marks all over my clothes or books.

9. Deliberate (or not so deliberate) skin sabotage.

Something I’ve only recently noticed I do is rub my feet while I’m wearing socks to dry out and mess up my skin. I’ve realized I’m sabotaging my skin, almost preparing it to be picked, and I can often do this for a long time without noticing. This is a huge part of compulsive skin picking — not allowing your skin to heal.

10. Conflicting thoughts

I’ve attempted to stop picking my skin countless times, and I think the reason I haven’t succeeded yet is that I’m not sure I want to stop. This is very confusing indeed! I know my behavior is unhealthy — I know I would rather not do it — but the thought of not doing it anymore brings me anxiety. Skin picking causes me pain, it causes me embarrassment and shame — but in the moment, while I’m doing it, I feel the strangest sense of calmness, order, pleasure and relief.

If you are a compulsive skin picker, you are not alone and we should not feel ashamed or embarrassed. I am working on building my confidence to not hide my feet because I don’t want this issue to hold me back. If you are not a compulsive skin picker, I hope from reading this you have learned a little about how much this can affect people. If you see someone with marks on their skin, please be mindful, please be polite and please be understanding. Skin picking is not pleasant, it’s not something people ever actually want to be doing. It’s an impulse, something that is destructive and unhealthy.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via grinvalds

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How a 'Fidget Cube' Has Helped With My Dermatillomania

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

For years, I have dealt with dermatillomania and anxiety. Sometimes I pick at my skin because I’m anxious, and sometimes I get anxious because I realize I am picking at my skin. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves my skin raw and often bleeding. Anything that could redirect my unconscious skin picking would automatically be a godsend.

Enter the “fidget cube.”

When I first heard about fidget cubes, I didn’t automatically think about the possibilities this little gadget would have for me. I heard about how it would be good for people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety, but I hadn’t considered what it could do for my dermatillomania.

Recently, however, I found myself dealing with a lot of family issues that gave rise to more anxiety and, consequently, more skin picking. I tried redirecting my skin picking to a different fidgety habit, such as pen-clicking. That just caused people around me to get irritated, so I finally decided I should look into something else.

I looked up fidget toys and, lo and behold, the fidget cube was at the top of every list. Considering I’m a broke college student though, I wasn’t sure if I could justify the cost but I ultimately decided any price for an alternative to dermatillomania was worth it.

It cost me $12 on Amazon and already, it has helped me so much.

functions of antsy labs fidget cube

With six functions, I have my pick of what to fidget with, though the tactile gears are my favorite. Whenever I get the urge to pick at the skin under my nails, I can redirect that urge to the gears and pick at those instead. The ridges get under my thumbnail and provide enough resistance to mimic the feeling of picking at my skin.

The other functions are great too, though the switch is not as quiet as advertised, the rotating dial has more resistance than I would personally like, and the rotating ball on my cube doesn’t click. However, the silent clicky buttons are more subtle than clicking a pen, the joystick is very calming to mess around with, and the rotating ball is still very soothing to move around, like a marble on a desk.

Since buying it, I have used it at home, on the bus, in class and even in restaurants. Almost nobody has noticed, and if they have, they typically become intrigued.

Even my friends have asked to try out the cube, just for fun. The looks of joy on their faces when they messed with the various functions was reassuring. They understood just how helpful it can be.

Since buying the cube, my skin is slightly less marred and I feel much calmer knowing I can fidget with something in public that won’t bring attention to myself or cause me to bleed.

Just FYI, this isn’t sponsored. The only compensation I’m getting from this is the satisfaction of knowing this could possibly help others with picking. Dermatillomania is a valid disorder and we all deserve a chance at recovery. If this cube can help someone else the way it has helped me, that is good enough.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Images via Fidget Cube Facebook.

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8 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Your Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors and the Canadian BFRB Support Network.

One of the aspects of having a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) is that we do things or behave in certain ways exclusively because of our disorders. Many of us have specific routines we do because we’re either engaging in picking, pulling or biting of our skin, hair and nails, or trying to hide the damage caused by it.

We asked our followers what are some things they do that people don’t realize they’re doing because of their BFRB. These are the responses we got from people with dermatillomania and trichotillomania.

1. People don’t realize how many times I’ve had to readjust my pulling habits because I developed repetitive behavior damage in my muscles and joints. Carpal tunnel and tennis elbow are my life. — Kala B.

2. In an effort to not get pimples on my face that I will undoubtedly pick, I change my pillowcase every night. I treat it like a sterile surgical tool; once the clean pillow case is on, it cannot be touched by anything but my head or it is unclean and unacceptable. My fiancé cannot even kiss me once I wash my face for the night. — Hannah L.

3. People don’t realize my habit of being late is not out of laziness but because I get stuck picking at my skin for so long that it takes me far more time to accomplish things. — Kelsey B.

4. People don’t realize that with dermatillomania I had to wear jeans all throughout high school, no matter what temperature or humidity outside, because my legs were so scarred from picked ingrown hairs that people thought I got attacked by chiggers or had chicken pox. — Dorie A.

5. People don’t realize I categorize my wardrobe by what outfits I can and can’t wear, depending on what area of my body is most marked up at the time. This may mean I don’t wear my favorite shirt for months, because I can’t seem to let that one area heal. — Amanda T.

6. People don’t realize how much cleaning up there is to do. Seriously, I feel like I’m always sweeping up hair from my desk and my floor, picking it off my clothes, etc. — Kimi S.

7. I am often running late or take forever to do something because I can’t stop picking. Sometimes I’ll make food then don’t eat it for over an hour because I can’t free my hands up to pick up the food and eat it. — Sharon C.

8. I have both trichotillomania and dermatillomania. When I have ingrown hairs, see them in public and I can’t pick them out, I have to mark the spot so I can remember it for later. I also have to pick pimples, blackheads and other skin-related things once I see them. And I think way too much. The number one thing I do because of my trichotillomania is shaving my head though. But I’m comfortable with that. — Elenor H.

If you or a loved one is affected by body-focused repetitive behaviors, you can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors and the Canadian BFRB Support Network.

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Thinkstock photo via CentralITAlliance

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The Article That May Explain Why I Needed So Many Band-Aids Growing Up

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I remember when I was younger, I was always in need of a Band-Aid to put on any of my fingers. Eventually my mom would have to buy Band-Aids all the time.

A few years later I needed a Band-Aid and went up to my mom and asked her for one. She told me, “You filled your quota of Band-Aids when you were 5.” On the outside I laughed it off, but inside I felt ashamed and confused… I’ve always considered myself clumsy, but was I really that bad that I needed so many Band-Aids?

Fast forward to last year. My younger brother tagged me in a Facebook post. Its title was: “When I Realized the’Bad Habit’ I lived with for Nearly 20 Years is a Disorder.” I felt slightly taken aback but relieved at the same time.

“It has a name, I’m not alone, I’m not weird,” I thought to myself. Years of judgmental looks and comments about my fingers, and picking my scabs and nails came flooding back, and tears filled my eyes. I felt relieved and confused at the same time. “Do I have it?” I wondered. “Is that why I’ve never had my hands and nails so neat and tidy like my sister or my friends?”

I’ve known for a long time that I am very anxious but never realized picking my skin was a consequence of it, and I don’t know for sure (I’m not diagnosed by a specialist) that I have dermatillomania, but my scars and fingers are clear signs.

I know one thing: I no longer feel alone. I feel hope and safety.

So, thank you, Erin Casey. Your story reached to a confused and lonely person in Guatemala.

Here’s a link to her story.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Antonio_Diaz

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