How I'm Coming to Terms With My Dermatillomania Scars
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.
My name is Lauren, and I have a condition called dermatillomania.
This is a body-focused repetitive behavior that falls under the blanket of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is characterized by a compulsive urge to pick at my skin. I’ve spent over three hours staring at myself in a mirror, my hands running over my skin, searching for any imperfections I can remove. I’ve gotten the worst muscle cramps as I hunch over the mirror for ungodly hours. I honestly find it disgusting. I know I should be keeping this positive, but it is my biggest and I think worst flaw.
I’ve had this for as long as I can remember. At age three, I had a scab on the side of my face I scratched at for months and I never let it heal. By second grade, I developed acne and that’s when my compulsion really came into light. I remember this one time in sixth grade — I got a slightly bad grade on a test, which, for me, probably fell within an 80-85 range. I remember not even thinking, my hand just flying up to my face and scratching. I remember I started bleeding and I just thought, “oh no, everyone is going to notice.”
So I did what any other sixth grader and actress in training would have done and I held a tissue up to my face. I began to fake sneeze for an hour, until the end of the day. I was hoping people would think, “wow, those allergies must be bad.” Not my brightest moment, but it shows that, even before I knew I had a condition that makes me be this way, I was aware of the stigma and shame that surrounds this. Because of this nonstop picking for over ten years, I have scarring all over my body from this. It’s on my back, my legs, arms, chest, shoulders and face. It might lessen over time, but I have to deal with the fact my skin will never be fully clear again. This has caused me to have to develop a new definition of beauty for myself.
I am not trying to act like I am in any way healed from this, though. Just this summer, I decided to face my fears of wearing a tank top-like shirt. I was in a show, and I picked out this fun, peplum, red sequined getup. I felt confident in it until I wore it for the first time, during our costume parade. I realized I was locked into being this confident and this outfit in front of new friends and a sold-out audience. I realized how massively out of control this situation was for me. I had three panic attacks that afternoon, all because of my shirt. I ended up changing my outfit into something that fit the theme, show and my character better. But why did this idea of having my scarring out make me so scared? Back to my former statement: I said this was “disgusting”. And for a while, I believed this made me disgusting. I thought I was unlovable, ugly and my self-esteem and self-image have both hit very dark lows throughout this journey. It’s taken me years to understand that this disorder, even though it is objectively gross, does not make me gross. I am not my compulsion. I am not the hours I spend doing what is called “the lean.” I am not ugly because I have scabs covering my back and shoulders. I am not weak because I don’t feel comfortable in a bathing suit or backless dress.
My disorder may be all these things, but I am not my disorder. I am an outgoing theater kid. I am a compassion, kind, attentive friend. I am a loving girlfriend. I am a person who will sit here and be here as long as I am needed. I am a student who pushes herself to her limits to do well.
This is who I am. My name is Lauren, but I will never let my problems define me.
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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