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5 Things I Want My Future Partner to Know About My Skin Picking Disorder

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Compulsive skin picking isn’t just popping an occasional zit or scratching a bit of dry skin. It is a real disorder characterized by noticeable scarring, marks and damage from digging at perceived flaws. Skin picking disorder, dermatillomania, excoriation disorder — they’re the clinical names to a very misunderstood and often isolating condition, a condition I have. Skin picking is one of many disorders classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB). BFRB is a general term for a group of related disorders that includes hair pulling, skin picking and nail biting. These behaviors are not habits or tics; rather, they are complex disorders that cause people to repeatedly touch their hair and body in ways that result in physical damage.

Almost every day for the past 10 years I have picked at every bump or blemish on my body, causing physical scars as well as mental ones. I have been humiliated, teased, rejected and made to feel less than feminine due to the way my body looks. I have been afraid of relationships, commitment and intimacy. I have been afraid to be honest about my feelings to people and have chosen to distance myself rather than face what I fear will be shame and ridicule. I know that going forward I will have to face my fears, but I feel that whoever I choose to be with needs to realize that the years of accumulated doubt won’t vanish overnight. Here are five things I want my future partner to know about living with dermatillomania:

1. Please don’t make negative comments about my skin.

In the past I have heard everything from “Do you have herpes?” to “Only people who use meth do that.” I have been told I need professional help or that I’m disgusting. I have seen people I consider to be my friends flat-out make fun of someone with bad skin after I have told them about my picking. People I am close to have posted videos to ?Facebook of a woman being unknowingly filmed while eating the skin from her feet and and laugh. They make horribly mean comments such as “Wow, what a freak!” and “People like that don’t belong in public.” I consider myself pretty thick-skinned, (a little humor never hurt anyone) but comments like the ones above are just hurtful. If you want to ask me about my scars and scabs I’ll be happy to tell you about my dermatillomania, but please don’t be nasty. The same goes for making fun of what you don’t understand.

2. I might have a hard time leaving the house sometimes.

After a tough day, stressful class or sleepless night I might go on a picking frenzy. I will lock myself in the bathroom and dig at every blackhead, scratch off every inch of dry skin, squeeze every bump and lump. When I emerge from the bathroom my face will be bloody and red, my fingers will be raw, and I will feel utterly guilty. If we had plans or I get invited out I will most likely say no. I will be too embarrassed of my appearance and won’t believe you when you tell me no one will notice. I might break down and cry after getting dressed and putting on makeup because I just don’t feel like I look “normal” with copious amounts of foundation and a sweater on in July. Please be kind and please be patient with me.

3. If you see me picking, please don’t tell me to “Just stop!”

When someone points out your flaws it makes you feel bad, doesn’t it? So please don’t point out mine. If you are worried about me or want me to be aware of what I’m doing you can ask me to do something with you to distract me. I would rather you ask me to come cook dinner with you or to go for a walk than be told to stop.

woman looking in mirror at skin

4. I’m afraid of intimacy.

I have only ever been intimate with one person and they knew full well I had scars. Even though I met him at an event for people with BFRBs, I was still afraid he would think I was ugly. I am extremely self-conscious of wearing shorts, sleeveless tops, bikinis and being naked because I pick literally everywhere. I have a hard time being comfortable with my body, therefore I have a hard time being comfortable with someone else. If I am shy or apprehensive, please don’t be angry with me or force me out of my comfort zone. I would hope that the person I choose to be intimate with respects my limits and fears and helps guide me through them, rather than pressuring me and humiliating me. If you don’t find my body attractive, please don’t kick me while I’m down and don’t take advantage of my vulnerability and honesty.

5.  Don’t be afraid to learn about my condition.

The best thing you can do for your partner is help and support them. I hope the person I end up with isn’t afraid to ask questions and learn. I hope they want to be a part of my journey to recovery. I want them to ask how I’m doing, to attend support groups with me, and overall to be supportive of me and my decisions. The best thing you can do for someone you love is encourage them and be there for them.

Originally published: June 30, 2016
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