I wish people could understand my Dermatillomania Struggle

Asian female smiling with against a bright yellow background

By Tina Blacksmith

Excoration disorder is also known as skin picking or dermatillomania.

Bloody fingers. Band-Aids. Painful skin. Disappointment. Anxiety.

These are just a few of the things I’ve dealt with over the many years of living with dermatillomania. It is, sadly, a very misunderstood disorder and one that is rarely talked about outside of those who struggle with it.

Dermatillomania has been a part of my life for a long time. I believe it started as a way to cope with trauma. Unfortunately, it also comes with a lot of shame, especially if someone points out places you’ve picked your skin, so it can be really hard to talk about. It makes sense that people who have dermatillomania would keep it to themselves.

I can vividly remember a friend asking me why my thumbs (my main picking area) were so red. I just remember feeling so embarrassed, wanting to disappear in that moment. I pulled my sweater sleeves down to hide my thumbs. I felt like a freak.

I don’t personally know anyone else who can relate to my experience with dermatillomania. That can be hard sometimes, just knowing that a lot of people don’t understand and can’t really grasp what it’s like to pick and get caught up in that cycle of beating yourself up for picking so you pick more. It can feel isolating.

skincare products, olives and rosemary

I’ve used Band-Aids, ointments, rubber bands to snap on my wrist, gloves, fidget cubes and spinners. And obviously, I’m writing this in 2021 so it’s something I’m still dealing with. I haven’t found anything that has made it easier to not pick.

“Just stop” has to be just about the most unhelpful thing you could say to someone with dermatillomania. It’s not a simple case of just stopping. I imagine if it were that easy, there would be no dermatillomania. For me, a lot of the time I’ve picked without even noticing that I’m doing it in the moment. I know that sounds odd but it’s something you get used to so it’s surprisingly easy to do it without knowing it. It is extremely frustrating to hear someone tell you to stop picking.

I try to accept it now. I try to remind myself that picking doesn’t actually accomplish anything for me and that seems to be a bit more helpful than beating myself up. I try to gently redirect my focus onto something else.

I want people with dermatillomania to know they are not alone. Even though you may feel misunderstood, I promise there are people like you (and me) out there that get it. We are not freaks. We are worthy even when we struggle. Especially then.

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.

Tina Blacksmith is an animal lover and mental health blogger.

Reprinted with permission from themighty.com.

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