What a mouthful that is, “dermatillomania”. Also, anything ending with “mania” just adds an extra sting to it if you ask me.
So, what is it? You may be more familiar with its “sister” disorder, trichotillomania, which is pulling out one’s hair (it is common with eyelashes).
Dermatillomania is a BFRB, which is an OCD Related Disorder. A BFRB is a body-focused repetitive behavior. Other names for dermatillomania are Excoriation Disorder, which is what it is listed as in the DSM-V, and Skin-Picking Disorder. This has only been diagnosable since 2013.
That is less than 10 years! To try and put in perspective how crazy it is that there is so little research and funding on this: about 2-5% of the population picks their skin to the point of skin lesions.
Okay, 2-5% doesn’t necessarily sound like a lot. However, anorexia nervosa is 0.1%, bipolar disorder is 0.6%, and drug addiction is 2%.
So hey! Skin Picking is one of the most common mental health problems! Where are my other skin pickers at?
A lot of people may not realize it’s a problem or many times it is considered a bad habit. Well, it took me a long time to realize it is more than a bad habit. The amount of times I had to lie and say a cat scratched my arm when someone noticed me bleeding; the amount of times I had to cover my face because I was bleeding; the amount of times I said I cut myself shaving my legs; the amount of times I had to say I scratched a mosquito bite too much, the list goes on.
I realized I’m not prone to acne, it isn’t because no product works for me – it’s because they don’t have a chance to. It is because I cannot go more than 30 seconds without touching my face.
No, I’m not exaggerating. It’s either my face (worst area), arms, shoulders, back, nails/fingers, sometimes legs. No, I cannot tell you why. Yes, I have tried to stop – countless times. I’m still trying every day.
If you know me, maybe you’ve noticed, maybe you haven’t. One of the first people I finally told was my boyfriend, and what a relief that was to finally say it. A few years ago I noticed how severe it truly was and we had already been in a relationship for a long time and I didn’t want to hide it. This was before I even knew what Derma was. I basically said “Look…I know this is gross and I don’t know how to explain it, but I can’t stop. Please tell me if we’re in public and it’s noticeable”. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, I couldn’t be more grateful for the support I get from him.
We even went out to dinner last week and he told me afterwards, “Hey just to let you know, and I’m not mad or anything about it, but you were picking the whole time at dinner”.
One: thankful as usual he told me, even though I felt completely defeated and utterly embarrassed. I knew I was here and there, but I had no idea it was the whole time or the extent of it. Two: I appreciate so much he waited until after dinner, so we enjoyed our night the whole time we were there. Only once during dinner he a small gesture so I noticed.
Once I started going back to therapy a year ago, I mentioned it both to my therapist and psychiatrist. It took me a while to even say it to these professionals because of how much embarrassment and shame I have about it.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, there is hardly any research and funding on this. I tried a couple different medications, an anti-anxiety and then an anti-depressant, then another medication along with the anti-depressant called NAC (Acetylcysteine). You can basically get this over the counter, sometimes a prescription is needed. It’s a cough medicine used in different forms most commonly used to prevent asthma attacks, treating rashes and other skin problems, and preventing liver damage. So, you may ask, how in the hell would this help skin picking? I sure as shit do not know – it is about a 50/50 chance for my fellow pickers if it will decrease it.
I didn’t notice a huge difference, unfortunately it was more of a miss for me. Now, I am solely taking an anti-depressant (a new one), which will hopefully help more. Again, I can’t say it’s a huge difference, but it’s lessened here and there. The less I touch my face the more I notice how quick it will clear up. I’ve also noticed a difference in my shoulders, so some baby steps are happening.
Another fun fact! 75% of people affected with Derma are female. WHY? Another unknown. It usually starts in adolescence but can occur at any age. There is no cure. Remission rate is around 30%.
Damn, what a downer! Therefore, it is so important for more funding and research to be done for this illness.
I don’t know when I started, I feel like I have been doing it my whole life. As far back as I can remember I have had this problem. The older I got the more I realized it wasn’t “normal”, especially when people noticed occasionally, and I had to hide it and make up excuses. Make up also works wonders my friends.
My mother and my sister also pick – not nearly as much as I do and not in the same areas. Is it heredity perhaps? Who knows! Hence needing more research! Slowly but surely progress is being made.
There a lot of other things I have been trying lately to keep my fingers busy, yes, including fidget spinners. There are so many other things though including stress balls, coloring (those fun adult coloring books), putty, and most recently the DIY 5D diamond paintings. Ever heard of those painting by numbers pieces? It is where you have a painting and each color you need is associated to a number or letter and you match it and paint it. Well, the less-messy version are these diamond paintings where it is the same premise, but the painting is sticky, and you put these little gems on. Do yourself a favor and search them on Amazon, they are cheap and not only for pickers! Any arts and crafts lover, or lover of puzzles, etc. would really enjoy them. It is great to get your mind off things and keep you focused on what you’re doing. I’ve been working on mine while watching TV because that is one of the worst times I pick because it can be so mindless. Don’t worry, once it’s done, I will be posting pictures, here is the one I got!
Another reason I wanted to write this post is because I decided to search “dermatillomania” on instagram and see if anything came up – and I found the Picking Me Foundation NFP – most of the facts I have in here are all thanks to them. I was thrilled to find them and that there are more people like me! Also, they are based in Chicago where I am, so even better. They are the only donor-supported nonprofit dedicated to advocating for Skin Picking Disorder. Their message is #PickingMe over Skin Picking. I couldn’t be more on board.
They also have fiddle packs! This is a set of 18 different sensory objects to help keep your focus off your body. Also, they provide how to use each object. For each fiddle pack sold they donate one to another sufferer in need. I am getting mine soon and can’t wait to share how I use them and what my favorites are!
It is still such a struggle for me every day, but I am hoping day bay it can lessen and lessen, and I am so happy I found more support. This is me. This is my skin. And it isn’t perfect.
As always, thank you.