Is my skin-picking a habit or a compulsive disorder?

by Kim On Skin
dermatillomania

I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. I was always worrying and overthinking. So much so, that I would bite my nails down to little stumps and often made the skin around them bleed.

I can remember my mum lightly slapping my hand out of my mouth and telling me to stop biting – at first it was jokingly, then she started getting irritated by it. I just couldn’t stop myself though – that was until I hit puberty and started picking at my skin instead.

I’d look at my prettier friends, stared at the beautiful celebrities on the TV and then analyse my own reflection in my bathroom mirror for most evenings. How did they look the way they do – so smooth, toned and stunning?

I remember my parents telling me, ‘’whatever you do, don’t pick at your spots’’ as I started to develop hormonal spots on my chin. For a while, I left them alone because they scared me into thinking that they’d spread if I touched any of them. Watching my friends pick at their own spots, I figured eventually, it was ok to do.

It wasn’t until I was groomed and harassed into sexual intercourse as a young teen, that things became serious. Just wanting to fit in with the ‘cool crowd’, I got into a relationship one summer with a boy a few years older than me who eventually pushed me into becoming sexually physical. I didn’t want to, but I longed for belonging and to feel valued. So much so that I was willing to anxiously agree to something I didn’t want to do.

This douche-bag broke me down until I agreed to it, telling me I was pathetic and not worth the time and effort if I wouldn’t. I said yes, under the condition that we didn’t tell anyone.

After the deed was done – all 45 seconds of it, I felt overwhelmed and devastated whilst he got up and proclaimed, ‘’congratulations, you’ve just lost your virginity!’’. My heart broke there and then. I cried all night and couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for days.

At least no one else will find out, I thought to myself and held my head up upon my return to school after the summer break. Even writing this, I can feel in the pit of my stomach the anxiety and devastation as I found out most of my school knew due to him causally confessing to anyone and everyone that would listen.

For a young guy, you’re seen as cool. For a young girl, you’re seen as a slut. And this is wrong.

I remember the looks of disgust I received and the words said to me. I was made to feel like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe and I definitely felt it. How could I tell my parents? How could I ask for help?

I returned home with tears in my eyes and looked at myself in the mirror. I focused on my spots and picked at them. Then I kept searching for more areas to pick around my body. Anything. I needed something to help me purify myself in some way. I was in a daze, feeling a sense of relief every time I managed to remove ‘uncleanliness’ from my face and body. Unbeknownst to me, this was the moment my habit turned into a full-blown compulsive skin-picking disorder.

Years have passed from that moment, 13 years to be exact, and I have learned a lot about myself as well as my disorder, dermatillomania. Some people say that the people you surround yourself with and those you romantically connect with are a good reflection of how you feel about yourself. I agree because if you felt really good about yourself, you wouldn’t hang around with selfish, sabotaging people that would want to bring you down, would you?

I’ve since removed myself from toxic friends, environments and relationships. I dabbled with alcohol, drugs, abusive people and I’m glad that somehow, my self-respect shined through enough for me to realise I deserved more than that and managed to remove myself in time.

13 years of a compulsive skin-picking disorder has forced me into learning about myself, looking after myself and putting myself first. This is because if I don’t, it manifests. So in a cute way, it’s kinda like my upset and angry teenage self, nudging me every time I don’t put the both of us first (and I say the both of us because I like to think that I carry her with me, caring for her and protecting her).

If you’re reading this and wondering if you may have dermatillomania, a compulsive skin-picking disorder, ask yourself the following:

  • Are you in control of your skin-picking?
  • When you pick, do you feel a sense of relief from the anxious thoughts and feelings, sort of like a daze?
  • Do you pick at your skin as a bid to remove impurities and clean your skin?

Your skin-picking habit may just be a habit and I think the simple answer to that is how much in control you are with your picking. Some people pick their face only, body only, and face and body. The moment you know you can’t control or stop yourself, that’s when I’d gently suggest you to read more into dermatillomania disorder and decide if the symptoms sound like what you may be doing.

Whatever the case, it’s always best to get to the root of the issue and try to work back on when it started. dermatillomania is closely connected to anxiety and OCD. A skin-picking habit is more of a way to remove a pesky pimple or two.

If you’re reading this, I hope you don’t have the same compulsive skin-picking disorder because I understand how upsetting and excruciating it can be. That said, if you do, that’s completely ok too. In fact, it’s actually pretty common! Today’s beauty standards forced down our throats along with our daily stresses and anxious thoughts? You can see why it’s so many people message me directly, admitting that they have it dermatillomania.

The problem is, it’s not as commonly discussed and this is something I’m working on changing. I hope that you join me on my journey in raising positive awareness of dermatillomania as well as promoting skin and body positivity!

If you feel you may be suffering with a compulsive skin-picking disorder, please remember that you are NOT the condition of your skin. You are NOT the anxious negative thoughts in your mind and you are NOT your insecurities.

You are so much more than that.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that I am also, so much more than that.

Want to read more? Check out Kim’s blog here. Alternatively, to discover more about skin-picking visit pickingme.org, Anxiety.org and The BDD Foundation

For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website. For additional helplines and information, please see our ‘I Need Help’ page here

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