“My Skin Picking Is Worse Than Yours”

I have grown a bit concerned about a certain mentality among many skin pickers, one that I used to have myself in the form of reasoning how severely affected someone’s life is with Dermatillomania based on how many marks are present on the skin.

It’s natural to do and this was a grudge I carried years ago when first entering into forums because I’d see people posting pictures of themselves with one or two picked at areas and seemingly acting like it was going to ruin their lives. I would feel more discouraged about my own situation because I was looking for people who felt the way I did, who understood my pain and knew what it was like to live life looking the way I do.

Those two wishes didn’t need to be granted because they were already true. For the people who didn’t have a profile picture (which could be photoshopped anyway to remove scars) or post pictures but talked about their experienced, no judgment could be made about the severity of their condition. Only through their words could any of us have the chance to connect with them because they too shared the feelings we had. No two snowflakes will ever look alike and neither will two scarred bodies created at our own hands. How desperate we evaluate the need for help and consolation does not depend solely on the scars we have made on our skin, it’s about how deep the initial wounds are in our hearts.

Once I realized this I felt very judgmental and elitist; how dare I compare my own struggles to another’s! I was angry at myself and this reminder popped up for me about a month ago when I stumbled on this spoken word poem and saw that the young woman has more visible scars than I do because hers are also on her arms. If she were to enter into forums, would she see the images I have posted of myself and wonder if there was anyone out there with as many marks as her who could truly understand her? What about people who have the tendency to find a few spots that have needed surgery- would they feel like I was lucky because I instead have a million little marks that don’t need that intervention?

The second reminder came when the Dr. Phil episode “Distorted Beauty” aired and, while supportive of the guest, many skin pickers felt disappointed that someone with not a lot of visible markings was chosen to be on the show to represent how skin picking ruins a person’s self esteem. My take on that episode was that it was focused on Body Dysmorphic Disorder instead of skin picking as its own problem so having someone on that appeared to have clearer skin enhanced the BDD claim that her problem was just in how she perceived herself.

It’s important that we not compare our lives to that of another- to not find differences but to find ways to come together and talk. If that episode of Dr. Phil had never shown April’s face or body I think other skin pickers would have felt a similar feeling of eerie chills that I had when listening to what she had to say. I highly recommend playing the video through again, except have it open in another window so you can only hear what she has to say instead of seeing her appearance; her struggle is as real as any of ours and she articulates it in a way that proves she knows what it’s like, which someone without this disorder wouldn’t know to the degree she does.

The same can go for a young woman who cuts herself or even someone battling anorexia. Do 3 scars from “cutting” nullify the severity of what lies behind it because other people have many scars on their body? Does a woman of 5’6″ who weighs 125 lbs not have the same derogatory thought patterns and actions of another woman of the same height whose disorder has advanced her to weighing 90 lbs? Appearances, the very thing we don’t want to be judged on, is what we have a tendency to judge other skin pickers on except we do so to relate better- but it’s still a judgment that damages a person by making them believe, “Society thinks I have a weird problem but those who suffer as I do don’t think it’s problematic enough… who do I turn to?“. Luckily, the forums have never “outed” anyone for not belonging but the opinions expressed after the episode’s airing could be perceived as having an undertone of inferiority.

Perception is one’s reality and the severity of Dermatillomania has a wide range of negative effects on a person’s self based on their upbringing, dual diagnoses, knowledge of the disorder, etc. It has taken me years to come to grips with the compulsion I face daily to the level where I now just find my hands moving without the detrimental emotional side effects of shame or guilt- it just is what it is. Meanwhile, there may be people out there who have 1/8th of the amount of scars I do but face the self-hatred, confusion, and anger I had toward my inability to stop.

Whose picking is the worst when comparing to someone else? Yours because you can only know 100% of your own feelings and those are the ones you need to tend to. We need to step away from subconsciously shaming others for only having a little bit of physical repercussions of this disorder. Skin picking affects more than just our appearance; it takes away time from our day (sometimes causing tardiness), it exhausts us with the amount of focus it requires, it is something not many people know about as an issue which isolates us, and can cause body pains from the strange positions we find ourselves in while picking.

We can’t turn people away from our community because we deem them not as worthy as the more severe physical cases because then they would truly feel like they have no one to go to. This can fuel the disorder and negative thought patterns and we really don’t want people to get to the level of severity many of us have experienced… they have the best chance of turning it all around. If I had the chance to gain recovery from this disorder and there were two young women beside me with less marks but in suicidal despair, I would give that chance up to them because I am “safe” from myself emotionally. I’ve learned that I can live a decent life with this disorder, even if I’d prefer not to, but some people don’t get to that point in life and the results are fatal. We all need to be represented because the severity of our picking isn’t isolated to our appearance- it’s how it affects our everyday lives and how we FEEL about it.

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EDIT- a fellow Dermatillomania advocate wrote her response to this blog entry here discussing about her internal dialogue of being in the online forums.

 

Check out the five- star documentary Scars of Shame and Angela’s ground- breaking memoir FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. Like Angela on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and join her on Tumblr.
Learn about Angela’s surprising recovery from Dermatillomania here!
  • Colleen

    Thank you for this post. It was just what I needed to hear. Personally, I have some pretty evident scars, but I feel like I have been unable to “compare” myself to others because I don’t really know many people who have this disorder. However, the other day, I was speaking with someone who knows why I have so many scars and they told me that “they don’t view it as a “real” mental illness because it doesn’t inhibit my ability to function in everyday life.” This comment was both hurtful and confusing. I guess that other person did not realize that I avoid certain situations to such an extent that I often feel that I am not living my life to the fullest. It is important to realize that these things affect different people in different ways and that support and understanding are the most helpful resources. Thank you again for raising awareness and addressing these issues. It is pretty amazing.

  • Leanne

    This is an amazing post you have written and it speaks right to the heart of those of us suffering with this disorder. It is so isolating and causes us all shame and embarrassment and like we can’t really engage in life sometimes (or a lot of the time). We definitely don’t need to judge the severity of others scars and picking habits, as that further isolates…as you said. One thing I have noticed as I have become more aware
    Of other folks with his disorder is that we are a group of very intelligent, caring, sensitive and loving people. That is something to be proud of:)

    • Toni

      Well, adversity does build character! ; )

  • Nora

    I definitely agree! And sometimes it seems it’s going in that direction: comparing pain (even sounds grotesque). We all have our phases: sometimes we make so many scars and spend so much time picking while some other days we do it quickly (but we’re never without scars). I can surely say that my tensions are far less then before (probably since I left home for college) and I don’t dig few layers of skin (just one or two -.-) anymore. There is hope for us but I somehow believe the source of our problems lays in the biochemistry of our brains. We had some triggers in our lives but the question is: why have they left such an impact on us that we’ve remained trapped? To the most of the people, those triggers haven’t left that kind of impact.

  • TRACY

    I have only just found the word Dermatillomania, I have been picking my face for years and years! Iam so glad that Iam not alone in this. my friends all say the same thing to me, just stop picking! but I can’t, I spend hours bent over just picking, using twizzers, pins, neddles, and my fingers. in my head I am shouting stop just stop! but I can not. once I start i cant stop, if I am in a hurry i will pick faster, and when I have finished hacking away I feel depressed, so i try and cover my stinging red face with make up which makes it look even worse.by the time i ve covered my skin with foundation and powder it looks like I have pucka pies all over my face! I can’t even tell you what triggers me to pick, I just do it. and Ive got no idea why I do it.

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