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