When my cat died in July of 2014, I was absolutely devastated after 15 years of unconditional love. It shook me to where I stopped picking for days for the first time since it developed into a disorder in childhood. In learning that my chronic behavior was capable of stopping, I sought out local therapy for my dermatillomania, knowing full well that I had a better understanding of the disorder than therapists in my area. I hoped that once I was assigned a psychologist I could maneuver myself within the system to educate about body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) and offer sources for professionals so at least one could be properly trained to treat people with these compulsive conditions.
As first time I’ve sought out for therapy since Dr. A* in FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary, I created an additional 8 years of more scarring, minor infections, and in some ways, more hiding. In October of 2014 I met the person who was going to guide me through the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. I was disappointed that this therapist didn’t even know what a BFRB was and suggested that reading the one textbook he had on his desk (a reliable one) would be the only way he could help me.
Becoming a public advocate was the biggest mistake I made for MY emotional health because I couldn’t handle the attention it brought, but it was important in eventually leading me to healing. After coming out of a depression in my early 20s and being public with my disorder, I ignored the pain of having this disorder to be strong for the awareness cause. In not knowing recovery was possible, how could I accept the reality that I would look the way I did forever? Instead of sitting around and feeling helpless, I found my voice in challenging myself to “come out” and slowly strip away my own shame. While creating a name for myself seemed like a positive step forward, I wasn’t moving through the pain of being openly ridiculed online or having snappy comments from TV hosts- I absorbed it because I was “tough” for survival purposes, which I believed to be natural of my personality.
At the third visit with the local psychologist who insisted that he and his superiors didn’t believe that the Trichotillomania Learning Center’s PTI was an essential training program, we concluded together that I would not be seeing him because I knew more than him and no progress could be made from the lack of interest or initiative of learning more about BFRBs. The same day, my wonderful husband was with me to advocate on my behalf (and the same day we signed off on a house!). When we went home, a part of me was disappointed in who I had become because I was no longer naive that my local system was not going to change anytime soon, and certainly not because a patient recommends it. After Leslie at TLC saw me post about this experience online, she encouraged me to submit it to their blog, where it was published a few weeks later.
That night I received an e-mail from CBS asking me to appear on the American daytime talk show The Doctors. After eight years of not asking for help for my skin picking, I demanded better for myself and got it with my therapist Karen Pickett! Most of my recovery journey will be explained in our upcoming book EMBRACING DERMATILLOMANIA: My Skin Picking Recovery. With my television appearance being taped in December of 2014, Karen and I decided that it would be best to start therapy the first week of January and we would be finishing it up by the time my husband and I were to move into our house.
Before therapy started, I approached Karen with the idea of writing a book along the way in a diary format detailing what occurred in our 12 sessions, with additional entries outlining my reflections on the sessions and homework. She agreed and wanted to co-author it from the therapist’s perspective! I was honest in telling her that I don’t know “what’s wrong with me” because I couldn’t stop this behavior with all of my willpower, but that I would do anything she asked of me even if I didn’t think it would benefit me so I could say I tried my hardest. If therapy didn’t work, I planned on condensing my experience down to a blog post.
My picking slowed down surprisingly quickly in the first four weeks, but nothing changed for me emotionally until the week after I moved and was getting ready to present at TLC’s 2015 Conference in Washington, DC. I appeared on a CTV’s Live at 5 segment, Mental Health Minute, and my face was clearer than ever. I thought recovery meant just having clear skin and that my urges would keep going down until therapy rewired my brain to get rid of them. As Dr. Renee Reinardy said at the conference, which stood out to myself and CBSN’s blogger Laura Barton, our BFRB is the messenger trying to tell us that something is amiss in the moment an urge takes hold.
In being discovered by CBS, I earned my way to proper therapy. Being a loud online presence for six years forced me to ignore my inability to work from a physical disability and focus on doing what I could to feel useful, which was advocacy. It’s unfair that I had to go on national television for therapy because the help should be available in my community. When I was a child and exhibiting problematic signs, a teenager as it accelerated, early adult years when I wanted to die, along with other definable times, the degradation of my dermatillomania and mental health could have been prevented.
This opportunity is not a chance that everyone can get. On the east coast of Canada (Nova Scotia), this type of gift isn’t given to people like me. Hollywood doesn’t call up someone essentially granting them a trip to LA and free treatment. My hard work in advocacy led me to where I am today. This new platform and transformation drives me to push harder than ever for awareness because I have met such amazing people with BFRBs over the years who also deserve chance to recover.
The documentary Scars of Shame was released days before the conference. I had just moved into the house, was getting ready for the DC trip, and then the documentary was released! The day after I returned from the conference, I then had my final appointment with Karen. It’s as if the sequence of events was tied together in a neat little package, waiting for me to finally open up my mind and realize my full potential.
I’ve become more open to reaching out to people in my life, in and out of the BFRB community. I challenge my urges every day and am told they will die down, but I am now able to navigate through them. I realized the reasons why I was so enmeshed with the behavior. MY BFRB: Urges (to look with eyes or roam with hands) = intense emotions that are crippling for this disorder to move through. As I suspected, getting through urges wasn’t about the “tips and tricks” people shared online; it was about becoming mindful of my picking through logging, challenging cognitive distortions, learning to be okay in being uncomfortable, and so much more!
Years ago I thought I was a freak, inside and out, and while I had battled some body image issues pre-recovery I wasn’t able to fully confront myself and challenge my own perceptions. I ask you today, even if you choose to not share my work or blog entry, to find an article on BFRBs and share it with your friend’s list. Tweet it. Blog it. Anything social media related- please, spread awareness! Spread hope and let your friends know that YOU are a safe person who will not judge by sharing this information. For more information on excoriation disorder and BFRBs, please visit:
It takes a collective, a group of people to care about the suffering of another being, to create the change I’ve so badly wanted for myself and the community for many years. I now want to give it back to my second family, the BFRB community. Thank you for all the support and encouragement you have shown me over the years because I’ve always needed your motivation to help me continue being loud about these serious afflictions. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, sharing, and believing in me even when I didn’t always believe in myself.