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Dirty Freaky Habit: A Brief History Of My Dermatillomania

I didn't know Dermatillomania was a 'thing' until I was 32 years old: three years ago. I didn't know it was a condition, a disorder. I didn't know it had a name. I didn't think there was one single other person in this world who did what I did.
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

I started skin picking when I was around 10 years old.

I first became aware that I was doing something wrong when my mum hauled me in front of my dad in a rage, to show him the wounds I had created on my buttocks.

It's A Thing?

I didn't know Dermatillomania was a 'thing' until I was 32 years old: three years ago. I didn't know it was a condition, a disorder. I didn't know it had a name. I didn't think there was one single other person in this world who did what I did.

For over two decades I was, quite simply, ashamed and disgusted of myself and my dirty freaky little habit.

Having 'The Chat'

Picking my skin in an intimate area was likely a random decision for the 10 year old me. But it fortunately meant I suffered no social repercussions until I started having intimate relationships.

I am naturally the type of person who would happily have one romantic partner for life. Which is fortunate really, because the lengthy procedure involved in my preparing to sleep with someone wouldn't lend itself well to a sexy one-nighter.

I was extremely discerning and cautious. Only serious boyfriends need apply. There had to be massive trust because, before any intimate act could take place, I had to sit them down for 'the Chat' where I would prep them about the horror that was my naked body:

"I've got these wounds / scars on my butt. It's because I itch my skin to the point I bleed. I don't know why I do it, I hate that I do it and honestly I wish I didn't do it. I think it might be self-harm? But I don't know. I've done it for years. I'm just letting you know because you will be able to feel it, you will see it, it is very noticeable and it isn't very nice. Do you still want to proceed?".

And then, all being well, we would undress in the dark and make love with the lights off for the duration of the relationship.

Blood, Sweat and Jeans

In 2013 I turned a corner with my picking and added my thighs, legs, and back to my collection. My hands scanned everywhere and just didn't care.

For the first time, my picking was interfering with my daily life. I now had to amend my clothing choices. Regardless of the season, I wore black jeans and dark high-necked tops not only to hide my wounds but because I'd pick whilst getting dressed and very often leave the house bleeding onto my clothes. (And also because dark colours hide a multitude of sweat patches in the summer and with all that clothing on, I was uncomfortably sweaty most of the time).

I Swear I'm Not a Pervert

My anxiety increased and my self-esteem plummeted. I was always paranoid about bleeding, but I also couldn't stop picking. I'd pick in public or at work - sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not - and after I'd assessed whether I'd been seen and branded a pervert for fiddling about inside my trousers, I would stuff wads of tissue on top of the wound and apply copious amounts of hand sanitiser to remove the blood from under my fingernails.

How I Stopped...And How I Started

I started having CBT counselling in 2014 and one day, after several months, something in me clicked and I stopped. In July 2016 after 70 pick-free days I was on holiday with my family (who didn't know I was still picking) and my wounds, now scars, were healing so well I didn't have to have 'the Chat' with them about my skin, or wear jeans in 100 degree heat, or excuse myself from going swimming.

After two gorgeous weeks away, as soon as the post-holiday comedown kicked in, I started picking again. It started with one little itch. Overnight (literally, I picked in my sleep) I had scabs all over my legs and buttocks. And then I couldn't stop.

I was so very disappointed in myself. I had kicked it. I had healed. I had won.

The Urge is Always There

After a few difficult personal issues of late I've started clawing out chunks of skin bigger than ever. As I write this, I've literally got an entire pack's worth of plasters stuck to my body. It's not enough to cover all the wounds, but it helps relieve the worst ones.

I tell myself I'm not in a strong enough headspace to face and resist the urge. Maybe the truth is I can't be bothered at the moment. When the rest of my life is in upheaval, having a mess for a body doesn't seem a priority.

Choosing No More Shame

It is so easy to lean back into the familiar mindset of "I'm disgusting so I deserve to look and feel ugly". But I don't want to go back to being that person with low self-esteem because of the big shameful disgusting secret. I want to be a person who speaks openly, promotes awareness and actively works on her own healing.

So, for #BFRB week (1st to 7th October 2016) I am going to practice kindness.

Firstly, kindness towards myself. I will treat myself to another box of plasters, rather than berate myself for pissing money away just because I am too weak-willed to quit. I will strangle the urge by wearing gloves, all day, even in public, even if it's tee-shirt weather and even if it prompts questions. I will acknowledge every time I resist the urge, even if it's just for a few seconds. I will forgive myself when I pick. I will dust myself off and try, try, try again.

And secondly I hope that another sufferer will read this and feel alleviated of their alienation and shame, and feel solidarity with me and the many other skin-pickers all over the world. I hope that my candidness will help another picker to pledge kindness to themselves. To ease off the self-hatred and replace it with self-love.

So that the next time I, or they, sit down with somebody to have 'the Chat' about Dermatillomania there will be no other further explanation, no tearful apology and no shameful fumble in the dark, required.