‘Mind over Matter, What’s the Matter with my Mind?’ - A Memoir by John Serpentelli

Tasneem Abrahams
Nov 24th, 2015

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Skin picking disorder, although common, is not very well known. However through the efforts of advocacy and awareness groups like the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors Support Network (CBSN), more and more sufferers are starting to recognize the struggles they are facing with on a daily basis as a clinical condition they do not need to be ashamed about. Those who have been brave enough to share their personal pains and gains with the daily challenge of living with dermatillomania have also been instrumental in helping so many who struggle in silence to come to terms with their condition and to the help and support they so desperately need and deserve. One such individual is John Serpentelli, a gentleman who has been challenged by compulsive skin picking for more than 30 years. John has had an incredible journey in overcoming his body-focussed repetitive behavior (BFRB) as well as other addictions and has decided to share his experiences in his memoirs. I asked John to share a bit about himself and what his memoirs are about.

John Serpentelli

Dermatillomania Memoirs

I’ve learned that people will forget how you looked, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

— Maya Angelou


Aside from being a gay, bi-polar addict and an animation teacher, I have a mental disorder called Excoriation Disorder or Dermatillomania; obsessive picking of the skin. It relates to body image, perfectionism and the illusion of being in control. This condition is not surprisingly a social stigma so I decided to write about my experience living with it and ultimately finding self-acceptance.

I have had Dermaillomania for over 30 years. Only recently have I learned that this addictive behavior has a name. Of course, I have known people who have occasionally picked their skin but never to the extent or frequency that I did. If my adolescent face could have been read as Braille it would have spelled out, ‘Please Help Me’!

I endured the shame and embarrassment of having bumps and scabs all through my twenties and thirties. But I just could not stop picking. I tried every sort of skin lotion and potion. But there never was a magic cure. In my thirties I adopted a new look; an ever-migrating Band aid placed over the ‘carnage of the day’. I tried to convince myself I looked tough but I knew I always felt injured. There was no hiding that my inner boxing match was showing.

Finally in my forties I sought help. Through Behavioral Therapy I learned to journal my emotions and more importantly my actions. But I was also battling another addiction; alcohol. At this point, my addictions loved to hang out together. They had so much in common.

Through accepting my addictions and all the other things that hampered my happiness, I discovered a personal spirituality that has bought serenity. Not a round-the-clock serenity that has me grinning into the sky in a never ending stupor of bliss, but an occasional serenity that can allow me to be o.k. with my urges, cravings and even my scars (well, in low lighting anyway).

Today, I am more than just a Dermatillomanic; I am a complete person who participates in life. I love teaching children how to animate and welcome going out in public to film screenings. I know that people see me for who I am and that they don’t see me the way that I do, or at least they way I used to. I can even look someone in the eye without worrying if they are inspecting my skin and finding all the microscopic flaws. I can now get outside myself and make someone else feel significant - and they are. We all are.

I wrote this book because there are virtually no memoirs about this subject. By using humor and a bit of spirituality I hope to provide comfort and strength to others. So if you would like to help make this book happen, please click the link.

Where can you find John's Memoirs?

John's book has not yet been published and he needs your help to make it happen. He has shared a link to his crowdfunding campaign and we hope you will support him and others like him who openly share their stories for the benefit of others. It is because of the bloggers and vloggers like John that more and more people no longer feel ashamed and afraid to seek help and support. The funds raised will go towards a professional editor, publishing expenses and promotion to the general public and to the mental health community.



Tasneem Abrahams

Tasneem is an Occupational Therapist, and a graduate of the TLC foundation for BFRBs professional training institute. Her experience in mental health includes working at Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital forensic unit (South Africa), Kingston Community Adult Learning Disability team (UK), Clinical Specialist for the Oasis Project Spelthorne Community Mental Health team (UK). Tasneem is a member of both the editorial team and the clinical staff on Skinpick, providing online therapy for people who suffer from excoriation (skin picking) disorder.

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