Interview with Lauren from Picking Me Foundation – personal experience behind the work
Following is an interview the editorial team at Skinpick conducted with Lauren via email correspondence.
1. Please, tell us something more about yourself, how and why did you make the decision to establish PICKINGME Foundation.
My name is Lauren McKeaney and I went from silent sufferer to adamant advocate for Dermatillomania. I’ve had skin picking disorder for 3 decades, I’m polka-dotted with scars from the sores head-to-toe, and I never knew what I was doing, why I was doing it, or how to stop.
Now I'm recovering with the disorder. Not from it, with it. And in 2016 I built the home, the foundation that I had always been looking for. Picking Me Foundation spreads awareness, inspires support, and cultivates community for dermatillomania sufferers, their loved ones, and education providers alike.
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Growing up, skin picking affected all aspects of my life. I’d cover the sores on my body with all 50 bandages that came in the box, mosquito biteds lasted from summer to winter because I'd keep picking them, and little blood spots peppered my bed sheets and clothing perpetually. My parents tried cutting my fingernails short daily, taping gloves on my hands while I slept, and prayer. They took me to every type of specialist, dermatologists, psychologists, hypotnitists, herbalists, all to no avail. Treatments ranged from telling me to just stop picking to prescribing unneeded acne medication to acupuncture to anti-depressants and nothing helped. I felt permanently broken, like I was unforgivably bad and totally unfixable. And I was twelve years old.
Skin picking was the constant in my life, shaping my formative years. I quit figure skating at a competitive level because I couldn't take my tights off without dried blood and scabs coming off with them. I missed school because I couldn't stop my face from bleeding after picking in the morning. I lied about the appearance of my skin, saying that all the red spots and discolored scars were from chicken pox or eczema or sensitive skin or allergies, anything really. I became a master of deflection, doing anything I could to make you not look too closely or ask too many questions about my skin.
When the DSM-5 finally recognized skin picking disorder as an actual diagnosable mental illness in 2013, I had already suffered with it and been misdiagnosed for 27 years. I had experienced massive skin tissue damage, numerous infections, abscesses, cellulitis, and almost lost my right leg from the life taking bacteria MRSA all from my dermatillomania. Pulled finger tendons, lower back pain from being hunched over the bathroom sink looking in the mirror for hours, poor sleep schedule from picking all night, and severe carpal tunnel resulting in double hand surgery all from my dermatillomania as well. This was all extremely shameful to me.
In being diagnosed in 2014, I felt armed with something I could say I had, and wanted to shout it from the rooftops. And I did. When anyone would ask about my skin I wouldn’t pull out a lie from my rolodex of reasons but instead inform them I had dermatillomania. I felt empowered. And I wanted all the mini Lauren’s out there to have a taste of that. I decided I don’t want future generations to have to grow up with skin picking disorder like I did. Something needed to be done.
After searching for a skin picking disorder community to help further, support, provide awareness and more and not being able to find one, I set out to foster a space for my people. I started sharing that I was Picking ME, over picking me, and people started joining the conversation and raising their hand too. And this has evolved into the first and only 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to dermatillomania, founded by a skin picker, for skin picking.
2. In what way did your personal experience help you understand what people who are living with Derma need in the field of advocacy?
My lived experience with dermatillomania has helped me best understand, support, and offer resources and tools to the skin picking community as well as learning about what further needs to be done.
I think the derma community needed representation. And I was ready. I used my story and have dedicated my life to helping others with this disorder.
Informing the mental health and skin care communities on this disorder, spreading awareness and inspiring acceptance, is key for us and has helped expand our community’s reach. I love speaking at conferences, sharing my story and skin picking journey while offering management strategies and encouraging support, and think the more people who know about this disorder is the key to ending the shame and elevating the healing from derma. After all, you can’t change what you don’t know.
Living with my skin picking disorder for 3 decades allowed me copious research. I’d offer that what we need is a willingness to take on breaking down types of skin picking episodes, to become more aware of them and create more conducive strategies to manage them.
My personal experience has taught me how to develop helpful breakdowns for managing skin picking disorder. Like how at Picking Me we break picking episodes down as Focused vs Scanning. In doing so, it allows you to create differ strategies to manage them.
Focused picking is when you pass that hallway mirror and you catch something on your face out of the corner of your eye as you pass by and now cut to you being stuck, leaning in, investigating and fixing perceived imperfections for hours until you “come to”. Scanning picking is when you’re watching your favorite show, kind of zoning out, and your fingers wander your body, searching for something to level, and all of sudden you look down to find blood on your fingers from picking somewhere and you didn’t mean to. Breaking down the types of picking is important in developing different strategies to manage dermatillomania.
For focused picking, try altering your environment to lessen picking urges. This could look like covering your mirror with a scarf or love notes, dimming your bathroom light or unscrewing a light bulb, staying arm's length away from a mirror or splashing water on the bathroom sink so you are less likely to lean in and get stuck, bring and set a timer in the bathroom, or shower and change by nightlight.
For scanning picking, I suggest using blocker and barriers to prevent wandering fingers from finding anything to pick at. Tight clothing like turtlenecks, leggings or long sleeves with thumb holes can be helpful, acrylics or fake nails to make picking more difficult, fidget toys to hold during triggering situations, bandages or hydrocolloid patches to cover areas, tape gaff tape over nail beds, and wear jingling bracelets or perfume on your wrists to alert you by using your other senses to signal wandering hands. All of this can help with bringing awareness to fingers roaming with a mind of their own. For a list of my management strategies, visit pickingme.org/managementtips.
There was this one time I was speaking at a mental health conference, in front of a large crowd of incredible individuals with dermatillomania, who were listening to my story and looking to me for relief and connection. I remember this was a little girl in the front, who had arms and legs in a myriad of red spots from picking just like I used to. And she smiled and waved at me during my presentation. Afterwards, she came up to me, and told me she gets bullied for what her skin looks like, from her skin picking disorder. That the bullies make her want to “not be here anymore”. She went on to say that I’m like a princess. I was taken aback and moved by this. I think she meant that seeing me, a fellow dermatillomania sufferer, succeeding and prevailing regardless of this disorder, gave her hope. She saw the happiness that happens when you own your mental illness so it doesn't town you, how you can choose yourself over the disorder that chose you, and that helping others in #Picking Me over Skin Picking is the ultimate freedom.
I encourage fellow skin pickers to take on their management with curiosity and a bit of playfulness. Think of this like conducting a research experiment, that needs info and patience and data and reflection. Reframing my management in that vein has increased my participation in my recovery.
Furthermore, researching and going through therapy has helped me understand what to offer this community as well.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) may be helpful in becoming more aware about skin picking frequency and locations as well as strategies to try and alter the behavior. I recommend logging as a form of CBT and using our free, downloadable Skin Picking Disorder Logs to track pre and post picking episodes, environments, whether it’s focused or scanning, and more here pickingme.org/skinpickinglog. Sometimes when I was logging, I felt like I was collecting all this negative data of all the times I had been bad. So make sure to use our Talk Back To column of the log to get to say something back to the thoughts you were having!
Habit Reversal Training (HRT) encourages finger energy off the body through a competing response or differing behaviors. I recommend having fidget toys, specific ones for certain situations and locations, and try to work them into your daily life. For example wear our Picking Me Awareness bracelet and if you catch yourself scanning, rub the textured divots on the bracelet to redirect your finger energy off your body. Or reach for any of the 30 items in our Fiddle Packs, full of fidgets, sensory items, and more, curated by and for skin pickers. And, for each Fiddle Pack we sell, we donate one to a dermatologist, pediatrician, or sufferer in need, with over 2,000 donated worldwide. Please shop them here pickingme.org/shop.
3. How would you describe the process of becoming a leader of the only nonprofit that in the world that advocates for people with Derma? Were there any personal or external barriers?
What does becoming a leader in this field means for you personally?
I’m honored to serve such a deserving community. And to be recognized for my work in cultivating this environment, following my passion and living my purpose, is truly incredible.
There aren’t a lot of people out there who are lining up to fund a woman-led, startup organization. A 501(c)3 nonprofit. That’s volunteer operated. For Mental Health. Specifically dermatillomania aka skin picking disorder. But we are all of those things. Proudly.
Our community is growing everyday, astronomically, as more than 1/20 suffer with dermatillomania worldwide and our efforts are helping more and more learn about and manage this disorder.
Meeting so many people with derma and hearing how they’ve been benefited by the support, resources and community of Picking Me, helps me feel like my purpose picked me.
Becoming a leader to me means listening to and standing for your people. It means there is still more to do. I’m just beginning and I can’t wait to help heal our future. Being a leader means being vulnerable and courageous and I hope to live up to what our community deserves and needs.
I’ve learned it’s ok to lead while still having and at times be struggling with this disorder. I remember one time I was asked to sit on a recovery panel at a mental health conference. And a few days before I was really battling with showing up because I had picked such a sore above my eyebrow that my eye was puffy and swollen. And the day to speak came, my eye was still swollen, and although 5 minutes late from having to find a Bandaid big enough to cover the sore, I showed up and sat front and center on the skin picking recovery panel. And I shared what recovery looks like to me, and that it looks a lot like me just showing up today. Recovery looks like making a mini goal and achieving it. Not resolving to be pick free, but trying to pick less. Aiming for progress over perfection. Recovery looks like being gentle with myself after a picking episode instead of beating myself up. It looks like showing up to a recovery panel to speak with a wound on my face. Recovery is not necessarily stopping picking, but stopping my suffering.
Read the more about Lauren and her work in our January blog!