Hi. This is my first time posting about my compulsive skin picking disorder. Dermatillomania, they call it. I'm sitting here alone at my desk, the scars on my arms are exposed. But when I go out into the world I wear long sleeves -- even on the hottest days -- to hide the damage I've been doing to my body since I was 9 years old. I turned 50-something this year.
Although scary as hell, it feels a little freeing to share my story on this forum. Until 1984, when I saw an ad in my local TV guide ("When Self-Hate Becomes Self-Harm"), I thought I was the only person in the world who engaged in this disfiguring disorder.
Like I said, it started when I was about 9 years old. I got chickenpox. The only relief I experienced from all those bumps all over my skin was to scratch and scratch and scratch and scratch! My mom tried putting socks on my hand and taping them on tight with duct tape, but the urge to scratch was so strong I kept finding a way to get them off. She even tried bribing me with money to no avail. She finally gave up. And then I started picking and it was such a relief that even after the bumps subsided and the pox worked its way out of my system, I continued scratching and picking.
By the time I hit puberty I was all about popping my zits and then scratching them until they bled. I was beginning to show the signs of my disorder by 6th grade. One of my childhood tormentors started calling me "Scar Face."
But I couldn't stop.
I remember one time my mom took me to a pediatrician for a checkup. She was this little, blonde-haired lady with an accent -- probably European. She said, Ohhhh, I see you pick at yourself. My face went red with shame and embarrassment. Well, you just have to stop, she said emphatically. Don't you think I would if I could?! I wanted to yell at her. That was the end of my mom's intervention. She never said anything to me about my CSP again.
When I was about 14 years old I went to see a dermatologist at the hospital my mother worked at. I was wearing makeup by then. I rode the train all the way from the suburbs into the city by myself without any makeup on. I remember feeling incredibly self-conscious, that everyone was looking at my scars. But I was determined to get help.
I showed up to the appointment and walked into a room to meet this doctor. It was a teaching hospital so I should not have been surprised to open the door to see at least half-a-dozen young doctors in their white lab coats staring at me with a tsk-tsk look in their eyes. Oh my God, I was so mortified! What are these people all doing in here, I shouted! Please leave, this is a private appointment. I don't know how I got the courage to chase a bunch of doctors out of the examining room, but I did.
So now it was just me and one lab coat. He looked at my face and had me lift my shirt in back so he could see the scars on my back. The shame felt like I wished I could be swallowed whole by the floor and escape his scrutiny. To my dying day I will never forget what he said. "If you don't stop you're going to turn a very pretty girl into a very ugly girl."
And that was it. He offered me no hope for getting rid of the scars I already had. I left the appointment feeling suicidal.
I no longer go swimming. I don't wear shorts. I don't go out in public without wearing full foundation makeup on my face to cover my scars. The doctor was right: I turned out to be an ugly girl.
The first time I remember talking to anybody about my disorder as an adult wasn't until I was in my 30s. I told my AA sponsor during my first 5th step: "Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Admitting that I had this sick disorder to another human being was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have been desperate to stop, but no one, not therapists, not doctors, certainly not my friends or family, has been able to help me! I am so powerless over this sickness.
Then, a few years ago, I felt a glimmer of hope. My disorder, which I once thought I was the only person in the world who had it, was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). I began finding other people online who have suffered from this same self-loathing...and they weren't ashamed to talk about it!
Through the help of AA and my developing relationship with my higher power (God), I am finally getting help through this skinpick program. I just started it and am skeptical...but I'm desperate. I have battled through decades of shame to get to this place where I can finally ask for help.
There's a great quote in one of my many meditation books I read every day: "A man who conquers himself is greater than one who conquers a thousand men in battle." It's attributed to Buddha, according to Google. I may not ever conquer this terrible, disfiguring disease, but I'm going to give it my best shot.
I pray for your support and encouragement and please know I am with each and every one of you going through the same struggle. At least I know I'm no longer alone.
Note to administrators: This forum sucks that you can't insert line breaks between paragraphs. I hate that this is published as one long stream of text.