Illustration by Andrea Forgacs
Story by Bathsheba Fournier
I began noticing imperfections in my skin when I was ten. It began on the backs of my arms and I would scratch at them ’til I was satisfied they were gone. When I was eleven I started seeing these spots on my face and picking at those. By the time I was in highschool, picking my skin was a compulsive habit and I hated the way I looked, covered in red spots, yet unable to stop myself from picking.
My picking became a defining habit in my life, and my skin was constantly damaged - as soon as one batch of sores was gone, the next would already be the focus of my attention, whether on my face, arms, legs, chest, or back. Sometimes it would get better for a while and I'd notice that my skin really did look nice when it was able to heal a bit, and then I would get anxious, or sad, or just bored and the picking would start again.
And I hated when anyone would mention my skin or ask me questions about it. Most people were curious, some were mean. Many wanted to help. But I hated them even acknowledging the obvious problem I had with my skin. Because I knew the problem wasn’t actually with my skin, but with me. In highschool, my mum took me to a dermatologist who gave me an acne treatment to try. I knew I didn't have acne, and that the spots on my skin were caused by my picking at them, but I didn't tell anyone that because it was embarrassing to admit.
By my twenties, my skin started to affect my social life and personal relationships.
I began turning down invitations to spend time with my friends when I thought my skin looked too bad, and my self-confidence waned deeply. I knew logically that if I just stopped picking at my skin, it would heal, and I would be happy with how I looked. But I just couldn't stop and I felt broken. I hated myself for it, and I hated how I looked.
On my twenty-ninth birthday, I took a selfie. In the picture I'm smiling with a mostly healed face. My skin had looked pretty good for a while and I had been picking less frequently. I felt like I was gaining some control of it. A month later, through an instagram account of body diversity, I read about dermatillomania for the first time. I learned that this diagnosable obsessive-compulsive disorder to pick at one’s own skin exists and that thousands of people suffer from it. I read posts, watched youtube videos, and even found a TED talk from a fellow artist, who all suffer from this disorder. And these stories were so relatable to me, after believing my whole life that I was broken because what I do doesn't make any sense, not even to me.
For the first time in my life, my behavior had some sort of reason, and I felt relief. I wasn't the only one. This moment of education, revelation, didn't cure me, and I still and will always struggle with this disorder.
But knowing that I am not broken simply because I have these illogical compulsions and because they lead to visible damage to my skin, I have the knowledge to accept this about myself, to be gentle and kind to myself when I know I'm struggling, and to give myself the love that I deserve, even when my disorder is strong.
I will probably never have completely clear, healed skin. But I am learning to love it as it is, with all its scars and flaws, and to love myself in it and not be ashamed of my story.
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