This past year, I have been opening my heart and practicing more vulnerability in the hopes that living more exposed, is living more freely. So, with that vulnerability, I want to share something I’ve struggled with for many years.
I have a skin-picking disorder called dermatillomania (in the DSM-5, it’s related to impulse control and obsessive compulsive disorders). It involves picking repeatedly at real and imagined bumps and ‘defects’ on my face, arms, and legs.
The root of dermatillomania is perfectionism, low frustration tolerance, and a strong desire to fix and control. For some people, picking leads to brain chemicals being released that are extremely calming, making it an uphill cycle to break. As someone who has a loud “mind over matter” voice in my head, not being able to will myself to stop has been the most distressing part.
It wasn’t until I studied counseling in grad school that I learned that this is a condition, and only recently have I been able to talk about it. It began when I moved away for university. For the first time in my life, I felt like I didn’t belong in my extended family (not because of anything they did – they are, and have always been wonderful), but just because of how lost and far away I felt emotionally. Up to that point, my life had overlapped with my cousins’, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t figure out how to connect the dots between us (more about that here). When I did come home, I felt like I was always saying the wrong thing and making things worse. As Brené Brown wrote in Braving The Wilderness:
“Even in the context of suffering – poverty, violence, human rights violations – not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth. It broke all three for me.”
Over the years, picking has become a habitual response to feelings of frustration, boredom, powerlessness, or anxiety. I’ve gone to therapy for it, and have developed a meditation practice which has been extremely helpful. I’ve learned what’s going on internally, and that it’s possible to observe the discomfort until it passes without attempting to “fix” it, but it’s an ongoing process, and really hard work. Days, weeks, and months can go by without picking, and then it can suddenly resurface. Sometimes I observe without reacting, and other times, I pick.
For so long, I’ve hated and resisted that this is true, so I want to see what happens if I fully accept it instead. I have so much shame about the scars on my skin from picking, and I worry everyone notices and judges me. My fear is that if people know, they will think less of me. That it will somehow reduce or negate whatever is positive about me. “Well sure she’s done X,Y and Z, but she’s got that weird OCD skin disorder… I knew she had to be a little bit crazy.”
Writing that makes me feel terribly exposed, but it’s the kind of thought pattern that keeps me from fully accepting myself. My fear isn’t that strangers will think those thoughts – it’s that the people closest to me, my friends and family, will think those thoughts – despite how loving and accepting I know they are.
I have a friend who says that shadows are only shadows until we shine light on them, so instead of continuing to hide or shove it down, I’ve decided to move into the discomfort and continue right through the fear into the light.
Even if I never pick again, the scars will remain a part of me, so I need to have the courage to stop hiding, accept all of myself, and trust I will still be loved.