Today’s post was really hard for me to write because it’s not exactly something that I want to admit that I have. It is incredibly embarrassing but I know that I’m not alone in having this disorder and hopefully, those reading this post who identify with this disorder know that they aren’t alone and there are people willing to help. I’ve certainly not overcome this disorder so this post is more about my past experiences and how I’m dealing with it at this present moment. Obviously this post comes with a trigger warning, if you’re squeamish, I’d recommend not reading this post.
I’ll start by explaining exactly what Excoriation Disorder is. Excoriation Disorder is a skin-picking disorder, a mental health problem with physical consequences. It is an obsessive compulsive disorder, similar to the better know Trichotillomania, which is the pulling out of hair that can lead to baldness. Often, those with Excoriation Disorder will run their fingertips over surfaces of skin until they find an imperfection and then they will begin to pick at the skin until the imperfection is either gone or the need to pick has subsided. Those with this disorder have often said that they either do this unconsciously when they’re stressed or they do it knowingly but go into a sort of trance where they can’t stop for long periods of time. It is common for this to come about from drug use, as I’ll mention later. It used to be called Dermatillomania up until very recently and I was familiar with the disorder with that name but never associated it with what I did. My habit was not drug induced at all. I want to make that really clear.
This is a photo that I took a few weeks ago in the hope of having a starting point photo for a skincare trial but I was too ashamed to use it for that. Now, I guess, I’m using it to demonstrate some scarring on my face.
I began this habit when I was quite young, around the time I started developing acne. I was always taught to never pop my pimples or scratch at them because they can lead to scarring or infection, two things that I really didn’t want. I don’t think I’d ever had really bad pimples but because I picked at them, I created what my mum called ‘craters’ on my face. She told me they looked really angry and sore so I tried to stop because I didn’t want people to think I was gross. Mum wasn’t saying it maliciously, she was just trying to help me and it did help me to some degree.
Around the same time, I’d seen articles in Girlfriend magazine about the affects of drugs. I developed a sort of phobia from reading those articles that is related to skin picking. It was an article for the affects of crystal meth and the picture showed a girl who’d picked at her forearms because she thought that there were bugs underneath her skin. The scabs horrified me. It never clicked to me that I was doing the same thing but without substance abuse. It really freaked me out and now I can’t even see people scratching their arms because it reminds me of that image.
Those with the disorder tend to have certain spots that they attack and they tend to keep to those spots rather than scratching all over the body. Often they’re places that can easily be covered so that no one can see what they’ve done. The spots that I focus on are my shoulders, my lower back and my face. I can always cover my face with makeup, so I always thought that it was more or less okay for me to do it there because as long as the scabs weren’t raised, I could colour correct the redness away. My shoulders and lower back, however, presented more of an issue.
I don’t like the beach or pools purely because I hate wearing bathers (swimmers/swimsuit/bikini, whatever) that show off my shoulders and back. I know that I can wear a shirt over the top but I want to feel good about myself and covering my body up just makes me feel more self conscious, like wearing a ballgown to school, it just doesn’t feel right. Even dress shopping, I find really nice dresses that are either sleeveless or strapless and I know that if I don’t find something to cover my shoulders, I can’t wear it.
Speaking of swimming, when I was on the bus to the pool for swim week in primary school where they teach you basics in swimming, I was very anxious about going swimming because of how my skin looked and I was picking at my face. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I’d learnt that once I’d started bleeding from that spot, I’d press my hand against it to help it clot and not get messy. I was in such a trance post-swim that I’d picked a lot at my face on the bus. My friend next to me turned and looked at me and said, ‘Sarah, you’re bleeding! Are you alright?’ I feel out of the trance and touched my face where she’d told me it was bleeding and sure enough, I saw the blood too. I’d never really done it in public and I since haven’t done it in public, at least not to my knowledge. But I’ll always remember it.
This photo is from 8 years ago so FORGIVE MY IGNORANCE ABOUT CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. To be fair, I didn’t want to take this photo but was trying to make the most of it. I always made silly faces in photos. You can see scarring here on my jawline (my most popular site), my neck, chest, and left arm. I haven’t always gone to the same areas, I used to do the back of my legs too when I’d get ingrown hairs because I didn’t want them to get infected. I had had one get infected and it was really bad and I have a scar from it. However, I knew that I could never wear shorts if I picked there so I stopped shaving my upper legs entirely to try to reduce the risk of me picking at that area and it has helped me a lot. I’m thankful that my leg hair is blonde so I can usually get away with not shaving my legs. I don’t have any photos to show you of my scarring on my back but that’s probably for the best!
Recently, I was a makeup model for a friend of mine and I was asked to wear a dress that had no sleeves because it suited the look the best. I was fine wearing it when the makeup was being applied because I had a cloth covering me but as soon as it came off and I needed to be photographed, I felt uncomfortable. When I was posing, the photographer asked me to do one of those ‘over the shoulder’ glances, which exposed my entire shoulder. You can even seen in my face that I wasn’t completely into it like I might have been had I been wearing something that covered my shoulders. In the final photos, I saw that my scarring was all photoshopped away and while I’m thankful for it, it also made me feel like it was something to be really ashamed of or unattractive. Thus began the endless cycle of picking again to achieve perfection.
I get hormonal acne and stress acne, and while I’ve been doing this honours thesis, I’ve been the most stressed out that I have ever been and my skin is showing that. About a month ago, I’d attacked my face so badly that I had so many sores on my face and I was hyper aware of them. I didn’t want to leave the house in case people saw them and were disgusted by me. This whole year I’ve been really getting into a proper skincare routine, for which I’ll have a new post up about soon, and my skin has been looking fantastic and even my scarring is heavily reduced so I’m feeling great. However, having perfect skin won’t stop this from happening. But having a good skincare routine is minimising the risk.
Another not-so-glamourous issue is that I have so many tops, pajamas and jumpers I’ve ruined from this habit. I’ve got blood speckled nighties, pillowcases, sheets. It’s the most embarrassing thing. I am so ashamed of it and I feel disgusting. Not knowing what was going on made me feel even worse about myself. Since finding out that what I’m going through is an actual thing, I’ve felt much better about it because I can now watch videos and learn from others who’ve found ways of managing it or moving on from it. I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to completely get over it so I can enjoy my clear skin and feel confident in clothes that make my body look good.
I hope that this post was helpful in understanding this disorder and if nothing else, was at least entertaining to some degree. This is something that stops me from showing skin progress photos for skincare reviews because I don’t want to have to keep explaining myself but if I recommend a product, know it really is doing something for my skin and if it’s helping with scarring, I will mention that.
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Au revoir xxx