Illness

Dermatillomania (Excoriation) in a Bikini

Olivia Epley

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

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I have a condition called dermatillomania, an anxiety (and usually OCD) based disorder that is characterized by the inability to stop picking, prodding, scraping one’s own skin. I’ve talked about it before, but here’s a quick recap of it.

I’ve gone through periods of my life where hours, meaning 4 or 5, were spent on the floor of my bathroom, shower running but eventually ice cold while the mirrors are fogged up and I’m curled up and naked, picking at every visible surface of my skin. This would take up the time that I’d possibly spend doing anything else, like seeing friends, doing homework, seeing family, going to activities. My skin would be bright red and bleeding all over clothing and surfaces, and in order to go out I’d wear a smattering of thick foundation and band aids all over my body, if I went out at all. That’s what dermatillomania is.

Now, I’m much improved. I still spend some time in the bathroom, but it’s usually under an hour and the scraping and picking is much less severe. Still, I have spots on my body, as you’ll see in the pictures, particularly scarring on my back and some recent spots on my chest.

I haven’t been as body positive about not Facetuning the spots, and I regret that. I regret even downloading the app facetune at all given its horrible thinning features, but I use it for skin smoothing and spot nixing and for me, that’s nearly as much of a deception as taking three inches off of a waistline. The spots are an inextricable part of who I am.

But it’s embarrassing. I won a Scholastic award for writing about my picking experience and the shame comes with it, and even writing for the judges was humiliating, but that discomfort clued me into the idea that I should write about it, much like my instincts with this entire blog.

The spots are impossible to hide if one wants to be like any other summer beach-goer, ice cream eater, swimmer, vacationer. They’re also impossible not to make. I haven’t shaken the compulsion in the 7 years I’ve been doing it. I wear those 7 years all over my chest, arms, neck, face, back, hips, and thighs. Sun exposure smooths over the red but technically, none of my spots have ever gone away.

If I don’t want to cover up, I have to wear the spots proudly. What does that mean, exactly?
unedited photo #1

It means I’m wearing my anxiety proudly. It means I’m wearing OCD, PTSD. It means I’m wearing a mountain of homework, a dispute with friends, a bad relationship, lack of relationship, loneliness, fear, anger, fear of anger, on my body for all to see. I’m wearing my trauma. Most importantly, I’m wearing my failed attempt to deal with it all.

Picking feels like a failure. It’s called a maladaptive coping mechanism because it does alleviate those pathological feelings, but it does so in a way that ultimately results in more harm than relief.

In the summertime, I feel the most weird, the most alone.
unedited photo #2

It seems as if the bodies of everyone around me are unscathed, on every level. I feel separate from the people around me by virtue of the fact that their pain isn’t visible, so they may as well not have it, because mine is ugly, and gross, and worn proud on my surfaces. I can’t hide that I suffer, with this skin. Others can.

That feeling of exposure is what I wrote about for Scholastic. I don’t have a choice as to whether or not I want to expose my pain. I compulsively pick. I can’t stop. I can make different choices, such as showering at certain times, showering in the dark, avoiding mirrors, and others, but I can’t fully stop the compulsion. At least, not yet!

This blog is part of embracing how bare my dermatillomania renders me. It embraces the part of me that couldn’t be hidden anyway, and exposes the parts that I’d otherwise try to hide. That’s the goal, anyway. I hope to be the person that talks about the otherwise hide-able stuff so others can see it and think hey, I didn’t know that some people don’t hide that, I didn’t know that other people had that at all!

If you see me this summer, please forgive the spots. A lot of effort went into not having them, and they represent everything I’ve written about, here, so there’s much history to them. I’d prefer you not ask. In turn, I’ll try my best not to Facetune them out.
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One thought on “Dermatillomania (Excoriation) in a Bikini

  1. That’s really brave of you to choose to not hide your spots!
    I have a prominent scar from surgery after a trauma that is super visible in summer clothes, and I also feel exposed. I also have lots of acne scars on my face from picking at it, and other trauma and picking/scratching scars on other parts of my body.

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