My Dermatillomania Story

Featured Image for this article: Illustration of Black girl picking skin on her face, with flowers in the background

This nasty habit started sometime during my early childhood years. It started with the scabs I’d get as a kid that was prone to playground accidents. I was always known for rough housing. It was rare that I could go a week without coming home from school with a skinned knee, elbow or shin. Whenever a new scab appeared, I would have a field day. As I got older and became less clumsy and active, my picking shifted to my fingers. What was once a hangnail could easily turn into a bloody mess. I would hide my actions behind two or sometimes even three Band-Aids per hand. Most of my peers didn’t notice at all, but everyone close to me knew the truth. It’s interesting because for so long I was able to mask it. As an adolescent I was intensely self-conscious due to my social anxiety disorder. Due to heightened insecurities that stemmed from many sources, I never wore shorts or t-shirts to school, which helped me hide my arms, leg, back and arms scars and spots. But come summertime, when I would want to wear shorts, tank tops and bikinis proudly, my self-consciousness made me focus my picking on my fingers rather than my back and arms. I feel like I’ve been cycling all my life, from my fingers to my arms, to my back and my face, over and over again. At times I’ve been calculated, and meticulous about where I’ve allowed myself to pick, knowing when I had to keep my hands off my face because of an upcoming event or photoshoot. But then as a result of this prudence other areas, such as my back or my fingers, would suffer. I’ve always had relatively clear skin on my face. But now, as I’ve been struggling with the worst acne I’ve ever had in my life, along with a pandemic, daily news of police brutality, social unrest, and stressful life decisions, keeping my hands off my face, arms, back and fingers has become nearly impossible. 

One day, I had a crazy idea. I thought that maybe with the excessive free time I had on my hands, I could finally step up as an advocate and a creative in the social media space, as I have desired to do for so long. By combining some of the things I love, such as writing, advocacy, Instagram and Canva, I could create a safe space for people like me, Black femme sufferers of dermatillomania, social anxiety disorder or other BFRBs. When I first created the blackdermatillomaniac, it was a virtual soundboard for me. I have only met one other person in my life with this disorder, a girl from high school that shall remain nameless. We connected during our last few months of senior year. I don’t remember how the subject matter came up, but I remember the conversations we had about dermatillomania being so cathartic for me. Even though we didn’t know each other long, witnessing her bravery to talk so openly about her disorder not only impressed me but inspired me. I haven’t met anyone with dermatillomania to my knowledge since and before creating this page, I knew no one of color who had ever shared their experiences with the disorder in person or online. No one. I thought to myself, there is an actual deficit of black people talking about this disorder. Before creating my name, I searched through the hashtags and while thousands of posts came up under the tags #dermatillomaniasupport or #dermatillomaniac the search bar would turn up blank when I typed in #blackdermatillomaniac. As impressed as I was with this newfound community of BFRB sufferers that had been thriving for so long, the lack of visibility of people of color within this community was astounding. So, I thought, maybe this is where I can fit into the larger discussion of mental health advocacy online. 

When I made my first story post on my page, I wasn’t expecting much. I felt like I was shouting into a void about my problems, like I was the only one like me. Maybe I’d receive a few dm’s from people who accidentally stumbled on my page. I would’ve been more than happy to meet just one black girl like me. But now, nearly a month later this platform has truly blossomed. I couldn’t have even imagined the connections I’ve made, the support I’ve garnered, the genuine love I’ve received from complete strangers. Just pure positivity. This process has truly carried me through one of the darkest periods of my life and I am so much better off now than I was just a month ago. I am still struggling and working towards healing, but I am realizing that my journey is just that, an ongoing process. The goal is not to reach some idyllic destination but to simply keep progressing. This page has reignited my creativity that I felt for so long was lost and uninspired. But no matter where this goes, I don’t want to lose sight of my mission. I want to be visible, authentic, and accessible, so that the next black girl dealing with social anxiety disorder, dermatillomania, or other BFRBs doesn’t feel freakish or isolated. I want to be the person I needed so desperately as an adolescent.

Self Help Strategies
Voices of the Community
Skin Picking
Families
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