| This is the 271st story of Our Life Logs |
On March 31, 2002, I was born in Los Angeles, California, to my loving mother who was my everything. When I was four, she met my stepdad, though, to me, he always has been and always will be my real father, blood relation or not. My early memories are still seared into my mind, those like my parents’ wedding and the birth of my brother only a few months later. But the most prominent memories from my childhood involve my hands gravitating constantly towards my face and my skin.
Every cut, scrape, bug bite, or imperfection drew my hands to it like a magnet. My parents tried time after time to convince me to leave my skin alone, but for some reason beyond the comprehension of a five-year-old, I just couldn’t. Eventually, my parents gave up on trying to force the habit out of me, convincing themselves and me that it was something I would grow out of with age.
But as I grew older, and my pre-pubescent hormones started kicking in, the problem grew worse. Throughout middle school, I scratched, picked, and poked at every little imperfection on my skin—even as many of my peers inevitably acquired spotted faces, identical to mine. My picking became an integrated part of my life and enormous weight on my shoulders.
Eventually, at age 12, my parents asked me if I wanted to get help. My immediate impulse was to say no, I didn’t want help, because picking felt so good and I desperately didn’t want it to be taken from me. At this point in my life, I spent about five hours a day picking in mirrors, glass-reflections of storefronts, anything I could find to help me see the imperfections in my skin. Eventually, after months of pilfering my mom’s concealer and trying to hide just how bad my problem was, I decided that it was time to reach out.
We took a trip down to an OCD center in Los Angeles, and in therapy, I was finally diagnosed with a mental illness called dermatillomania. I had never heard of this disease at the time, much less known anyone who also struggled with it. I felt alone more than anything else. My options for recovery consisted of therapy and medication, and while I was told that both of those things might be able to subdue some of my symptoms, I was also told—for the first time—that my skin picking was something that I would deal with for the rest of my life. No growing out of this with age, I guess.
Not long afterward, my family decided that LA was too busy and fast-paced for us and we decided to pack up and move across the country to Vermont, from one of the biggest states to one of the smallest. What was meant to be a breath of fresh only worsened my sickness and my confidence, and I began to grow more and more self-conscious of the way my skin looked and the disease that caused it.
When I moved to Vermont, I only seemed to fall further and further down the spiral of my mental illnesses. My anxiety and depression increased in tenacity, which only served to worsen the vicious cycle of the dermatillomania. This is to say, I would feel bad about my body, so I would pick, then picking would make me feel bad about my body.
For years, my family and people around me would tell me to “just stop,” but what people don’t always understand is that it’s an addiction, like alcoholism. It feels euphoric in the moment, picking away the little pieces of me that I don’t like, and it gives the notion that I am in control—pulling apart my skin until it is perfect. It’s not until after, when I look at myself—my hands, face and skin stained with the blood I’ve produced—that I realize what I’ve done. It’s as if I’ve taken a drug that gives me the most fantastic high…but the regret and shame that I feel afterward are like creating the worst low one can imagine.
For my first years of high school, my picking began to isolate me from my peers. No one seemed to understand the severity of my situation and at a completely new school in a completely new environment, there weren’t many people I could turn to. I found myself saying no to plans, looking forward to going home and picking at my skin, or canceling plans worried that people would see the marks across my face and body. More than anything, my dermatillomania was a handicap, preventing me from living a normal teenage life.
Then, at age fourteen, I got my first boyfriend. I thought that having someone to love and who loved me would fill some hole inside of me, but my sickness only seemed to worsen. I grew more self-conscious with the need to try and impress my older boyfriend who was 18 at the time. Our relationship was toxic and one-sided, a constant power play where I felt like I had no control, only pushing me further into trying to control my life through scratching and fixing my skin. Any intimate experience felt like something I was giving him at the expense of my own health, he told me that I should keep my shirt on in order to not feel self-conscious about the rolls of my stomach. Every time we were together made me feel smaller and less confident.
It wasn’t for another eight months until I finally realized the damage he had done to me. With this, my anxiety and depression worsened and I began to contemplate suicide. I felt as if I had no way out of my relationship, my depression, my skin.
It wasn’t until, at age 15, after I broke up with my boyfriend, that things finally began to turn around. While I had discovered ways to subdue my picking such as covering mirrors in my house and using my art and my fidget toys to keep my hands busy, my life was still dominated by the constant need to pick and pull at my skin.
After being at an all-time low, I went on medication that controlled the symptoms of my anxiety and depression and in my sophomore year of high school, I started a support group for Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB). Today, this support group has 16 members from my high school, some of them who have gone their whole lives without ever realizing they had BFRB.
It’s been so healing, personally, to watch all of these people share their stories, some of which are very similar to my own, and to attempt to help them as they help me. I talk about picking at my school, in my support group, and through my art which has always been very important to me. Sharing my message about dermatillomania has been the most important part of my healing process, it not only helps other people become aware of this obscure illness, but helps me deal out loud with what I’ve gone through, and work towards a future that isn’t dominated by picking.
After going to a BFRB conference last year, I was confronted with hundreds of people like me, and all but one that I’ve met have never been able to get over their illness. For me, though, that’s enough. Knowing that even if there’s the smallest chance I can get better motivates me to push myself towards a healthy life. I’m in no way close to achieving my goal of even going a whole day without picking. But every day, every minute, is a work in progress for me to try and get better. I can accept my skin and I can accept my physical scars, but I will never be able to accept dermatillomania as something that I’m stuck with.
This is the story of Sloan Pirie
Sloan is a 16-year-old high school student in Vermont. She grew up with a disorder called dermatillomania which caused her to obsessively pick at her skin. Through the support of her family and others like her, she has hope that one day she will be able to put aside the actions that try to rule her life. Until then, she focuses on the small victories. She spends her time focusing on her art and has her own gallery opening coming up in March 2019. She lives in Winhall, Vermont with both her parents and her younger brother Julian, with whom she’s very close. Sloan is currently touring colleges, hoping to attend school in New York City where she can focus on her art full time.
This story first touched our hearts on January 19, 2019.
Writer: Claire Iannuzzi | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |