Dermatillomania/excoriation/SPD/BFRB - today’s honest talk. WARNING: contains details of self-harm….
Before i continue, know that this is not easy for me to share. But i want to spread some awareness. Awareness of what people deal with. Sometimes for decades without having solutions, without telling others, without even close friends noticing anything. I am gonna tell you about my secret. And after i press publish on this, it’s more of a public secret. No, not a secret no more. I don’t want to hide behind these masks that i have built myself, thinking “Oh, i got this” or “i’ll get over this” or “just one more time”. No, no more. I will share, for that is what God has put on my heart this morning.
It was morning, another one here, in my new home in Australia. I hear birds that make cat sounds and my husband was off brushing his teeth and then going to do his devotions. I take off my socks that i had slept in to put some skin healing oil on my feet. Skin healing, because… it’s broken. My skin. It is broken. It was very bad few days ago and now it’s okay enough, again, to put oil on it, to make it heal faster. I get one foot nicely rubbed in and put my sock back. I hear him brushing his teeth. I drip some oil in the palm of my hand and start rubbing it on my other foot. The one that’s broken. The one that’s hurt. Because of me. I did this. To myself. I hurt me. Not on purpose. But i did it to myself. I rub the oil and suddenly feel a small edge of skin and uncontrollably have to take it off. It feels imperfect. Any bump, rough edge on me, feels imperfect. I know Peter would stop me, if he’d be here. Because i have asked him to keep an eye on me. Since i am not capable. My nails already know what they want to do, and they start picking at that small loose skin. And rip, and rip and pick and pick, until, from small edge, becomes a large wound. Yes, a wound. That me, yes me, did to myself. Without being able to stop. All the time thinking, just a bit more. Just a bit more, then i’m done. I just NEED to get this off. NEED TO! I must get it off. I want smooth edges. I can’t leave it. Regardless of blood that i see, i am not capable of stopping until it’s more smooth. I grab a tissue from the tissue box next to me, to dab some blood away to see what i am doing. Yes, i need to see what i am doing. My nails and tips of my fingers are covered in blood. I know i am horrible. I know i am hurting myself, but i can’t stop. I can’t. Just a bit more.
I’m done. I feel like i have been holding my breath, and i breathe heavily, for now, back to normal, i know what i have done, AGAIN! Again, i feel disappointed, in myself. Disappointed as i wasn’t able to stop. AGAIN! Mirjam, how can you do this to yourself, i hear the voices of my past blame me. Mirjam, why won’t you stop, they say in my head. I wanted to. But couldn’t. I wait, until he is finished with his devotions. And limp to the bathroom. More like hop. With tissue in hand to dab some blood away. I hate myself in these moments. I harm myself. Yes me, the person you may know as godly, bold, brave, wonderful - this is my secret. I self-harm.
I sit on a toilet with it’s lid down, and ask Peter to patch me up, again. I am sad. I am sad he has to see me like this. I am sad that i can’t stop. As yet again first tears after horrible picking episode roll down my cheeks i softly say: “I am sorry…” He knows. Knows how sorry i am. He knows what to do, how to patch me up. Knows how i struggle. Knows that it’s not just one foot, but at times also my fingertips. Usually thumb and index finger. He knows to grab me by my hand after patching me up and pull me into his warm embrace where tears flow even more. His comfort makes me cry. I don’t deserve him, yet i am grateful. He knows. And still he loves me, accepts me, helps me. And still, I, hurt myself. And still, I, i really am sorry.
I can’t remember when or why it started. But i know that as early teenager i was already friends with our family homes drawer that held bandaids. I knew where they were, and often you’d see them on my fingers. So almost 2 decades later, it’s still here. Me, picking at myself. It’s not officially diagnosed, but you can imagine i have tried searching for help.
PS! Side note. If this above text was offensive or too descriptive, i am sorry. Again.
Anyway, this self-diagnosed thing is called dermatillomania. Sometimes also known as excoriation disorder. Also known as SPD - skin picking disorder. Which classifies under BFRB - body focused repetitive behavior. Self-harm isn’t something that people talk much about. Sadly it’s a very shameful topic. People suffering from it often hide their scars, cuts, bruises and so on, due to criticism received. So do i. As i try not limping with my one hurt foot, it’s in a hidden spot, you can’t see it. When i have sometimes picked at my fingers, there’s either bandaids, or i use my pockets or sleeves more to cover up. I am ashamed. I am scared to tell anyone, regardless of how much i want help, because i have been shamed before. I have been shamed for not being able to stop. I have been criticized, hurt by words. Even said that i do this for attention. Trust me, attention is the last thing i want. But help, yes would be nice.
Self-harmers don’t share, for many reasons. The above mentioned are some of mine. Also, often we think that oh i can stop anytime. But reality is as i see, i can’t. I haven’t. Or that i believe i am strong enough, until next time i have a wound and my husband needs to patch me up. I have been lucky and haven’t had any infection, but there are big dangers in this. There can be infections. Scars and i am sure that even blood poisoning if not treated right. I am grateful to God for keeping an eye on me.
Self-harm happens in a lot of different ways. There’s cutting, burning, skin picking, hair pulling, pinching, and i am sure a lot of different things more. The most commonly known i think is cutting. Often on wrists, but also on a lot of other places that aren’t seen. I haven’t done that.
What i have done and still struggle with, is seeing loose skin and picking it. Not with my teeth, but with my fingers and nails. Need to get it off. Not normal. I know. If you think i don’t know, then yeah, i wouldn’t be writing this.
I pick at my skin until to my eyes it’s smooth ENOUGH. But it never is. Besides that, sometimes i have struggled with over eating. Especially sweets. But lately that has been better. And sometimes, i can’t leave that occasional random lonely pimple alone until i get it squeezed. Yuk, i know. But i CAN’T help it.
I have tried therapy. I have medicine for anxiety and such. I have tried just taping my fingers up. Or foot now. I have tried cream, to have it close by to put it on. There’s LOADS of methods to try out there to stop yourself. Yet, there hasn’t been victory over this, YET!
Of course, i pray. Yes, i do. God knows this. He sees how i cry after every time, when hurt from my past hasn’t been dealt with and is creeping up again and expresses itself on me hurting myself. Or how anxious situations make me see all the imperfections on my skin. I am grateful for a husband who understands, who doesn’t criticize, who helps and supports. But there hasn’t been solutions yet.
No, don’t think i am asking for that. Solutions, no. Not at all. I know there will be healing. I am working on it, with God. He is working on my heart. But it will take time. Only last year, in college, i realized that i have to put a name to this thing - self-harm. I am harming myself. Yes. Last year. For over 15 years, nobody has said that. Nobody. I didn’t know. I didn’t think, or realize before that. So now, i am dealing with it. Working on it. Researching, reading, praying, journaling.
It has been a secret, now it is not. It is not easy. But also, i want you to notice those around you. Maybe they hide secrets behind a brave face? Behind long sleeved shirt on a hot day? Behind a smiling face when tears are in their eyes. Saying “I’m okay” when not meaning that. I don’t want that. I want to say that “i’m not well, but i will be.” I hate politeness smiles and saying “how-are-you?i’m-good-how-are-you” things and pretending things are okay. I want to just blurt out in honesty that life is just really hard at times, but i still get up. I still try not to cry in public and hold things in until i am at home or somewhere secluded. I still try to attend church and be there for people. Regardless of the struggle, i am still me. Now you just know one more part of me.
Do not criticize those daring to share hard things with them, but ask, how can you help. Or if they’d accept your help. Check up on them regularly, at the same time, not like a hawk lurking on a prey. But as a friend, sister, brother, parent, spouse. Instead of asking “how are you”, maybe we should ask people “how you REALLY are?”.