Photo: Getty Images
For the past six years, I have been a vocal advocate about a disorder not many people have heard of: dermatillomania. This means I have been compulsively picking at my skin for years, and it seems like there’s no end in sight for this chronic condition. After publishing “Forever Marked: A Dermatillomania Diary” at the end of 2009, I started gaining followers who were primarily people who had this disorder. I had no idea that this, on top of the making of the first documentary about this condition, “Scars of Shame,” would put me on the map to be “discovered” and afforded the right to treatment.
Unlike most other mental health afflictions, where you can walk into a therapist’s office and at least have a professional know about your condition, I have been rejected and ridiculed. Many of these medical professionals shared the personal opinion that I could stop this behavior anytime I wanted to. With this mentality, there was no possible way to gain access to treatment. As far as I knew, only a small handful of people have gone into recovery from this disorder. With few Canadian professionals being trained to treat people with body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), I had accepted I would have to live the rest of my life covering my legs due to the damage I’ve inflicted on them for over a decade.
(Photo: The Drs Screenshot)
Years ago I contacted Dr. Phil in the hopes that I would be able to get help on his show. Needless to say, my multiple attempts at getting help through this avenue proved to be pointless. After all, I live in a tiny east coast province in Canada. Why would he fly me across the continent when there are thousands of Americans he could choose from? Unexpectedly, at the end of 2014, I received an email from the show “The Doctors,” looking for a candidate to appear for a segment about skin picking. A few days later, I was in Los Angeles awaiting my appearance on national television.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed of becoming an advocate for a disorder with such a stigma attached to it. I chose this path because it was unfair that people like myself did not have access to adequate treatments, let alone acknowledgement from professionals that BFRBs can become an interference in a person’s life. Although I felt stuck in having this disorder, I still wanted to create change for future generations. I do not want other people to have to experience the embarrassment and shame I did for so many years.
The author, after receiving treatment (Photo: Angela Hartlin)
While I still have a lot of work to do to remain in a healthy state of recovery, it’s surreal when I look down at my legs and see clear skin. My desire to advocate for this disorder has grown tenfold because I can now advocate for the skeptical woman who appeared on “The Doctors” and tell her that this condition can improve no matter how severe it is.
Unfortunately, societal barriers are what keeps BFRBs hidden away from the public. With more people coming forward to tell their stories, we are getting closer to the goal of global awareness. In order to achieve this, we need mental health professionals to get properly trained. Just because you learned how to perform cognitive-behavioral techniques in University for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) does not mean you can tell us that this is the be-all treatment method. Many of us are told if it doesn’t work, we are doomed to fight with this disorder forever. Just know this a reflection on the therapist you are with, not the state of your condition.
I shouldn’t have had to expose my life in a book, documentary and on national television just to get help. Help should be available at a local therapist’s office with pamphlets on the wall with other disorders. We may be “on our own, but never alone” in trying to find answers that our doctors can’t provide. However, the network of organizations and individuals dedicated to raising awareness is what makes our community one of the strongest and most accepting, one I am honored to be a part of.
This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
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