If you know me, you know I am usually very open with depression and anxiety, but there are a few other disorders I have that have always brought me great shame and embarrassment. I’ve mentioned them a few times here and there, but never really explained it.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I found out about body-focused repetitive behaviors (BRFB). BFRBs are considered under the umbrella of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and affects 1 in 20 people.
I learned from The TLC Foundation (https://www.bfrb.org/) that “BFRB is a general term for a group of related disorders that includes hair pulling, skin picking, and nail-biting. These behaviors are not habits or tics; rather, they are complex disorders that cause people to repeatedly touch their hair and body in ways that result in physical damage.”
BFRB awareness week begins today, so I figured there was no better day to share my story.
I have dealt with skin picking (also called dermatillomania or excoriation disorder) and hair pulling (known as trichotillomania) since I was a sophomore in high school, years before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. For the longest time I believed I just had a lack of self-control when it came to the picking and pulling. Even though I’m still embarrassed by these conditions, at least I know it’s not just a bad habit.
I have had acne since middle school, especially on my back. I’m almost 33 years old and I still break out all the time. But acne is dangerous for a person with dermatillomania. Feeling a bump on my skin (whether it’s a pimple or not), I immediately feel the urge to pick. I feel like I need to pick to feel that sense of relief after I pop a zit or dig at an unsuspecting bump. It isn’t until I have to deal with the aftermath of blood and scabbing and eventual scarring that I feel guilt and shame for destroying my body. My back and upper arms have a great deal of scars, to the point where I had difficulty finding a wedding dress that would hide my imperfections. I can never wear anything with a low back for fear of being judged and having my scars and fresh scabs on display.
When it comes to trichotillomania, I can’t remember when it started exactly, but I’m guessing it was when I was around 16 years old. I focused my hair pulling on my eyelashes and eyebrows. I remember having to color in gaps in my eyebrows (this was before wonderful brow pencils and powder so I had to use brown eyeliner) and I always wore eyeliner to hide my missing eyelashes. It wasn’t until I was 30 before I felt comfortable going to work or out in public without wearing makeup. I remember being at sleepovers and waking up early to fill in my brows so no one would ask about it. When I told one of my best friends in college about it, I was shaking with fear.
The stigma is real, friends. Telling me to “stop picking/pulling” is similar to telling me to “stop being sad” when dealing with depression. There’s no quick fix, but I am starting to look into specialized therapists to help control my impulses. I am finally at the point where my eyelashes are growing out, but I hesitate to celebrate this victory because I know it only takes one bad day to reset all my progress. If you’re like me and silently dealing with BFRBs, you are not alone. It is not your fault. I encourage you to talk with your healthcare provider about finding ways to manage the BFRB.