Friday, December 02, 2005

Skin Deep

Last night I could hear my mom calling me downstairs to open my presents. "Hold on!" I replied from the bathroom. I continued to press as hard as I could, fingernails sinking into tender flesh. The sight of blood vessels bursting under the skin did not deter me. My cheek stung and turned a bright raw pink. But I could not stop. I HAD to get it out...

I wish to share something which I have told no-one about before. Even my closest friends would only vaguely know about it, unaware of the full picture. And as I turn 23 today, I feel that letting this out will be a good start to getting older.

It all started when I was 14, when my big sister called me into her room. “I want to show you something. Come really close…” She placed her fingers on my nose and I felt a small pinch. She showed me a yellowish substance on her fingernail.

“There! That’s a blackhead.” She explained. “They are the little black dots on your skin. It’s dirt and oil that is clogging your pores.”


“Yeah. It’s gross, right?”

“I went to the mirror and looked at my face. There were little black dots all around my nose. I decided to give it a go myself and consequently sealed my fate.

I suffer from a behavioral condition called Dermatillomania. It’s linked to, or is a possible strain of Body Dysmorphic Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It causes the patient to create ‘neurotic excoriations’, or self-inflicted wounds by picking, scratching, digging or peeling.

In my case, the body part that suffers the most is my face. I can spend hours at a time almost every day in front of any accessible mirror: pressing, prodding, squeezing any pock marks and possible imperfections. The moment I start, I fall into a dissociative state – almost like a trance, where I lose all track of time and place. If I am lucky, I snap out of it at the bark of a dog, or the sound of someone coming up the stairs, but most of the time I end up resuming what I’m doing. By the end of a skin-picking session, my face is swollen with red marks which may stay for days. A lot of the time, I end up attacking something that was never there, ironically resulting in blemishes I was aiming to get rid of to begin with. There has never been a time when my face does not have at least one scab or inflammation from my own doing. The scars that form are deep and visible up close.

I have a naturally good complexion, so I don’t know the real reason why I do it. Maybe it is the challenge of removing something so unbelievably small and almost unattainable. It could be the notion that my face is infested with impurities that ruin my skin, and I feel that the most effective way to feel perfect is to make sure that every pore on my face is clean. It could be that I use the pain as refuge from negative thoughts, from anger, sorrow or plain stress. It could be all, and even more. What I do know for sure is that immediately after every session, I feel immense guilt and self-hatred wrenching up my insides. I feel worse than I’ve ever been… damaged, fragile and worthless.

When my mom first found out about my bad habit, she told me off and from then on, threw words at me like ‘neurotic’, ‘weak-minded’ and ‘abnormal’. I knew there was something wrong about doing it from the very beginning, but I was in denial, and the urges were uncontrollable. In school, I would come to class with large, hideous scabs covering my nose. I found it hard to look at friends and teachers in the face. As the years went on, I ‘graduated’ to other areas of the face: my forehead, cheeks, chin, jawline, eyebrows, and even the corners of my mouth. Every nook and cranny.

A year into the disorder, I followed my mother to her visit to the dermatologist. I wanted to see if I was able to seek professional help. In the consultation room, I described my problem to Dr. Tan. She gave me a scornful glare, and said, “You know what is wrong with you? NO time management, and NO discipline!” She started lecturing me about how to live my life as though she knew me from birth. She shot me down like a groveling runt. My mother, sitting next to me, egged her on and said she couldn’t have agreed more to every comment. I had never felt so humiliated in my life. I was so close to leaving the room, but being the submissive teenager I was, all I could bring myself to do was nod and smile like it was nothing. The encounter left me scarred, figuratively and literally. From that day on, I knew I was on my own.

The only other person outside the family who was fully aware of my problem was my first boyfriend in 2002. He didn’t understand why I did it, but he knew that it was affecting me on a profound level. I started wearing layers of makeup to college. At times I was so ashamed of myself, I couldn’t even stand having face-to-face conversations. All his attempts to keep me from doing it failed. One day he cupped my face in his hands. “Why do you do this to yourself? Stop, please stop…” His voice was shivering with desperation. All I could do was look back at him through tears and be lost for an answer.

I am often told that I have ‘nice skin’, even by skin centre consultants. I never know how to react to it. Little do people know the pain I've gone through to hide the truth. Every time I get complimented, whether on my face alone or my overall appearance, it makes me hate myself even more, because of the pointless abuse I inflict on my body. It makes me wonder if I truly deserve what God has given me as a vessel for my being. The pangs of low self-esteem force me to run to the nearest mirror, and the vicious cycle continues.

Only recently did I find out that what I have been suffering from is an actual disorder. On a whim, I searched the words ‘skin picking’ on the internet last year. I was shocked to come across countless medical websites that documented cases of dermatillomania. I matched all the symptoms. I read a torrent of comments made by girls in my exact position, who had no idea they were not suffering alone. I finally gave in to my denial; with it came a wave of relief.

I have heard of simple solutions: Don't spend more time in the bathroom than you have to. Keep the lights off if possible. Invest in high-quality beauty products. Always give yourself something to do. Such suggestions only relate to avoiding the stimulus and temporary alleviations, but they don’t tackle the problem head on. From now on I am trying to get through this through sheer will power and changing my frame of mind. It has been hard but I know I will get there eventually. Those not in my shoes may wonder how something so easy as quitting can be made into such a groundbreaking task. But just like any other vice, it is not. I have become emotionally and physiologically dependent. It consumes me like a drug. It has been doing so for almost ten years.

By making this confession, I am not looking for help, sympathy or attention. I instead want to shed light on a serious matter that is often conveniently shrugged off as a trivial habit that can be quickly fixed. I hope that others who are also facing what I am going through will know that there is nothing wrong with sharing it with others; if anything, I hope that it will help them realize that the condition can be overcome, because I know that doing so has sure helped me.

My birthday wish is for people to stop making judgements about those who may be so easily misunderstood... For all girls to not just believe, but know that they are beautiful, no matter what the beauty magazines say.

That, and also for me to enjoy a mean slice of tiramisu tonight.


Anonymous killuminati said...

that cunt! (pardon my french, refering to dr tan). i really hate doctors who don't understand psychiatric disorders. granted, most of them are just GPs and do not know much beyond the realm of the common cold, but some who're trained as a psychiatrist can be judgemental and dismissive as well.

personally, i haven't found a good psych coz i think i can self-medicate. perhaps that a problem as well. ;)

4:43 PM  
Blogger Joy / Quilana said...

Happy birthday sweetie. Kudos to sharing your story with the rest of us!

4:46 PM  
Blogger Albert said...

Oddly, I remember reading about this in your blog before. Happy birthday!

I have a confession, I used to pluck instead of shave.

If I had to have a relapse of OCD (back when I was little), I think I'd pick something which was beneficial and tiring, like pushups.

5:29 PM  
Blogger commonjack said...

"a very brave post."

that's all i have to say really. g'luck with your fight against this vice. God knows we all need a little help now and then with our own personal shit.


3:18 AM  
Blogger burn666 said...

It sounds corny now that everyone else has said it but... thanks for sharing that story with us! :)

As for the doctor incident i feel i can relate to it as well - my parents reaction to the shrink sessions brought about my bipolar disorder tended to be along the lines of "Haven't you been fixed yet?".

So one day i just lied and said that i was fixed - to allay that sense of financial burden. :(

Oh, and a happy (now belated) birthday - hope you're having a blast somewhere out there! ;)

5:07 AM  
Blogger Amakanchi said...

Oh maaaaan I totaly forgot your Birthday :0...damn sorry. HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY FROM ME :)!
I so can relate to what you (and many many others) went through. When I was a teen I also had a serious low-self-esteem problem. Only difference to that I had bad skin. So I used to grow my hair long and wear it like a curtain over my face..also to hide my nose, which I hated then. That might be a reason why my vision is not so clear anymore :(. I even wished to just be invisible. Nowadays I hate if someone treats me as if I was invisible.

5:27 AM  
Anonymous damion // sub said...

happy belated birthday davina~!

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Az Samad said...

Happy birthday dear!

1:17 PM  
Blogger Zed said...

that was a GREAT entry... i am glad you shared. you are right, but actually almost everyone suffers some form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at some level or another. some just a minor face twitch, others get pretty serious (i am sure you've watched MONK on TV).

it is not something to joke about, and again you nailed it on the spot when you mentioned it relates to self-confidence. there isn't an easy way out, especially during the formative years into adulthood.

however, the good news is that it doesn't last a lifetime and once you've come to terms with who you are and how you relate to others then it gets much better. the only thing i would say about it is that OCD tends to lead to a lot of self-destructive habits from smoking to alcohol and even drugs, please when you feel that compulsion to hate everyone and you could actually feel the hatred brewing - don't be alone.

just get out of the house and try to enjoy being in a crowd. music helps me a lot, so does losing myself in the tube watching mindless stuff, and i read quite a bit. yes i could relate to what you wrote, and you are brave to be open about it, it is one heck of a good start. sorry my post just got waayyyy to long heh heh, but now you don't have to feel that you're the only one.


1:27 PM  
Blogger Vlad said...

I have a confession too.

I don't have OCD but I really love alcohol.

2:11 PM  
Blogger lishun said...

some doctors just don't understand. and yes, it can never be said enough: thank you for sharing that story. i salute you for recognising that you have a disorder and it takes a great deal of courage to come to terms with it. i wish you all the best in your recovery. God bless.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous michaelooi said...

ermmm, i always fancied squeezing zits, is that considered as a disorder?

4:05 PM  
Anonymous kris said...

This is one of the bravest, sincerest posts I've read on the net.

Maybe you need something to distract you -- a hobby, books -- anything that can motivate you enough to pursue and hopefully you'll be distracted from your disorder. Take care.

4:31 PM  
Blogger KaiserSoze said...

Happy Belated Birthday Dear :)

I can totally relate, I have OCD when it comes to cars

11:05 AM  
Blogger cyber-red said...

thank you for sharing with us =)

happy belated birthday either!

4:41 PM  
Blogger mob1900 said...

Disorder... it sounds more like fetish or kink. My sis showed me THAT when I was in my 20's! I enjoyed that little hook for awhile til i got lazy and totally forgotten about it. Just don't ask me about those little spots on my nose. haaarr...

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

That was very honest. Thanks for sharing.

We've all got our own hills to climb up, and once we've done that, we've got to figure out how to get down the other side.

Anyway, happy belated birthday!

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suffer the exact same disorder as you do. Take my words, go see a proper psychologist. She can help you. Not some insensitive dermatologist. I understand and feel your pain. It's almost like every day of our life revolves around it eh?


1:37 AM  
Blogger disco-very said...

I was meaning to go back to Dr. Tan's clinic and give her my piece of mind that was 8 years overdue. But according to my mother, she's never had kids. I don't know how much that relates to her lack of empathy to youths. but as good as it would be to 'catch up', I think I'm gonna apply the karma principle and let it go. thanks for your thoughts mate.

just another square,
thanks for reading and the greetings :)

i've made a small mention of it once, but never went into depth about it. here's the real deal. :P (btw, i bet plucking gave more satisfaction.)

yeah, we all need that little boost sometimes. thank you for your support.

thanks for sharing too. i know what you mean about hiding things from parents just to maintain their peace of mind. just to divert a bit, 1) my friend has bipolar too; when he first started seeing a shrink about it, he got confused about which was his real self - with meds or without meds. hope you're all good. 2) i feel my brother had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, and he almost got beaten up by my dad because my dad didn't understand what was wrong with him. i offered to sponsor shrink sessions, but parents told me not to waste money. my brother has changed a bit since then, and for the better... hopefully.

thank you! no worries about the late wishes. it's a shame that you used to hide your face... i think that your bright blue eyes and nose are your most beautiful features. glad that you've come out of it :)

sub & az,
thanks to you both for the greetings!

truly appreciate your time to lend your thoughts. strangely, i do like going out a lot, the disorder only rears its ugly head the moment i get back home. support from peeps like you is extremely encouraging though, and for that i'm grateful. PS never got to catch Monk but i saw the teaser ads and loved him already.

on the contrary, i have a natural aversion to alcohol. keep it in check, yeah? :P

thank you for your wishes, it's very uplifting :)

erm, i guess it's a matter of perspective, but i think pimples do generally beg to be tampered with.

wow, didn't see that coming. thank you. hobbies help to a certain extent, but the other thing to deal with is fighting the urges when i'm left idle. take care too.

i think infatuation would be a more appropriate term :P

thanks for your wishes!

fetish? kink? whoa. luckily you didn't get hooked for too long. i can attest, it wouldn't be pretty.

thank you for reading, and the nice analogy. take care dude, and hope to see you again soon without literally hiding behind a mask.

yeah, it's like your whole life revolves around it. can't get throughout the day knowing that there's *something* on your face. don't have any good contacts for shrinks. i might consider it depending on my financial status. thanks for reaching out to me.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Inn said...

ala. late. happy BIRTHDAY. and that's a very good wish. let's hope it'll come true in more and more ppl.

7:33 PM  
Blogger cheesemeister said...

I used to do this too. It's really strange how addictive it can be, considering that it's so gross.
Thanks for having the guts to "let it all hang out" with this one. There are probably a lot of people who have this problem and are too embarrassed to talk about it even with a shrink!

7:27 PM  
Blogger KaiserSoze said...

Nope..its really OCD. Just ask wifey how I will try to wipe every single spot on the dash, how I will be worried for days coz the logo on my steering is scratched or how I can see dents that no one else can?

I say it's OCD :p

9:37 AM  
Blogger disco-very said...

po-tae-toe, po-tah-toe. :P

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

brave of you to post this....I suffer from the same thing, though I've had it for only a year so far. 1 year has been nightmare enough for me though...I have not been able "confess" of this problem to any friend except one, who didn't really understand it anyway. It's a very difficult burden to carry around with you. And I also know what you mean about feeling angry at yourself when someone says you are beautiful. It seems that when I feel I look the best, I start picking, as though I feel I don't deserve to look good.

1:56 AM  
Blogger disco-very said...

Hi Melissa,
It's great to know that I'm reaching out to people who are going through the same thing, so I thank you for sharing. The only thing that has been keeping me from doing it so often these days is unbearable amounts of work, but thinking positively about yourself I've realized can work wonders too. It's never an easy task to climb out of any disorder, but if you ever need someone to talk to, do drop me a line. Hugs always.

1:50 PM  

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